vol 28 - 2002

For centuries, one of the feminist movement's most visible struggles has been for the right to participate equally in the civic, legal, and political institutions that shape women's and men's lives. If women's experience has been largely one of exclusion, it is also true that if we pay close attention to often neglected histories and texts, we inevitably uncover evidence of women's determined, rebellious, and often successful attempts both to join and to influence organizations that were originally designed–sometimes intentionally–to exclude them. This issue of Feminist Studies investigates some of the ways in which women, individually and in groups, fought and continue to fight to be recognized as workers, artists, socialists, and consumers. As the articles published in this issue demonstrate, those battles are always inflected by the politics of class, race, ethnicity, and by our relations–real or imagined–with the women who have gone before us. Two articles here examine contemporary academic feminism's debt to women writers of the eighteenth century, although warning us that we should be wary of our desire to find our own identities and concerns reflected in their work. As much of the creative work in this issue shows, relations between the generations are often a complex blend of desire, identification, and disappointment.

In 1929 Virginia Woolf, often seen as one of the foremothers of Anglo-American feminism, wrote in A Room of One's Own of standing under the "vast dome" of the British Museum Reading Room "as if one were a thought in the huge bald forehead which is so splendidly encircled by a band of famous names," not one of them, as Woolf scathingly points out, the name of a woman. In the first article in this issue, Ruth Hoberman looks at the history of women readers at the British Museum and contrasts the attitudes of the women who used it in the late nineteenth century with those of the next generation, among them Virginia Woolf and novelist Dorothy Richardson. Hoberman argues that a vital female culture flourished in the Reading Room in the 1880s and 1890s, despite the truculent opposition of male readers who accused women of crowding the reading room and sitting in seats other than those reserved specifically for their use. Men's resistance, in Hoberman's view, reveals the incompatibility between women's bodies, seen as unruly and flamboyant, and the ideal of the rational (male) British citizen, welcomed into the bastions of British imperial culture, who was assumed to have no body at all. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, women such as Eleanor Marx, Clementina Black, Annie Besant, E. Nesbit, Olive Schreiner, Beatrice Potter, Alice Zimmern, and Beatrice Harraden triumphantly laid siege to the Reading Room and to its infinite resources; Charlotte Despard wrote in 1894 when she received her reader's ticket, "At last I determined to study for myself the great problems of society," This drive for inclusion contrasts with the attitude of the next generation, represented here by Woolf and Richardson, who criticized the Reading Room as a hopelessly patriarchal space and proceeded to imagine alternative spaces of their own.


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Order this issue (print)

Ruth Hoberman
Women in the British Museum Reading Room during the Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Centuries: From Quasi- to Counterpublic

Zan Gay
Black Mulberry (Poetry)

Xiomara Santamarina
Behind the Scenes of Black Labor: Elizabeth Keckley and the Scandal of Publicity

Anne Herrmann
Shopping for Identities: Gender and Consumer Culture

Alison Townsend
In the Garden; Persephone Contemplates What Women Lose in Marriage (Poetry)

Margaret Morganroth Gullette
Valuing "Postmaternity" as Revolutionary Feminist Concept

Sherryl Kleinman
Always Rinse Twice (Fiction)

Mary McCune
Creating a Place for Women in a Socialist Brotherhood: Class and Gender Politics in the Workmen’s Circle, 1892-1930

Eric A. Stein and Marcia C. Inhorn
Technologies of Pregnancy and Birth (Review Essay)

Roslyn Willett
F--- (Fiction)

Janet Marstine
Challenging the Gendered Categories of Art and Art Therapy: The Paintings of Jane Orleman (Art Essay)

Kelley Jean White
Topic Sentences; Late (Poetry)

Christopher Brisson
Keeping Score; Commitment (Poetry)

Katherine Binhammer
Thinking Gender with Sexuality in 1790s Feminist Thought

Jean I. Marsden
Beyond Recovery: Feminism and the Future of Eighteenth-Century Literary Studies

Cover Art

Jane Orleman, Look at Me! 1999.
Oil on canvas. 36”x24.” Private Collection.

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