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Black Power Action Films
This lively study unpacks the intersecting racial, sexual, and gender politics underlying the representations of racialized bodies, masculinities, and femininities in early 1970s black action films, with particular focus on black femininity. While low-budget blaxploitation films typically portrayed black women as trifling "bitches" compared to the supermacho black male heroes, the terms "baad bitches" and "sassy supermamas" signal the emergence of films featuring self-assured, empowered, and tough (or "baad") black female protagonists: Cleopatra Jones, Coffy, and Foxy Brown. Stephane Dunn closely examines a distinct moment in the history of African American representation in popular cinema, tracing its influences from the Black Power movement and feminism.
Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition
One of the first women’s organizations to mask and perform during Mardi Gras, the Million Dollar Baby Dolls redefined the New Orleans carnival tradition. Tracing their origins from Storyville-era brothels and dance halls to their re-emergence in post-Katrina New Orleans, author Kim Marie Vaz uncovers the fascinating history of the “raddy-walking, shake-dancing, cigar-smoking, money-flinging” ladies who strutted their way into a predominantly male establishment. The Baby Dolls formed around 1912 as an organization of African American women who used their profits from working in New Orleans’s red-light district to compete with other Black prostitutes on Mardi Gras. Part of this event involved the tradition of masking, in which carnival groups create a collective identity through costuming. Their baby doll costumes—short satin dresses, stockings with garters, and bonnets—set against a bold and provocative public behavior not only exploited stereotypes but also empowered and made visible an otherwise marginalized female demographic. Over time, different neighborhoods adopted the Baby Doll tradition, stirring the creative imagination of Black women and men across New Orleans, from the downtown Tremé area to the uptown community of Mahalia Jackson. Vaz follows the Baby Doll phenomenon through one hundred years with photos, articles, and interviews and concludes with the birth of contemporary groups, emphasizing these organizations’ crucial contribution to Louisiana’s cultural history.
Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion before the Sixties
In this innovative and revealing study of midcentury American sex and culture, Amanda Littauer traces the origins of the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s. She argues that sexual liberation was much more than a reaction to 1950s repression because it largely involved the mainstreaming of a counterculture already on the rise among girls and young women decades earlier. From World War II–era "victory girls" to teen lesbians in the 1940s and 1950s, these nonconforming women and girls navigated and resisted intense social and interpersonal pressures to fit existing mores, using the upheavals of the era to pursue new sexual freedoms.
Building on a new generation of research on postwar society, Littauer tells the history of diverse young women who stood at the center of major cultural change and helped transform a society bound by conservative sexual morality into one more open to individualism, plurality, and pleasure in modern sexual life.
Rachel Zucker's third book of poems is a darkly comic collection that looks unsparingly at the difficulties and compromises of married life. Formally innovative and blazingly direct, The Bad Wife Handbook cross-examines marriage, motherhood, monogamy, and writing itself. Rachel Zucker's upending of grammatical and syntactic expectations lends these poems an urgent richness and aesthetic complexity that mirrors the puzzles of real life. Candid, subversive, and genuinely moving, The Bad Wife Handbook is an important portrait of contemporary marriage and the writing life, of emotional connection and disconnection, of togetherness and aloneness.
Racial Politics in the Women's Peace Movement
A Band of Noble Women brings together the histories of the women’s peace movement and the black women’s club and social reform movement in a story of community and consciousness building between the world wars. Believing that achievement of improved race relations was a central step in establishing world peace, African American and white women initiated new political alliances that challenged the practices of Jim Crow segregation and promoted the leadership of women in transnational politics. Under the auspices of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), they united the artistic agenda of the Harlem Renaissance, suffrage-era organizing tactics, and contemporary debates on race in their efforts to expand women’s influence on the politics of war and peace. Plastas shows how WILPF espoused middle-class values and employed gendered forms of organization building, educating thousands of people on issues ranging from U.S. policies in Haiti and Liberia to the need for global disarmament. Highlighting WILPF chapters in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Baltimore, the author examines the successes of this interracial movement as well as its failures. A Band of Noble Women enables us to examine more fully the history of race in U.S. women’s movements and illuminates the role of the women’s peace movement in setting the foundation for the civil rights movement
A Literary History of Irish American Women Writers
The Banshees traces the feminist contributions of a wide range of Irish American women writers, from Mother Jones, Kate Chopin, and Margaret Mitchell to contemporary authors such as Gillian Flynn, Jennifer Egan, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. To illustrate the growth and significance of their writing, the book is organized chronologically by decade. Each chapter details the progress and setbacks of Irish American women during that period by examining key themes in their novels and memoirs contextualized within a discussion of contemporary feminism, Catholicism, Irish American history, American politics, and society. The Banshees examines these writers’ roles in protecting women’s sovereignty, rights, and reputations. Thanks to their efforts, feminism is revealed as a fundamental element of Irish American literary history.
Activism in an Aspiring Muslim Democracy
Gender relations in Muslim-majority countries have been subject to intense debate in recent decades. In some cases, Muslim women have fought for and won new rights to political participation, reproductive health, and education. In others, their agendas have been stymied. Yet missing from this discussion, until now, has been a systematic examination of how civil society groups mobilize to promote women’s rights and how multiple components of the state negotiate such legislation.
In Bargaining for Women’s Rights, Alice J. Kang argues that reform is more likely to happen when the struggle arises from within. Focusing on how a law on gender quotas and a United Nations treaty on ending discrimination against women passed in Niger while family law reform and an African Union protocol on women’s rights did not, Kang shows how local women’s associations are uniquely positioned to translate global concepts of democracy and human rights into concrete policy proposals. And yet, drawing on numerous interviews with women’s rights activists as well as Islamists and politicians, she reveals that the former are not the only ones who care about the regulation of gender relations.
Providing a solid analytic framework for understanding conflict over women’s rights policies without stereotyping Muslims, Bargaining for Women’s Rights demonstrates that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Islam does not have a uniformly negative effect on the prospects of such legislation.
The Life of Belle W. Baruch
Belle W. Baruch (1899–1964) could outride, outshoot, outhunt, and outsail most of the young men of her elite social circle—abilities that distanced her from other debutantes of 1917. Unapologetic for her athleticism and interests in traditionally masculine pursuits, Baruch towered above male and female counterparts in height and daring. While she is known today for the wildlife conservation and biological research center on the South Carolina coast that bears her family name, Belle's story is a rich narrative about one nonconformist's ties to the land. In Baroness of Hobcaw, Mary E. Miller provides a provocative portrait of this unorthodox woman who gave a gift of monumental importance to the scientific community. Belle's father, Bernard M. Baruch, the so-called Wolf of Wall Street, held sway over the financial and diplomatic world of the early twentieth century and served as an adviser to seven U.S. presidents. In 1905 he bought Hobcaw Barony, a sprawling seaside retreat where he entertained the likes of Churchill and FDR. Belle's daily life at Hobcaw reflects the world of wealthy northerners, including the Vanderbilts and Luces, who bought tracts of southern acreage. Miller details Belle's exploits—fox hunting at Hobcaw, show jumping at Deauville, flying her own plane, traveling with Edith Bolling Wilson, and patrolling the South Carolina beach for spies during World War II. Belle's story also reveals her efforts to win her mother's approval and her father's attention, as well as her unraveling relationships with friends, family, employees, and lovers—both male and female. Miller describes Belle's final success in saving Hobcaw from development as the overarching triumph of a tempestuous life.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
This timely and compelling ethnography examines the impact of welfare reform on women seeking to escape domestic violence. Dána-Ain Davis profiles twenty-two women, thirteen of whom are Black, living in a battered women’s shelter in a small city in upstate New York. She explores the contradictions between welfare reform’s supposed success in moving women off of public assistance and toward economic self-sufficiency and the consequences welfare reform policy has presented for Black women fleeing domestic violence. Focusing on the intersection of poverty, violence, and race, she demonstrates the differential treatment that Black and White women face in their entanglements with the welfare bureaucracy by linking those entanglements to the larger political economy of a small city, neoliberal social policies, and racialized ideas about Black women as workers and mothers.