This sweeping nonfiction work examines the evolving sociocultural construction of American lesbianism. Faderman contextualizes lesbianism’s changes within other shifts in gender, political, and, to a lesser extent, racial identities. In Faderman’s analysis, lesbianism has historically reflected and responded to our wider collective understanding of men and women’s roles in society and the norms governing sexual and romantic relationships.
It’s a hefty topic, but fascinating and quite readable. She starts with romantic friendships in the late 1800s, when we collectively lacked the concept of “lesbianism”. She then works through the suffragette movement, the 20s’ sexual licentiousness, empowerment during the world wars followed by a return to strict 50s gender roles, the 60’s political and sexual upheaval, the utopian 70’s, and through until the 90s. Her deft juxtapositions of sociopolitical movements lend context to the career spinsters of the 20s, the 50s’ strict butch/femme roles, the 60s’ radical rejection of everything male.
Although no time period is perfect, this book reminded me how grateful I am to be queer today. My predecessors often lived radical and rigid sexualities that contradict my more fluid stance, but they did not have the luxury of living as I do. It took all of their struggling, their explorations of possibility, their rigidity and radicalism, to give me freedom today.
The 214 in 2014 series chronicles every book I read in 2014. Each review contains exactly 214 words, because 2014 words is too long and 2014 characters is too dang short. And yes, this review is backlogged from 2014.
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