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.
Same-Sex Attraction between Girls
Wendy L. Rouse
Lorena Garcia. 2012. Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself: Latina Girls and Sexual Identity. New York: NYU Press.
Reproducing heteronormative femininity on gURL.com
Jacqueline Ryan Vickery
This article examines the prominent romantic and sexual scripts—the most common being that of a "prince charming" waiting for a girl—found on the "being single" message board of gURL.com. A discourse and textual analysis of the message board is conducted in order to analyze how girls are performing their (hetero)sexual identities. This provides insight into current notions of contemporary girlhood and romantic/sexual expectations. Findings suggest that girls believe that being single is "caused" by something—most often that a girl is not pretty enough or not outgoing enough—so singledom is "blamed" on a lack of (appropriate) femininity. Also, if a girl fails at femininity then it is assumed that she might also be failing at heterosexuality. Girls seem to believe that by becoming more conventionally feminine (outgoing and attractive), singledom can be "fixed" and thus heteronormativity and femininity are reaffirmed.
Francisca de Haan, Maria Bucur and Krassimira Daskalova
This is the third volume of Aspasia, with a focus on the gender history of everyday life. The questions in which we were interested included: How have broad institutional frameworks – religious, social, economic, political, and cultural – related to the ways in which average women and men negotiated their gender identities, and, vice versa, how have (changes in) gender identities and relations influenced broader institutional frameworks? Our call for papers also asked more specific questions: How have assumptions of religious institutions about gender norms shaped the everyday religious practices and spirituality of laywomen and men? How have sexual norms impacted how women and men perform and negotiate their sexual identity in their daily lives? What changes did state socialism bring to women’s and men’s gender identities and daily lives, and how did that change over time?
The Anthropology of Contemporary Jewry
In recent decades, the ethnography of Jews and Judaism has followed the larger movement in cultural anthropology toward a focus on the margin—the cultural, geographical, and demographic borderlands where questions of group and individual identity are negotiated. The article explores this literature and the questions it raises about the nature of Jewish community and culture. It discusses three areas where marginality has had a particular resonance in Jewish ethnography. Studies of 'marginal Jews' focus on the periphery of traditional Jewish communities, people whose gender, ethnic, and sexual identities lie outside of local normative models. Studies of 'unexpected Jewries' explore a geographical periphery outside the few centers that dominate international Jewish culture and self-understanding. Studies of 'Jews in motion' examine transitional Jews—tourists, immigrants, refugees, and others who bridge the local contexts within which Jewish identities are constructed. These studies reveal Jewish culture to be much more complex, dynamic, and durable than social scientists and Jews themselves have often imagined it.
Secular constraints, Muslim freedoms
Katherine Pratt Ewing
Terms of a Western discourse of homosexuality shape conflicts surrounding sexual identity that are faced by many Muslims, especially those who live in diasporic communities. Many use essentialized categories to articulate their sexual orientations and express incommensurabilities between their sexuality and their identities as Muslims. This article argues that discursive constructions of the Muslim as traditional other to the secular sexual subject of a modern democracy generate an uninhabitable subject position that sharply dichotomizes sexual orientations and Muslim family/religious orientations, a dichotomization that is reinforced by well-publicized backlashes against open homosexuality in several Muslim countries. Yet observations made during ethnographic field research in Pakistan, as well as scholarly evidence from other Muslim countries, suggest that many Muslims are less troubled by sex and desire in all their possible forms than they are by the peculiar modern practice of naming our sexualities as the basis for secular public identities.
A Space of Belonging for Young Gay Men in Seoul
For young men navigating a sexual identity that lies on the periphery of culturally understood and politically acceptable discourses, places where one expresses such identities becomes necessary to foster a sense of belonging. Gay districts have existed as bastions of open self-expression, providing a sense of belonging in restrictive societal contexts. This is particularly true in South Korea. Through direct ethnographic engagement, this article analyzes the ways in which Chong-ro, one of Seoul’s gay districts, reinforces identity to create a sense of belonging. Through methods of participant observations and semi-structured interviews with self-identified gay men, qualitative data was collected and analyzed. This article attempts to show how these places help formulate relationships that affirm young gay men’s understanding of self, community, and belonging.
'New' Female Sexualities, 1870–1930
In her study of the relationship between sex, gender, and social change in Britain since 1880, Lesley Hall justifies her starting date by pointing out that ‘recent historians of the nineteenth century have perceived a definite change in sexual attitudes, and in ways of talking about and dealing with sexual issues, around 1880’. She suggests that this marks the beginnings of ‘certain ways of thinking about sex which are essentially “modern”’. This special edition, which focuses on readings of texts published from the 1870s to the late 1920s, examines these ‘modern’ ways of conceptualising sex in relation to the dangerous figure of the sexually active woman and to female sexuality in general. It takes its impetus from such recent developments in the historicizing of sexuality that have designated the fin de siècle and early twentieth century as particularly important for understanding the early formation of ‘new’ female sexual identities. At this time the new science of sexology, the development of psychoanalysis, the social purity movement, the rise of the New Woman and the proliferation of more sexually explicit texts all contributed to increased public debates about the nature of female sexuality. As Frank Mort has argued, this was a period when social purists and feminists increasingly felt compelled to ‘speak out about sex’ and ‘to confront the conspiracy of silence and shame which surrounded the subject’, a confrontation which also took place in New Woman fiction.
Sex and the Body in Dickens
William A. Cohen
Not so long ago, the topic of Dickens and sex might have seemed entirely entailed by Foucault's inquires in the first volume of the History of Sexuality. In that work, Foucault argues that sex is not a biological donnée but is instead an effect of discourse, a culturally variable vehicle for the exercise of power in many different directions. Emerging out of Foucault's studies of social institutions such as prisons and madhouses, the History of Sexuality emphasises the disciplinary imperative of sexual knowledges; it argues that individual subjects internalise surveillance mechanisms, experiencing them through and as their sexuality. One of the beneficiaries of the Foucauldian paradigm, which dominated Victorian literary studies from the late 1980s until recently, was queer theory. Queer theory interrogates rather than presuming identity categories (such as homosexual, lesbian and gay), but it has always sat in an uneasy relation to identity politics, simultaneously relying on and deconstructing stable notions of gender and sexual identity. Some critics have employed queer theory to discover lesbian, gay or queer characters and practices in Victorian literature (not to mention finding more properly nineteenth-century types, such as the hysteric, the onanist and the sodomite). Such projects have often understood the function of sexual representation as part of modernity's more general disciplinary structure.
Reclaiming the Daughter's Inheritance in Vita Sackville-West's The Edwardians
Vita Sackville-West received her copy of Orlando from Virginia Woolf on the day of its publication in October 1928. The significance of this act came to represent far more than a literary gesture from one writer to another. An exuberant and unorthodox biography of Vita and her ancestral heritage, Orlando finally enabled Woolf to capture an enduring impression of the woman who had been both her muse and her lover. For Vita Sackville-West, however, Woolf ’s literary offering represented more, even, than this most inspired declaration of affection. For a daughter denied all rights to property inheritance under the laws of male primogeniture, Woolf had provided all that the courts had removed; possession of an ancestral past and access to a familial present. The literary sorcery of a novel that could subvert the sexual identity of its protagonist could, in the same moment, undermine all such legal process and restore Vita/Orlando to her beloved ancestral home. Writing in reply to Woolf, Vita’s expression of gratitude for reuniting her with the memory of Knole, the Sackville-Wests’Kentish estate, is complicated by a remaining sense of grief for her lost inheritance