Stone Butches and Lipstick Lesbians: Gender Role Construction in the Works of Ann Bannon

butchbannerBefore the days of Facebook and Twitter, lesbians were largely confined to meeting in bars or in secret, and they had few sources to link them to a broader community. Logging onto the Internet these days, one can literally find thousands of websites and social media groups dedicated to helping lesbians from across the country and around the globe forge a sense of virtual community.

Although we live in an age of hashtags and electronic tablets, many of us still read bound stacks of paper called books. Lesbian pulp fiction still has meaning for both young queers who are just coming out of the closet, as well as with lesbians from an older generation. What is it about these dated stories that both younger lesbians and those who made the journey to Stonewall find compelling?

One explanation is that younger lesbians are turning to these artifacts of the 1940s and 1950s to gain a sense of a separate lesbian history. In particular, what these books teach us about the construction of gender roles within lesbian relationships is a key component in that history. One of the most pervasive questions that helps one to identify her place within the lesbian community is “are you butch or femme?” Although these gender roles are hotly contested (some say they don’t even exist), it is my contention that they still serve an important function for lesbians of all walks of life. Lesbian pulp, then, is a means of tracing the development of butch/femme roles that is difficult to find outside of oral histories. [Read more...]

Feminist Conversations: An Interview With Lesbian Icon Ann Bannon

Ann Bannon, the queen of lesbian pulpFeminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists For Choice. Ann Bannon, in my opinion, is the queen of lesbian pulp fiction. Her books in the Beebo Brinker series served as a roadmap for many lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s. I was introduced to Bannon’s work in a Women’s Studies class at ASU. Bannon’s novels helped me navigate my own coming out process. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to interview her.

1. What was your initial inspiration for writing the Beebo Brinker novels?
I began by falling in “fascination” with the first original lesbian pulp novel, Spring Fire, by Vin Packer. It’s a story of two young women who meet in their college sorority house and fall in love—not a terribly original premise these days, but a dangerous and thrilling one then. The consequences of being outed in the 1950s were appalling, and I had been close enough to a similar disaster in my own sorority to empathize with the girls in Packer’s novel. I knew I wanted to write, and it turned out that this little pulp paperback I had found on a newsstand shelf was the creative trigger. [Read more...]

Book Review: Perilous Times by Fran Moreland Johns

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Available on Amazon

YBK Publishers has released a new book entitled Perilous Times: An Inside Look at Abortion Before—and After—Roe v Wade, by Fran Moreland Johns. Johns shares the story of her own abortion and uses this narrative to connect with other women who have shared similar experiences. While I was reading Perilous Times, I was often reminded of the film Dirty Dancing, where one of the dancers is taken for a back alley abortion and almost dies. I was also reminded of the film Jane: An Abortion Service, where women in Chicago took it upon themselves to help women receive safe, albeit illegal, abortions before Roe v. Wade. Needless to say, I was very drawn into the book, and couldn’t put it down all weekend.

I was lucky enough to be able to interview Fran Moreland Johns. I hope you find her motivation to write the book as inspirational as I did.

1.  In the introduction you say that you never shared your story with anyone (except for your friend Trish) before you started writing Perilous Times. What prompted you to “come out of the closet,” so to speak?

Trish and I had talked often about how those of us who survived abortion in those grim pre-Roe days are dying off fast, and so many stories will never be told. Then I began to see abortion access being denied – particularly this is the case for women without money or resources – in state after state, and I thought this is all I can do to slow that backward movement: tell the stories of women today who are suffering just as much as we did before 1973.  [Read more...]

Melissa Etheridge Critiques Angelina Jolie’s Cancer Decision

melissaetheridgeLast month I lauded Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy in order to prevent breast cancer. Jolie has an 87% for breast cancer and 50% for ovarian cancer due to her genetics. There has been controversy about Angelina’s decision. But now singer Melissa Etheridge, a breast cancer survivor herself, says that Angeline’s pre-emptive surgery is because of fear, not bravery.

Here’s what Etheridge told the Washington Blade:

I have to say I feel a little differently. I have that gene mutation too and it’s not something I would believe in for myself. I wouldn’t call it the brave choice. I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer . . . I really encourage people to go a lot longer and further before coming to that conclusion.

CNN had an interesting discussion yesterday with another breast cancer survivor who admires Angelina Jolie’s choice. According to E.D.Hill, Angelina Jolie made her decision because she wants to be a good mother. Here’s the full video so you don’t have to click over. ;) [Read more...]

Women and Spirituality: Debunking Myths About Mormonism

mesa-mormon-temple1Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists to find out what feminism means to them. The last few weeks have focused on the connection between feminism and different forms of spirituality.

This week we’re talking to Margaret Turley, a Mormon and a retired nurse. Margaret is the author of Save the Child, a novel about about a young child who is diagnosed with cancer. She is also the co-founder of Writers Unite to Fight Cancer, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer research.

1. What does spirituality mean to you?
Spirituality means having a close, inspirational connection with our creator. For me that means I believe in God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost – the Godhead. My own spirituality waxes and wanes in different periods of my life. The more I pray, study scripture and gospel principles, the closer I feel to my Heavenly Father. Attending church helps to develop spirituality but I’ve met people whom I consider to be spiritual who proclaim no specific religion. When I am in nature I feel close to God and thank Him for the many beautiful things that lift my spirit. I have noticed that when I am healthy, I feel more spiritual. I suppose that is because my thoughts are not so fixed inward on my own problems and I have the energy to look out and up.

2. What does Mormonism mean to you?
I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS for short. That means I am a Christian. Our church acknowledges Jesus Christ as the head of our Church. After the original apostles died, many of the plain and precious truths were lost. Many refer to us as Mormons because The Book of Mormon is one of our books of scripture. [Read more...]

Women and Spirituality: An Interview With Pastor Beverly Jane Phillips

good bevFeminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists to find out what feminism means to them. Today I’m talking to Pastor Beverly Jane Phillips. Pastor Phillips was one of the first women in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to receive a Master of Divinity degree which she earned at San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1961. She was ordained to be the Hunger Action Enabler for Chicago Presbytery and later served as a regional organizer for Bread for the World in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. Now retired, Phillips and her husband live in Arizona, where she writes books, Bible studies, and texts for the women’s retreats which she leads. You can read her blog at www.beverlyjanephillips.com.

1. What was your motivation to attend Divinity School?
My motivation to attend divinity school was an experience of God speaking to me very clearly and unmistakably. Each summer when I was in college I volunteered as a counselor at a church camp for junior high kids. I was planning to be a children’s librarian but church and my faith were high priorities for me. The summer after my junior year of college I was the counselor for a cabin full of junior high girls at a Presbyterian Church camp in the woods near Lexington, Nebraska.

It was the tradition that on the last night of camp we would all gather around a big campfire to sing songs and hear a sermon by the director of the camp. In his sermon that night the director said, “Anyone can be a minister.” I have no idea what the rest of his message was about because those words were God speaking to me. It had only been two years that the Presbyterian Church denomination I belonged to would ordain women. [Read more...]

The Connection Between Catholicism and Feminism

Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists to find out what feminism means to them. Today I’m talking to Meghan Smith, who integrates Catholic for Choice’s US policy activities and advocacy throughout the country by fostering relationships with collegial organizations and compiling legislative and policy analyses. She develops educational materials outlining CFC’s unique perspective on issues of reproductive health and right,s and engages in other efforts supporting CFC’s mission at the state level. Ms. Smith holds a bachelor of arts degree in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

1. When was Catholics for Choice founded, and what was the motivation for starting the organization?
Catholics for Choice is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. CFC was founded in 1973, the same year as the Roe v Wade decision, to serve as a voice for the majority of Catholics, who believe that our faith tradition supports every woman’s moral agency and right to follow her own conscience when making decisions about her reproductive health. We’ve a long and storied history, but, as a global movement, Catholics for Choice has worked internationally and throughout the United States to raise the voices of Catholics who disagree with the Vatican and who support access to safe, legal reproductive healthcare services for themselves and their neighbors.

2. What are some of the stereotypes that you feel people have about the Catholic Church’s position on abortion? Why do you feel those stereotypes exist?
It is certainly true that some people think that the opinions of the Catholic hierarchy represent the opinions of all Catholics. However, that is not the case at all. There are more than one billion Catholics around the world and almost 70 million here in the United States. The Catholic Church includes all of us, not just our bishops and the Vatican—who interpret Catholic teachings very narrowly. When it comes to reproductive health, people on both sides of the issue sometimes wrongly assume that all Catholics are anti-choice, or that you cannot be a pro-choice Catholic. In truth, the majority of Catholics are pro-choice not in spite of our faith, but because of it. Catholic women use birth control and have abortions at rates similar to women from other religions and no religion, and Catholics as a whole support access to those services for ourselves and our neighbors.
[Read more...]

Women’s Spirituality: Discovering Wicca

wiccan-love-spells3Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists to find out what feminism means to them. We’ve interviewed a variety of feminists in the series. In the next few weeks, I will be speaking to feminists from different modes of spirituality.

Today I’m talking to Lora Jackson Legare, an archaeologist and author who was first drawn to anthropology by an interest in religion and spirituality and how people express their spirituality in different cultures through time. She has been a practicing Wiccan since 1986 and high priestess of her coven since 2007.

1. What does spirituality mean to you?
Spirituality is our need to connect with the “ground of our existence,” as Joseph Campbell would say. Defining the ground of our existence is different for each of us, just as our connection with it is different.

2. How did you develop you own sense of spirituality? Have you always been a Wiccan?
Developing my own spirituality has been a very long process. I was raised in a very liberal Christian denomination (Disciples of Christ), and my father was a minister who was a civil right activist in the 60s. He encouraged me to ask questions. But most of my Christian elders preferred that questions were not asked. Questions like, why is God only seen as a man; Why not a woman; Why are women naturally sinful; Why can I be nothing more than a helpmate to a man, and never really his equal in the eyes of this God? I could not do that. I began to search and explored many different religions. I found Wicca in 1986.
[Read more...]

Angelina Jolie Receives Preventative Cancer Treatment

Angelina-Jolie-13Film star Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about her decision to receive preventative surgery to decrease her risks of breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie has a high risk of developing both forms of cancer because of her genetics: 87% for breast cancer and 50% for ovarian cancer. Jolie says:

I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. . . I hope that other women can benefit from my experience . . . and then take action.

I admire Angelina Jolie for her decision. Her risk of developing breast cancer has dropped from 87% to 5%. I think Jolie makes a very important point in the op-ed when she says: “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.

Film stars like Angelina Jolie are often sexualized by their fan base, as are musicians like Beyonce. Women’s breasts are viewed as a commodity, rather than a part of the body. Jolie did not get a “boob job.” She took preventative measures to protect her health and continue to continue her role as a mother. And yet “fans” have been posting comments on Twitter that show the sexism that is so prevalent in popular culture (and American culture in general).

Jolie is lucky that her partner Brad Pitt has been 100% supportive throughout the surgery process. He has publicly called her a hero. I say thumbs up to Brad.
[Read more...]

Is Breastfeeding Mandatory for Mothers?

Last week we started a discussion about women breastfeeding in public. I interviewed to women who said that they love breastfeeding. They told us that at some point, it just makes practical sense.

But what about mothers who can’t breastfeed? Should they receive criticism for bottle feeding? There is more than one side to this discussion. Here’s how Erin Strange feels about bottle feeding.

I don’t breastfeed. Shortly after Elliott’s birth I realized that I wasn’t producing enough milk. He was jaundiced and his numbers continued to rise even after the typical peak days. In order to get the jaundice out of his system and avoid light therapy, we had to supplement with formula. I am producing about 4oz daily, and we were trying to breastfeed while supplementing, but he rejected the breast and became frustrated. In order to get him to eat we had to bottle feed. I still pump daily and give him the 4oz I get.

I am really insecure about the fact that I’ve got to bottle feed. People close to me have been supportive when they know that I’m unable to breastfeed, but it’s hard to be asked all the time if I’m breastfeeding and then feel like I have to explain why I’m not. [Read more...]