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Women's Studies, Gender, and Sexuality > Women's Studies

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At the Heart of Freedom

Feminism, Sex, and Equality

Drucilla Cornell

How can women create a meaningful and joyous life for themselves? Is it enough to be equal with men? In this provocative and wide-ranging book, Drucilla Cornell argues that women should transcend the quest for equality and focus on what she shows is a far more radical project: achieving freedom. Cornell takes us on a highly original exploration of what it would mean for women politically, legally, and culturally, if we took this ideal of freedom seriously--if, in her words, we recognized that "hearts starve as well as bodies." She takes forceful and sometimes surprising stands on such subjects as abortion, prostitution, pornography, same-sex marriage, international human rights, and the rights and obligations of fathers. She also engages with what it means to be free on a theoretical level, drawing on the ideas of such thinkers as Kant, Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Hegel, and Lacan.

Cornell begins by discussing what she believes lies at the heart of freedom: the ability for all individuals to pursue happiness in their own way, especially in matters of love and sex. This is only possible, she argues, if we protect the "imaginary domain"--a psychic and moral space in which individuals can explore their own sources of happiness. She writes that equality with men does not offer such protection, in part because men themselves are not fully free. Instead, women must focus on ensuring that individuals face minimal interference from the state and from oppressive cultural norms. They must also respect some controversial individual choices. Cornell argues in favor of permitting same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, for example. She presses for access to abortion and for universal day care. She also justifies lifestyles that have not always been supported by other feminists, ranging from staying at home as a primary caregiver to engaging in prostitution. She argues that men should have similar freedoms--thus returning feminism to its promise that freedom for women would mean freedom for all.

Challenging, passionate, and powerfully argued, Cornell's book will have a major impact on the course of feminist thought.

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Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies

edited by Stella Bolaki and Sabine Broeck

Among the most influential and insightful thinkers of her generation, Audre Lorde (1934–1992) inspired readers and activists through her poetry, autobiography, essays, and her political action. Most scholars have situated her work within the context of the women’s, gay and lesbian, and black civil rights movements within the United States. However, Lorde forged coalitions with women in Europe, the Caribbean, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa, and twenty years after her passing, these alliances remain largely undocumented and unexplored. Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies is the first book to systematically document and thoroughly investigate Lorde’s influence beyond the United States. Arranged in three thematically interrelated sections—Archives, Connections, and Work—the volume brings together scholarly essays, interviews, Lorde’s unpublished speech about Europe, and personal reflections and testimonials from key figures throughout the world. Using a range of interdisciplinary approaches, contributors assess the reception, translation, and circulation of Lorde’s writing and activism within different communities, audiences, and circles. They also shed new light on the work Lorde inspired across disciplinary borders. In addition the volume editors, contributors include Sarah Cefai, Cassandra Ellerbe-Dueck, Paul M. Farber, Tiffany N. Florvil, Katharina Gerund, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Gloria Joseph, Jackie Kay, Marion Kraft, Christiana Lambrinidis, Zeedah Meierhofer-Mangeli, Rina Nissim, Chantal Oakes, Lester C. Olson, Pratibha Parmar, Peggy Piesche, Dagmar Schultz, Tamara Lea Spira, and Gloria Wekker.

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Authority and Female Authorship in Colonial America

William J. Scheick

Should women concern themselves with reading other than the Bible? Should women attempt to write at all? Did these activities violate the hierarchy of the universe and men's and women's places in it? Colonial American women relied on the same authorities and traditions as did colonial men, but they encountered special difficulties validating themselves in writing. William Scheick explores logonomic conflict in the works of northeastern colonial women, whose writings often register anxiety not typical of their male contemporaries. This study features the poetry of Mary English and Anne Bradstreet, the letter-journals of Esther Edwards Burr and Sarah Prince, the autobiographical prose of Elizabeth Hanson and Elizabeth Ashbridge, and the political verse of Phyllis Wheatley. These works, along with the writings of other colonial women, provide especially noteworthy instances of bifurcations emanating from American colonial women's conflicted confiscation of male authority. Scheick reveals subtle authorial uneasiness and subtextual tensions caused by the attempt to draw legitimacy from male authorities and traditions.

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Ava Helen Pauling

Partner, Activist, Visionary

Mina Carson

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Baad Bitches and Sassy Supermamas

Black Power Action Films

Stephane Dunn

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.

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The “Baby Dolls”

Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition

Kim Marie Vaz

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.

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Bad Girls

Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion before the Sixties

Amanda H. Littauer

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.

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The Bad Wife Handbook

Rachel Zucker

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.

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A Band of Noble Women

Racial Politics in the Women's Peace Movement

Melinda Plastas

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

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The Banshees

A Literary History of Irish American Women Writers

by Sally Barr Ebest

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.

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