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...]

Most Commented On During 2012

Now that we are celebrating women’s history month we thought we would take a look at our own history and check out which articles got the most comments during 2012.

The clear “winner” for 2012 was a piece by Amy called Tosh.No Why Rape Jokes (And Daniel Tosh) Are Never Funny which received over 50 comments and is still being commented on. Many of these comments were made by upset Daniel Tosh fans who just wanted us to know how boring we feminists are and that we all have “sticks up our asses” and are hateful bitches. On the other hand, the post received a lot of comments from people that were equally upset about rape jokes and discussed how hurtful rape jokes and rape culture is.

A second much commented on piece, written by Serena, was titled Would You Choose Abortion If Your Baby Had Down Syndrome? The comments on this piece were very constructive as different readers discussed the issue of being strong enough and having the financial stability to care for a child with special needs. [Read more...]

Sweden During the Time of Roe v. Wade

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

Ever since its enactment, the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade has been frequently debated as anti-choicers fiercely battle to overturn the decision, while pro-choice activists fight to maintain women’s rights to abortion. Even though legislature in some other countries may not be as famous or as controversial as Roe, they are equally important to women’s choices and reproductive rights.

Growing up in Sweden, we will focus on Sweden’s present abortion law, which was put into place two years after Roe. The first law concerning abortion in Sweden was presented in 1938 when women were allowed abortion on specific grounds, namely due to health reasons (when the woman’s life was in danger); if the woman became pregnant during rape; if a minor was taken advantage of sexually; or if the parents were likely to pass on a disease or disorder that would render the child with severe difficulties. However, parts of the law were based on eugenics–for example, if the mother availed of abortion due to “unfitting genes,” she was also sterilized.

The current abortion law was passed in 1975 and is the one most closely related to Roe, both in time and content. This law states that a woman can have an abortion without naming the reason until week 18. After that she will need to consult with the National Board of Health and Welfare in order to obtain permission to end her pregnancy. After week 22 the child is believed to be able to survive outside the mother’s body (parallel to the concept of viability in Roe) and abortion is no longer allowed. There is no age limit in regards to abortion, but if the woman is under 18 years old, it is recommended that she consults with her parent/parents or guardian.  [Read more...]

The Importance of Doe v. Bolton

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know! 

Roe v. Wade wasn’t the only significant abortion decision released by the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973. The Court also ruled on the constitutionality of Georgia’s abortion laws, in the equally important but lesser-known case Doe v. Bolton, which the Court first heard in 1971.

The plaintiff, identified as “Mary Doe,” was nine weeks pregnant when she sued the state’s attorney general, Arthur Bolton, for the right to an abortion. At the time, Georgia allowed for abortion for state residents in cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility that the mother could sustain a severe or fatal injury to her health. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that the existence of the three conditions upon which abortion was allowed violated the Fourteenth Amendment and that the residency requirement violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

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My Body: Your Choice? How men control and dominate women’s bodies

Editor’s Note: Today’s we are so luck to have another guest post from globetrotting feminists Elin and Hennie Weiss! Yay! Elin has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland. Hennie is currently finished up her Master’s Degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. They are both very interested in women’s studies, feminism and the study of men and masculinities, especially so gender role expectations and the representation of women and men in media.

The recent Senate hearing concerning President Obama’s policy on birth control caused quite the stir as an all male panel discussed women’s contraceptive rights. As outraged as many women and men were over the exclusion of females, who are most impacted by birth and contraceptive choices, men’s control over women’s bodies is not a new phenomenon. Across time and continents, women’s rights have been contested, fought against, and denied as men have assumed a paternalistic approach to women’s own choices concerning abortion, contraception, and birth, while issuing themselves the right to decide over women’s bodies. Men’s control over women’s bodies, however, has often been damaging and unhealthy to women. In this piece, we are discussing a few historical examples that showcase men’s influence and control over women’s rights and choices. We want to discuss examples that show that the persistent male control over women’s bodies and choices has not always been based on knowledge or competence but simply has concerned men’s need to control women.

The all male panel that discussed women’s rights to free birth control included men from different races and religious beliefs, as to fairly include different opinions. This panel however lacked one crucial aspect: women and women’s opinions. After all, this was a discussion that concerned women’s bodies, rights and choices. The fact that the panel consisted of all male participants is hugely upsetting. It is not, however, surprising since throughout history there has been a strong tendency for men to infantilize women while believing that women’s opinions are less valid and competent.

Even before the pill was invented and fairly available to women, many women attempted to control their sexuality through different methods aimed at limiting or spacing pregnancy. Since for many years a woman’s sexuality was often controlled by her husband, and marital rape was not seen as problematic, many women faced more or less constant pregnancies. This was especially hard on working class women who had to perform straining work shortly after giving birth, and who lacked the finances to provide for a large number of children. Various abortion methods were looked down upon but were often performed (Abbott 2011). During this time, the most famous abortionists were women while the most focused anti-abortionists were men. A man named Anthony Comstock was one of the most aggressive opponents of birth control (Tyler May 2010). Comstock fought to rid the United States of literature discussing birth control while prosecuting abortionists. He succeeded and in 1873 the Comstock Act was accepted, declaring the obscenity of birth control devices (Abbott 2011). [Read more...]

Women’s History Month: Josephine Lowell

When it comes to the field of social work in the United States, it is women who have really been the pioneers. Starting with what is commonly referred to as the Progressive Era, women have led the fight to improve conditions for the less fortunate and for and entire industry to be built around helping others.

History changers from the Progressive Era included notable women such as Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Lillian Wald, Margaret Fuller, Eleanor Roosevelt and Josephine Lowell. I have been familiar with the name Josephine Lowell for quite sometime, and I recently had the opportunity to learn more about her and found her story to be one I needed to share this Women’s History Month.

Like many trailblazing women from the Progressive Era, Josephine was born to a well-to-do family, and like many other social activists of the time, her parents were Unitarian Universalists. She was born in Massachusetts in 1843, and had the opportunity to travel around Europe with her family before they settled in Staten Island.

Josephine came of age during the Civil War and began her public service career as a teenager volunteering for the U.S. Sanitary Commission. It was during this time that she met her husband Charles, who she would soon travel with to Virginia where he served as Colonel and she volunteered tending to injured troops. Josephine faced the devastating consequences that many did during this time, losing both her new husband and brother to the war.

After the death of her husband Josephine gave birth to their daughter and moved in with her family back in Staten Island. She soon took it upon herself to starting working on behalf of communities who, especially during Josephine’s time, had few people standing up for them. She became involved early on as an advocate for Philippine independence and the Anti-Imperialist movement before working to improve education for African Americans, and then went on to organizing to improve conditions in hospitals, jails, and mental institutions. [Read more...]

Women’s History Month: Harriet Hosmer

Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) is probably the most famous American artist you’ve never heard of, and I think that should change. I came to Harriet Hosmer by way of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The two women were expatratriates together in mid-nineteenth century Italy; both were extremely popular in their day and all but disappeared from popular memory a generation later. (Only Elizabeth Barrett’s marriage to Robert Browning seems to have kept her from disappearing from the British canon completely.)

I’m here to do my small part in returning Harriet Hosmer to her rightful place in American history. I can only hope that we finally live in an era where there are too many women participating in public life for a generation of female achievement to be buried again.

Historian Kate Culkin, the author of Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography, believes “Harriet Hosmer’s life resonates with those of us in the 21st century as she was so interested in and adept at shaping her image for the public. She was an international celebrity, and she and her supporters took great care to ensure that Hosmer, an ambitious, single woman who had moved to Rome with no intention of returning to the United States, was depicted an patriotic and genteel.”  [Read more...]

Women’s History Month: First Women in Law

Determining women firsts in the legal profession is difficult because at the turn of the 20th century several women across the country were making their way into the profession, each with their own obstacles. Belle Babb Mansfield is often considered the first woman lawyer because she was the first woman to be admitted to the bar in the United States, though she never really practiced law. There were several women practicing law before Mansfield was officially recognized, though they had to practice without official recognition. The recorded history of women lawyers is somewhat scattered and inconsistent. I’ve chosen to highlight four of the early female lawyers though the list is by no means exhaustive but each one has an inspirational story.

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Women’s History Month: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Chances are, you don’t need me to introduce you to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861). In the Victorian era she was famous, a literary superstar whose first poems were published when she was just fourteen, and a serious candidate to succeed William Wordsworth as Britain’s poet laureate upon his death. Unless your heart is made of stone, you know her most popular piece, one of the best-known love poems in the English-speaking world from Sonnets from the Portugeuse (1850):

                              XLIII
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. 

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Women’s History Month: Marie Trintignant

Chère Marie, merci*                                               

Letting you discover Marie Trintignant is something that means a lot to me because this will tell you about my first feminist model. This woman was a French actress engaged in feminist issues, under the aegis of her mother, a national feminist figure. Marie Trintignant died in 2003, beaten to death by her partner. She left four children.

Marie Trintignant was the daughter of the French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and of the filmmaker and writer Nadine Trintignant, who is one of the signatories of the Manifesto of the 343 in April 1971 for abortion rights.

Marie began to act in her parents’ movies very early, and in 1988, she performed in a supporting role, playing a prostitute in Une affaire de femmes. This film tells the true story of a mother during the German occupation of World War II who, in order to survive, became an abortionist, and was guillotined for that work.

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