You probably know her as the French intellectual who penned the feminist tome The Second Sex. But did you know that in addition to writing this 800-page (in English translation—the French is shorter) classic of feminist theory, Beauvoir was also a journalist, essayist, novelist, playwright, memoirist, and travel writer? Recently, there has been a renaissance in Beauvoir studies dedicated to fully exploring her prolific body of work.
If all you know for sure about Columbus Day is that some guy did something in 1492, consider spending part of your "holiday" today learning more. Then reconsider Columbus Day altogether, because it's a truly shameful part of US history that should be remembered but certainly not celebrated.
To really celebrate, we'd also have to kill that someone.
Margaret "Marge" Tucker was a 20th-century Australian Aboriginal activist, organizer, and writer.
Born on the Moonahculla Reservein 1904, Tucker (at the age of 13) and her sister (who was 11) were forcibly separated from their mother and sent to Cootamundra Girls' Home, where they were trained to be domestic workers for two years. She then went to work for little pay for white families, some of whom were abusive. These relocations came courtesy of the Aboriginal Protection Board, where "protection" in this case meant protecting Aboriginal people from themselves—separating families and dictating employment, residence, and education for Aboriginal people.
Today, the Raging Grannies wear purple to protests and harmonize songs like the "Free Trade Trot" or "Police Brutality." In 1985, a 60-year-old Denver grandmother named Justine Merritt was an original raging granny—only she channeled her frustration against the military industrial complex into embroidering.
As a good queer studies (not to be confused with lgbt studies, gender studies, and women's studies–though, they're all related) student, it's important to have your bases covered. You start with the foundational texts, because as an incredibly new (we're talking about my age, here) and constantly evolving field of knowledge, queer studies theories inevitably build on each other as society changes. As Michael Warner coined, queer studies is "a subject-less critique, with a focus on a wide field of normalization as the site of social violence." Terms are carried from one essay to the next, ideas are thrown diagonally, across, backwards, and mixed up with a whole bunch of other things ranging from race theory, to postcolonial theory, to pretty much every social study under the sun, and basically, if you start somewhere in the middle, you'll probably get lost, and overwhelmed. It's like a secret club where everyone cites each other. But don't be discouraged—you can catch up! Let's take a trip down queer memory lane, and visit some old friends. If you've ever read any contemporary feminist or women's and gender studies material, it's likely that you've come across the names of those who are considered pioneers of queer theory—Judith Butler, Gayle Rubin, Lauren Berlant, and of course, Eve Sedgwick, amongst a host of other fancy academics. Like many queer theorists, Sedgwick's writing is dense, and not the easiest to unpack in a single read, but I swear she was an awesome lady who I am definitely grateful to have read in such depth.
Though Clara Schumann was born in 1819, her biography reads more like a modern-day drama. Raised by a divorced father (the infamously temperamental piano teacher Frederick Wieck), Schumann quickly developed virtuoso skills on the piano and became a child star, touring Europe before the age of 18. While her touring paid the bills (much more than her husband Robert Schumann's job composing), Schumann's piano playing transformed into a love and knack for composition that earned her the adoration of Chopin, Brahms, and Mendelssohn. Yet the environment for women composers in the 1800s was toxic—so much so that it inspired Schumann to lament at the age of 20 that, "A woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?"
I like to yank hermits into the spotlight. I'm a sucker for women whose work is sometimes considered "secondary," who kept a low profile and got a lot done. Their lives are usually stranger and their work is often quite unique. So today I'd like us all to focus our attention for a moment on someone who made odd and wonderful fiction, who was constantly seeking out freedom, and who was, to her great dismay, isolated for a large chunk of her short life.
Katherine Mansfield was spirited and strong-willed; diagnosed with tuberculosis at 29, she died five years later after running up a flight of stairs to prove how well she was. She was one of the best writers of the 20th century, though she never wrote a novel, preferring to write in what she called "glimpses." Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal that Mansfield was the only writer she'd ever been jealous of.
Many feminists have praised praised Georgia O'Keeffe for her use of "female iconography" in her art (a.k.a. her vagtastic flower paintings). But O'Keeffe always denied this association as a conscious choice and instead claimed her art revealed the sensuality of nature... which to me sounds like pretty much the same thing. At any rate, O'Keeffe has been celebrated as one of the most influential American modernist artists and definitely deserves a place in Feministory, regardless of her feelings about her flowers' anatomical lookalikes.
Excuse me while I gather my bearings. Where do I even begin? Who is more badass than Audre Lorde? No, really. This is a question I want you to answer. Can't think of anyone? Good. Did you think of someone? Don't tell me yet. You'll ruin this moment. Born in New York City on February 18th, 1934, Lorde began reading and writing by age 4, wrote her first poem in the eighth grade, and was quickly growing into the wonderful poet, writer, theorist, and activist so prominent in fields of contemporary feminist, queer, and race theory she would become.
In honor of the French Open this week, it felt appropriate to highlight the achievements of the female singles winner from 56 years ago: Althea Gibson. Long before Venus and Serena started making waves in the tennis world, Gibson was not only the very first African American tennis player to win ANY of the major Grand Slam tennis tournaments independent of each other, she won three of the four (the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open) during her amazing tennis career.