Susan Bordo is one of the most acute and lively chroniclers of our time. Whether she takes to task the male body (in her aptly named book The Male Body) or female body image (Unbearable Weight), Bordo is always a pithy observer of her subject matter, candidly disclosing her own biases and shortcomings. In her newest book, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Bordo’s skills are sharp as ever as she compares narratives from history and popular culture, revealing the bits of truth we know to be for certain about one of history's most elusive characters: Anne Boleyn, the Queen of England from 1553-1556, when her husband King Henry VIII had her imprisoned and beheaded.
Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University, published these words twenty-five years ago in her renowned essay on slavery, race, gender, and rights called "On Being the Object of Property":
There are moments in my life when I feel as though a part of me is missing. There are days when I feel so invisible that I can't remember what day of the week it is, when I feel so manipulated that I can't remember my own name, when I feel so lost and angry that I can't speak a civil word to the people who love me best. Those are the times when I catch sight of my reflection in stores windows and am surprised to see a whole person looking back.
In a symposium last week at Columbia Law School that celebrated her continued work in law, critical race theory, and intersectional feminism, she recalled the climate in which she wrote this reflection on the dispossession of black people in general and black women in particular.
In 1966, when Jean Rhys was 76 years old, her novel Wide Sargasso Sea was published. The novel, a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, is told from the perspective of the Caribbean Creole “madwoman in the attic" who was Mr. Rochester's first wife. Her editor, who worked with her on Wide Sargasso Sea,highlights the difficulty of Rhys’ life, saying, “It is impossible to describe briefly the burdens inflicted on her by poverty, loneliness...It remains a mystery how someone so ill-equipped for life, upon whom life had visited such tribulations, could force herself to hang on, whatever the battering she was taking, to the artists at the centre of herself.”
Domitila Barrios de Chungara was a labor rights leader and political activist from Bolivia. In addition to advancing the status of the working class of Bolivia, Barrios de Chungara was also an advocate for women’s rights.
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.
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.
Lourdes Portillo has a decades-long film career. Her films, which tend to focus on Chicano and Latino culture and identity, range from realism to avant-garde, fiction to personal narrative, with every kind of genre-bending in between. Portillo continues her work today as a member of Xochitl Productions, a film production and distribution company that expands the dialogue around Latino and Chicano issues and identity. This past June, the Museum of Modern Art presented her work in a retrospective titled La Cineasta Inquisitiva. Here is a video montage Women Make Movies put together of some of her works, including Corpus, Columbus on Trial, Las Madres, and Señorita Extraviada. Even these snippets show the varied style of her work and how she deftly played with and melded genre. Click through for more!
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.
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.