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If A Lesbian Fell In Hollywood, And No One Were There To Hear Her, Would She Make A Noise?

July 29, 2010, 12:44 pm

Our friend at Historiann meditates today on the practice of women’s history and why feminism matters. “Women’s history,” she writes, “is a large and rich enough field that there are histories of women that aren’t particularly feminist, just as the history of women has expanded far beyond the history of just feminist women to include the histories of women who lived before the invention of feminism as a political movement as well as women who weren’t feminists or even worked actively against feminism.” But, she asks: “What would happen if we just stopped writing it? Who in the larger historical profession would notice, or care, or complain?” The answer is not women would care, but feminists would care. “Feminists are the ones who would care if women’s history ceased production. Whether or not they’re women’s historians, feminist historians would notice.”

Tie a thread to this post and run it through the blogosphere to Bully Bloggers where, after several days of silence, the comments section of Jack Halberstam’s post on Lisa Cholodenko’s icky lesbian movie “The Kids Are All Right.” Interestingly, this post, on an academic blog that doesn’t often attract people who don’t get it, has become the site for a polarized conversation about what a “lesbian” movie is supposed to do for either a “lesbian” or a “mainstream” audience; what constitutes a “lesbian stereotype;” and whether it is acceptable for “lesbians” to criticize other “lesbians” for representing a film about a depressingly conventional film as a political triumph over a homophobic movie industry. A critical theme of Halberstam’s review — one that seems to be lost on hir critics — is that this movie might be about lesbians but that doesn’t make it progressive, nor does it represent a cheerful perspective on the state of the lesbian bourgeoisie.
Who notices that there are so few movies that choose gay and lesbian subjects that we over-invest in the ones that do as progressive and/or high art, whatever their flaws? To paraphrase Historiann, queer people do, that’s who.
Not surprisingly, those of Halberstam’s critics who believe the movie is “good” because it is “realistic” (i.e., represents their reality, and I say that with no sarcasm) also miss critical moments of racism (not to mention the ugliness of Nic’s anti-feminist dominance of Jules) in “The Kids Are All Right” that others of us find agonizing. They view the depiction of upper-middle class life in Los Angeles as “mainstream,” when in fact the vast majority of GLBT people, like all other Americans, are too poor to afford sperm donors, much less one non-working parent to take care of the kidz. These critics also perceive parenting as a burdensome but socially necessary task for which it is noble to sacrifice the personal and sexual happiness of all adults, straight and gay. The other big problem with these critiques is the assumption in many of them that if Halberstam doesn’t get it that sex dies in long relationships, and that people with jobs and children are too tired to do the nasty, ze has never been in a long-term relationship, doesn’t parent, and knows nothing about the “mainstream.”
Well, take that, why don’t you? The assumption that people who do not parent and do not commit to long-term monogamy have no authority to speak to or about those who do replicates the $hitty, narrow politics of the movie. It’s not that lesbians committed to monogamy and child-rearing necessarily have bad politics. But they do when “seeing themselves” in popular culture excuses a range of other sins, like not seeing other people who aren’t like them. And when they can’t perceive that a movie script is sexist, racist, classist and often clunky, actually they do have bad politics, as well as bad taste.
Concluding where I began, Historiann (who does not reveal the nature of her sexuality, her relationship or her parenting status on the blog, and is a pretty radical feminist) has a similar issue with mommy bloggers (which will be revealed in the winter issue of the Journal of Women’s History — reserve yours now!)
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