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  • Marching Dykes, Liberated Sluts, and Concerned Mothers: Women Transforming Public Space by Elizabeth Currans
  • Meredith A. E. McGriff
Marching Dykes, Liberated Sluts, and Concerned Mothers: Women Transforming Public Space. By Elizabeth Currans. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017. Pp. xiv + 229, preface, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, works cited, index.)

At this time of political turmoil in the United States, when public demonstrations are receiving substantial attention, this book provides a timely and provocative look at the gendered nature of protest. The included case studies come from women-dominated groups active in the twenty-first century, with each group either calling attention to issues through the explicit rejection of gender roles and norms or, conversely, utilizing and drawing power from gendered expectations. Proposing an overarching theoretical framework of "holding space," which Currans defines as "being physically present in a space and claiming it in a way that transforms it for participants and maintains the transformed state for some time," the book addresses ways that these participants "exploit openings provided by those with power and struggle to expand the space available for other ways of being" (p. 3). Throughout the volume, the perceptions and interplay of public and private are key; at many points, Currans effectively complicates the notion of public spaces as masculine and private spaces as feminine.

Currans' work is highly interdisciplinary and pulls from queer theory, feminist and critical race theory, women's and gender studies, geography studies, and performance studies. Nearly every chapter includes discussions about the history of the protest in question (and its precursors, where relevant), the organizing work done in preparation for the event, a description of the event itself, and quotes from relevant sources (both organizers and participants). Overall, the focus of the book is not on broader social movements but rather on "what public demonstrations do and how people experience them" (p. 11). Furthermore, while gender is the prevalent identity under consideration, Currans is attentive to a variety of power dynamics and explores the complexities of race, class, and sexual orientation in relation to holding space. In citing interviews, Currans is consistent in providing readers with the approximate ages, gender identities, races, and sexual orientations/identities of participants and organizers. Commendably intersectional in her analysis of these protests, Currans at many points foregrounds the experiences of participants who are trans women, people of color, and people with disabilities. Although the book often focuses on collective action and the possibility of generating a sense of collectivity, Currans does not lose sight of individual experiences and is quick to note that aspects of a protest that are positive for some can at the same time be negative for others.

One might be inclined to assume that the three identities named in the title—that is, dykes, sluts, and mothers—will coincide with the three main sections of the book, but the sections are in fact more clearly oriented toward sexuality, war, and citizenship. The introduction to Part 1 covers feminist and queer approaches/ analyses of sexuality in regard to danger and [End Page 232] pleasure, and the three chapters that follow "fit somewhere on this spectrum between queer expressions of pleasure and feminist responses to danger" (p. 19). The examples in the following chapters come from a Minneapolis Take Back the Night march (chap. 1), a comparison of Sistahs Steppin' in Pride: An East Bay Dyke March to a New York Dyke March (chap. 2), and SlutWalks, primarily those that have taken place in Toronto (chap. 3). Chapter 1 focuses heavily on the concept of safety and what that term means for different people, particularly victims of sexual violence, and suggests considering marches such as Take Back the Night as spaces for encounter and learning, rather than "safe spaces." Chapter 2 looks at two lesbian-focused marches that purposefully conflict with cultural norms in different ways; while both involve public performances of sexuality or desire, the New York march is more inclined to displays of deviance, while the East Bay march focuses on "community building and emotional sustenance" (p. 44). Finally, chapter 3 considers women's rights to sexual agency, delving into the online discussions that critiqued and affected the planning of the Toronto...


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