In this new wondrous age with Supreme Court decisions affirming gay and lesbian marriages, and gender being redefined as nowhere near as rigid as it has previously been defined, I sometimes wonder if anyone knows what our lives were like at the time when I was a young woman, trying to figure out how to live my life honestly in the face of so much hatred and danger. Who are we if we cannot speak truthfully about our lives? How did we come to this new age in which we can take our lovers home or to church or walk hand in hand down the street without lies or pretense or a carefully crafted fictional stance to protect us?
Speaking truth to power was a tenet of the early women’s movement. We would change the world by the simple act of declaring our truth and refusing to back down or lie no matter how virulent the response.
How virulent was the response? Take a look at the coming-out stories shared in Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South (NewSouth Books). You will see the internal evolution of people who wanted simply to be themselves. It was not easy or simple or even a matter of confronting prejudice. Most of these people’s deepest struggles were with themselves, their families and their faith, their most personal convictions.
Confronting the enforced silence of manners and social expectations, we claimed our lives for ourselves. Was it heroic? Was it audacious, marvelous, scary and day by day painful? Of course. Did we change the world? Look around you and marvel.
Dorothy Allison, Gay and Grateful: On the Crooked Path to the Crooked Letter
In a final, desperate bid for survival, Frances Lorien Van de Oest, heiress to a vast fortune, escapes from her kidnappers and finds herself thrust, naked and bleeding, onto the cold dark streets of an unknown city. There, she is picked up by a charismatic thief named Spanner and reborn as Lore, someone for whom identity has become a fractured, shifting, untrustworthy thing.
Slow River unfolds gradually. The opening narrative, told by Lore in the first person, is set three years after the kidnap, and a few months after her breakup with Spanner. The second narrative tells the story of life with Spanner, beginning immediately after Lore escapes from the kidnappers. The third follows her upbringing, at two year intervals, from the age of five until she is abducted. This triple narrative structure creates a powerful sense of momentum. Lore’s stories move forward in parallel towards a point of convergence, both in terms of time and self.
At the age of twenty-eight, Laura Willowes is quite content with her life. She feels no interest in marriage and lives with her father on the country estate, spending her time reading, brewing and indulging her fondness for botany. But then her father dies and she finds herself prevailed upon to move in with her brother and his wife in London.
There she lives passively, tucked away in the “small spare room”, helping to look after the children and being “indispensable for Christmas Eve and birthday preparations”. As Laura herself will observe of another woman later in the book, she has become the “typical genteel spinster” who spends “her life being useful to people who don’t want her”.
Feinberg in 1997, in a photograph by Ulrike Anhamm (wikipedia)
A little round-up of posts about Leslie Feinberg who sadly passed away this week at the age of 65. It is only through the immense courage of people like Feinberg that our lives have become possible. We should remember them with honour and gratitude.
Everyone’s been tweeting this article, I Hate Strong Female Characters. Sophia Mcdougall seems to have articulated something that a lot of people have been feeling.
On a related note, Anne Billson posted about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the scarcity of female role models
This is an interesting post from NPR’s blog, At the Movies: The Women are Gone. It makes the important point that the lack of women in the movies has nothing to do with the popularity or income-generating potential of women-centred movies:
They put up Bridesmaids, we went. They put up Pitch Perfect, we went. They put up The Devil Wears Prada, which was in two-thousand-meryl-streeping-oh-six, and we went (and by “we,” I do not just mean women; I mean we, the humans), and all of it has led right here, right to this place. Right to the land of zippedy-doo-dah. You can apparently make an endless collection of high-priced action flops and everybody says “win some, lose some” and nobody decides that They Are Poison, but it feels like every “surprise success” about women is an anomaly and every failure is an abject lesson about how we really ought to just leave it all to The Rock.
Life Mask is set in the world of late eighteenth-century British high society. This period saw economic crises, impending war, and the threat of revolution, but also an increasingly educated population and more social mobility. A few women were beginning to access careers, especially in literature and the arts, but they still lived in a world in which reputation was everything and entering public life remained extremely risky.
Following the early death of her boorish husband, aristocratic Anne Damer has been able to enjoy a relatively independent life and has made a name for herself as a sculptor. Eliza Farren, meanwhile, has risen from her working-class origins to become a successful actress on the London stage, one of the celebrities of the period. The lives of these two women are linked by their relationships with a powerful man, Edward Smith-Stanley , twelfth Earl of Derby, an old friend of Anne’s and suitor to Eliza. Despite the difference in their social positions, Anne and Eliza become close friends, but when ugly rumours about the nature of Anne’s sexual preferences begin to surface, they threaten to bring scandal and ruin down upon all their heads.