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  • Immigrant and second-generation lesbians: Self-construction and family relationships by S. Amari
  • Marion Maudet
Amari S., 2018, Lesbiennes de l'immigration. Construction de soi et relations familiales [Immigrant and second-generation lesbians: Self-construction and family relationships], Éditions du Croquant, 361 pages.

Salima Amari's book, based on her doctoral thesis (defended in 2015), describes the social experience of lesbians in migration and post-migration contexts and at the intersection of gender, class, and race relations, and sexuality. The author's main hypothesis is that these women 'act on two fronts: constructing their own personal identity and managing family relationships, which they seek to preserve' (p. 9).

Her research draws on a rich body of empirical material: 52 interviews with migrant or second-generation lesbians from North Africa and several participant observation periods in Paris, the greater Paris region, and three major French cities (Lille, Lyon, and Toulouse) between 2009 and 2014. The many interview excerpts, together with detailed portraits of some respondents, flesh out her description of different types of trajectories and provide a clear empirical picture of the diverse intersectional situations these women are involved in. The first part of the book analyses the relationships between lesbians of North African origin and their families, while the second offers an in-depth analysis of their 'lesbian careers': sexual awakening and first sexual relationships, the questions of couple formation and parenthood, and the personal and political issue of 'coming out'.

The author distinguishes throughout the work between women (or girls) who migrated from North Africa and the second generation, showing that 'the family seems a place for constructing an "ethnicized" self with ties to migration and working-class history' (p. 12). The family, then, is a tension-fraught territory, at once a protective space where one can be with one's own people and a locus and source of prohibitions and constraints, especially sexual ones.

In the case of second-generation lesbians of North African origin, Amari is careful to highlight both the role of certain characteristics common to many migration histories (of 'biographical capital', the transmission of 'subjective resources' such as the value of work and education, parents' working-class background) and the empirical diversity of those histories (sibling group size, parents' social and migration trajectories, post-migration residential moves, and family mobility).

The working-class origins of migrant families are particularly important in structuring such social and gender roles as the sexual division of labour and a certain 'working-class emphasis on family'. This 'classist' reading of the gendered division of productive and reproductive labour in working-class families is in some cases translated by respondents into cultural terms, a point that highlights the intertwining of social and migrant histories in these families. The sibling group also works to construct inter- and intragenerational relationships: oldest daughters, often born in Morocco, are the path-breakers who confront all the problems thrown up by immigration, while younger sisters' experience is 'closer [End Page 560] to a post-migration history yet to be (re)invented' (p. 86). These social and migration trajectories structure the way immigrant and second-generation lesbians develop their identities and begin their 'lesbian careers'.

Ultimately, these women seek to distance themselves from the 'threefold constraint'—virginity, marriage, motherhood—that falls to them. To do so, they use a variety of strategies, described in detail in the second part of the book. Moving away to pursue higher education is one way of escaping the extremely strict parental control imposed first and foremost on adolescent daughters. The first part leads into the second with a discussion of the fundamental 'filial loyalty' children must show towards their parents, a sense of duty that weighs particularly heavy on women and even heavier on lesbians, who are generally assumed to be 'permanently available' for them.

The second part details the trajectories of these two groups of lesbians originally from North Africa. Like the 'homosexual careers' studied by Michael Pollak in 1982, their 'lesbian careers' are influenced by ethnic origin and class membership: 'Because they share the same intersectional experience of being socially dominated in terms of sex, "race", and sexual orientation, North African migrant and second-generation lesbian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1958-9190
Print ISSN
1634-2941
Pages
pp. 560-563
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-29
Open Access
No
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