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Beyond the Myth of Lesbian Montmartre

The Case of Chez Palmyre

Leslie Choquette

This article focuses on one emblematic figure of lesbian Montmartre during the belle époque, the notorious restaurateur Palmyre. After managing the lesbian brasserie La Souris in the 1890s, Palmyre opened her own establishment, Palmyr’s Bar, opposite the Moulin Rouge in the early twentieth century. Palmyre’s restaurants, the second of which catered to gays as well as lesbians, feature in police, judicial, and fiscal archives as well as the visual arts, journalism, fiction, and memoir. Palmyre’s story, besides conveying a slice of lesbian life in Montmartre during the belle époque, illustrates the importance of lesbian and gay entrepreneurs and entertainers to the making of “Gay Paree.” Establishments like Palmyre’s, no less than the bohemian cabarets and giant music halls, contributed to the development of commercialized mass culture in the city, while also providing community space and artistic outlets for Paris’s gays and lesbians.

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The Kids Are All Right But the Lesbians Aren't

The Illusion of Progress in Popular Film

Vicki L. Eaklor

The film The Kids Are All Right, centered on a lesbian couple and their two teenage children, was released in 2010 following a media blitz selling it as a groundbreaking film. Many queer viewers (like this author) eagerly awaited this supposed step forward in lesbian representation, only to be disappointed once again by mainstream stereotypes and tropes. This article takes a close look at the film against the backdrop of lesbian images and themes in “Hollywood“ films, particularly in the last twenty years, and argues that continuities, while sometimes more subtle, override the illusion of progress in portraying lesbians. Finally, there is speculation about why genuine change in mainstream film may be impossible under current societal and economic systems.

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“Your Young Lesbian Sisters”

Queer Girls’ Voices in the Liberation Era

Amanda H. Littauer

Drawing on letters and essays written by teenage girls in the 1970s and early 1980s, and building on my historical research on same-sex desiring girls and girlhoods in the postwar United States, I ask how teenage girls in the 1970s and early 1980s pursued answers to questions about their feelings, practices, and identities and expressed their subjectivities as young lesbian feminists. These young writers, I argue, recognized that they benefitted from more resources and role models than did earlier generations, but they objected to what they saw as adult lesbians’ ageism, caution, and neglect. In reaching out to sympathetic straight and lesbian public figures and publications, girls found new ways to combat the persistent isolation and oppression faced by youth whose autonomy remained severely restricted by familial, educational, and legal structures.

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Tom Boellstorff

It is remarkable how few Westerners know that Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation (after China, India, and the United States), or that Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country. These basic facts should be enough to establish Indonesia’s importance for current world affairs. In this essay, however, I argue for paying attention to the life-worlds of gay and lesbian Indonesians. While this might seem an unconventional topic, these Indonesians’ lives provide valuable clues to how being ‘Indonesian’ gets defined and to the workings of nation-states more generally. They teach us how heteronormativity—the assumption that heterosexuality is the only normal or proper sexuality—plays a fundamental role in forming nation-states as “imagined communities.” In Indonesia and elsewhere, nation-states are modeled on a particular archetype of the nuclear family (husband, wife, and children, with the nation’s president as parent). In line with this model, nation-states often portray themselves as made up not just of individual citizens but of families, which almost always are assumed to be nuclear families despite the staggering range of family forms found in the world’s cultures. Restricting the family model to the heterosexual couple has been a key means by which the idea of the Indonesian nation (and other nations) has been promulgated and sustained. Thus, rather than see the exclusion of homosexuality as a latter-day response to an encroaching global gay and lesbian movement, this exclusion is most accurately understood as a point of departure by which the idea of ‘Indonesia’ comes to exist in the first place.

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Perfect Love in a Better World

Same-Sex Attraction between Girls

Wendy L. Rouse

Victorian notions of the passionless female allowed for a wide latitude of socially acceptable relationships between girls in the nineteenth century that included crushes, romantic friendships, and, for women, Boston marriages. However, textual depictions of female sexuality were rapidly shifting in the early twentieth century. As sexologists’ writings moved toward a medical model focused on the prevention and treatment of homosexuality, the literature created and consumed by parents and school officials reflected growing anxiety about the potential sexual undertones of female friendships. The story of two women coming of age during this cultural shift humanizes the impact of shifting cultural norms on the lives of individuals and reveals the tragic consequences for those who resisted efforts to conform to heteronormative expectations regarding their future.

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Monika Rudaś-Grodzka, Katarzyna Nadana-Sokołowska, Anna Borgos and Dorottya Rédai

Archiwum Kobiet: Pisza˛ce / Archives of Women: Writing A Project at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences - Monika Rudaś-Grodzka and Katarzyna Nadana-Sokołowska

Labrisz Lesbian Association and the Lesbian Herstory Archives Hungary - Anna Borgos and Dorottya Rédai

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Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild

Melanie Ilic, Life Stories of Soviet Women: The Interwar Generation

Marianna Muravyeva and Natalia Novikova, eds., Women’s History in Russia: (Re)Establishing the Field

Francesca Stella, Lesbian Lives in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia

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Elli Tikvah Sarah

I first got to know Sheila in 1982 when we were in a Jewish lesbian feminist group together. Curiously, without discussing it, we both decided to become rabbis, embarking on rabbinic training at Leo Baeck College in 1984.

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A Woman Would Marry a Woman

Reading Sifra on Lesbianism

Laliv Clenman

This article revisits the classic rabbinic midrash prohibiting marriages between women, found in Sifra or Torat Kohanim. The author proposes that the midrash be read as a construction of a parallel feminist science-fiction universe where lesbian marriages are commonplace and women are legal persons as well as active subjects. The complex interplay between the invisibility and visibility of lesbian sexual relations as well as the questioning of their existence and significance is examined in relation to their relative permissibility. Prohibition of lesbian marriages is linked to an acknowledgement of the substantive nature of sexual relations between women, while the denial of their existence is linked to permissive and dismissive positions. Maimonides’s ruling in his Mishneh Torah is analysed in view of his Talmudic influences, which are found to be competing with the radically divergent position found in Sifra, resulting in a position that both asserts and denies the significance of lesbian relationships.

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Revealing Hidden Aspects of Divinity in the 'Queer' Face

Towards a Jewish 'Queer' (Liberation) Theology

Judith Rosen-Berry

Emerging in the 1980s and flourishing during the 1990s ‘queer’ politics arrived as a reaction to what ‘queer’ activists and theorists identified as the narrow identity politics, rigid categories and separate groupings that had become associated with the lesbian and gay movements. In contrast to these rigid categories ‘queer’ politics proclaimed that all identities – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, even some heterosexual identities – could merge into a general ‘queerness’. The term ‘queer’ was understood then by many ‘queer’ activists and theorists in a very broad sense: referring not only to homosexuality and lesbianism but to everything that diverges from the ‘norm’. It became a response to mainstream hetero- normative/straight thinking of all kinds; its oppositional approach probably being best summed up in the slogan: ‘We’re here, we’re queer - get used to it!’ As sociologist Joshua Gamson wrote: ‘“Queer” does not so much rebel against outsider status, it revels in it’.