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  • A Reflection on Love Between Women and The Importance of Embodied Thinking in Research, the Academy, Politics, and Life
  • Mónica I. Rey (bio)

So much has happened since Love Between Women was published in 1996. In some ways, the environment in which Love Between Women was published is an entirely different world. I was nine at the time.1 It is easy for me to take for granted how radical Love Between Women truly was in its focus solely on love and sex between women at a time when same-sex marriage was still illegal. Maybe not surprisingly, Love Between Women is important to my own research primarily because of its approach to historiography and method in a field where the historical record is extremely fraught. As a student reading Love Between Women, I was fascinated by its ability to cover questions that center issues related to gender, sexuality, and difference simultaneously. As a PhD candidate, I am now struck by the rich theory it demonstrates, a map that guides me down a path still less traveled in academic inquiry. In my own research I have found true Brooten's observation that "the lack of sources on women is part of the history of women."2 I will admit that at times I am bitter about both the difficulties this presents and the unwillingness of malestream scholarship to embrace or take seriously different methods to deal with this fact.

Yet these difficulties create the opportunity to do something fruitful, creative, and innovative in the historiographical arena. What Love Between Women does so beautifully is to demonstrate how women's histories challenge the discipline of biblical studies and its deeply held beliefs about itself. Case in point, much of Brooten's groundbreaking work is really centered around letting the evidence and [End Page 155] texts speak for themselves, something that is (apparently) difficult for scholars to do. The subject matter the evidence presents led to what Sara Parks describes as "acrobatic antics performed in order for interpreters to maintain . . . assumptions in the face of clear evidence to the contrary."3 How is it that a discipline that claims to so deeply value objective analysis is actually so beset by phallocentric bias? This continues to be a mystery to me.

Already in 1985 Brooten had concluded that "no amount of historical-critical work, no amount of taking the Tendenz into account will make woman emerge as a subject of history."4 Recognizing this, Brooten challenged the discipline's readiness to abandon half of humanity in the historical record by instead engaging a methodological insight she calls historical imagination.5 Similarly, one can appreciate how Brooten's critical comments actually also impact the historicizing of women loving women in ways that challenge even Michel Foucault.6 What Brooten accomplishes in Love Between Women is no easy task. Underappreciated in this field is the sort of labor of theorizing seen and produced in a work like Love Between Women. Hennie J. Marsman, who develops a feminist approach heavily influenced by Brooten, laments that "it is remarkable that those writing on biblical historiography generally give little attention to the theoretical requirements of writing women's history."7

On top of grappling with sparse or missing sources in the historical record, historians like Brooten who do this work also must contend with the fact that the available evidence is also fraught with distortions both in the telling of "history" and quite frankly in the source's own detestable views. Brooten is aware of this paradox, acknowledging that Love Between Women "contributes to the history of male ideas about lesbians far more than to women's history."8 In that history of male ideas, Love Between Women reminds me that we are not really very far from some of these ancient patriarchal views of female homoeroticism. In recovering the sexual lives and relationships of and between women, Brooten had to contend with ancient attitudes toward female homoeroticism, which (spoiler alert) are often extremely negative. In my mind, many of the parallels between ancient and modern views of female homoeroticism are striking. For example, Brooten notes that tribades, women who pursue women, were viewed as mentally ill...