Amateur Hour, or, Feminism Against TERFism

I have heard proclamations of feminism’s death many times over the years. Nevertheless, it came as a genuine surprise when I encountered it this past July, in an essay on “Sidecar,” the New Left Review blog, by NLR editor Caitlín Doherty.

Desdoblamiento after Colonization: Julia de Burgos’s Latinx Modernism

Julia de Burgos (1914–53), one of Puerto Rico’s greatest poets, haunts the American literary imagination from the borders of the modern. Her ghostly presence, desperate and furious, searches for interlocutors on the bridge to Welfare Island, historically a warehouse for the poor, the criminalized and sick just east of the United Nations. Julia’s barefoot figure wandering across that bridge in her bata, just as she describes in letters to her sister Consuelo in 1953, positions her to catch the eye of today’s visitors to the newly restored and renamed Roosevelt Island, which offers no physical reminders of this important Puerto Rican and American poet’s residence there. Nothing in the island’s glistening white granite park mentions the two poems Burgos wrote in English when Roosevelt Island was Welfare Island, months before her death in Spanish Harlem.

Time: The Present. Selected Stories by Tess Slesinger

In 1932, Tess Slesinger published her most famous story, “Missis Flinders,” a bracingly candid look into the mind of a woman in New York City returning home from her abortion. Slesinger’s story—inspired by her own decision to terminate her pregnancy that year—does not fit neatly into the rhetoric that surrounds our ongoing political and legal debate over women’s reproductive rights. During the Great Depression, economic scarcity meant that abortion, if still illegal, was not policed or stigmatized as bitterly as it would be in earlier or later decades. Neither simply “pro” nor “anti,” Slesinger’s tale instead explores the psychological afterlives of this experience for one woman, trying to reconcile her decision with the feelings that linger after, with her identity as an intellectual, and with her husband’s own intellectual insecurities.

Domestic Ecology and Autoimmunity: Eugenic Feminism in the Sixth Extinction

Initially hailed as an ur-text for feminist scholarship upon its first reprint in 1973, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” (1892) has undergone a significant historicist reevaluation, beginning in the 1990s, which condemned the story on behalf of its author’s investments in eugenic feminism, the view that women’s reproductive roles should be weaponized as a tool of white supremacy through the enforcement of “racial hygiene.”

So, What Does a Feminist Look Like?

There’s a recent feminist slogan that, no matter how staunch my feminist allegiance, always troubles me. You’ve no doubt seen it in one form or another: the ubiquitous “This is what a feminist looks like” emblazoned on posters, memes, and fashion apparel such as t-shirts, onesies, and, heaven help us, even aprons! I believe I understand the laudable intention underlying this message: to demonstrate visually that feminists come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, classes, genders, and orientations, and to help reclaim and destigmatize the term feminist after decades of conservative backlash. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the many unsettling questions the slogan raises for me:

Why the emphasis on image and appearance? What does it matter what a feminist looks like? Isn’t it a person’s actions that makes them a feminist? Wouldn't a better slogan communicate what a feminist believes in and stands for, the changes a feminist demands and is prepared to agitate for? And why the stress on the singular feminist? What about feminists as a collective?

Notes on Bristling

Bristling. I don’t use this word much, and I definitely do not see it on the page often. Maybe that is why it stood out to me when Carrie Rohman (whose post you can read here) employed it in her keynote at the Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf in June 2021. It seemed offhand but managed to strike me as significant. Carrie was saying something about how we—women, I think, in the context of her talk, but let’s circle back to this we later—bristle when we encounter familiar but nonetheless distressing articulations of sexism and misogyny in our places of work.

Woolf, the University, and All Sorts of Brutality

Erica Delsandro’s galvanizing post about the possibilities and limitations of collective feminist bristling helps signal to us all just how much work, and how much care-ful work, needs to be done around issues of gendered disadvantage, and other forms of institutionalized abuse, in our profession. I want to deliberately evoke the tradition of feminist care ethics at the outset of this discussion, in part because my recent scholarly attentions to gendered experiences of ill-treatment and disadvantage in academia may seem a strange departure from my long-standing commitments in animal studies and performance studies.

Schlegel Capitalism: E. M. Forster and the Cultural Form of Modernist Adventure

Margaret’s plea to her somewhat work-phobic younger brother might sound a little odd, since she does not—work, that is. Instead, as she enigmatically puts it in the preceding line, she “pretends” to work, engaging in a host of cultural activities with an energy redolent of work, perhaps, but with few of its economic imperatives. What this strange formulation pretending to work might mean in the context of E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel—indeed, in the context of 1910 more broadly—is one way to frame the question posed by this essay.

Shelter in Two Acts

The minuteness of her body and the expansiveness of her thought struck some as an odd contrast. In this still, her body crowded by the desk lamp, the large microphone, and the curtains that seem to drift toward her on the window’s breeze, they fuse in one perfect moment (Fig. 1). Mid-February 1994, Rome. She is speaking at the Virginia Woolf Center of the International Women’s House about the convergence of the practice of feminism and the insights of Michel Foucault. Critical of the communion of the “we,” she is taking feminism in another direction, a more theoretical direction, some would say.

“Orientations”:  A Provocation, A Welcome, An Invitation

When I was in the process of proposing and developing the volume that became Teaching Modernist Women’s Writing in English, one of my peer reviewers noted an orientation towards the celebratory, a somewhat uncritical extolling of the vibrancy of modernist women’s writing. I had found such vibrancy in communities of modernist scholars as I was working on the volume, roundtables and seminars at the annual MSA conference, including one convened in honor of Jane Marcus shortly after her death.