Female Masculinity

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Masculinity without men. In Female Masculinity Judith Halberstam takes aim at the protected status of male masculinity and shows that female masculinity has offered a distinct alternative to it for well over two hundred years. Providing the first full-length study on this subject, Halberstam catalogs the diversity of gender expressions among masculine women from nineteenth-century pre-lesbian practices to contemporary drag king performances.

Through detailed textual readings as well as empirical research, Halberstam uncovers a hidden history of female masculinities while arguing for a more nuanced understanding of gender categories that would incorporate rather than pathologize them. She rereads Anne Lister's diaries and Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness as foundational assertions of female masculine identity. She considers the enigma of the stone butch and the politics surrounding butch/femme roles within lesbian communities. She also explores issues of transsexuality among "transgender dykes"-lesbians who pass as men-and female-to-male transsexuals who may find the label of "lesbian" a temporary refuge. Halberstam also tackles such topics as women and boxing, butches in Hollywood and independent cinema, and the phenomenon of male impersonators.

Female Masculinity signals a new understanding of masculine behaviors and identities, and a new direction in interdisciplinary queer scholarship. Illustrated with nearly forty photographs, including portraits, film stills, and drag king performance shots, this book provides an extensive record of the wide range of female masculinities. And as Halberstam clearly demonstrates, female masculinity is not some bad imitation of virility, but a lively and dramatic staging of hybrid and minority genders.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Halberstam (literature, Univ. of California, San Diego; Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, Duke Univ., 1995) presents a unique offering in queer studies: a study of the masculine lesbian woman. Halberstam makes a compelling argument for a more flexible taxonomy of masculinity, including not only men, who have historically held the power in society, but also women who embody qualities that are usually associated with maleness, such as strength, authority, and independence. Fleshing out her argument by drawing on a variety of sources--fiction, films, court documents, and diaries--Halberstam calls for society to acknowledge masculine lesbian women and value them. A dense work that requires some knowledge of gay studies, this is recommended for academic libraries and will appeal to scholars in gay studies, gender studies, women's studies, film studies, and sociology.--Kimberly L. Clarke, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis
Lambda Book Report
Judith Halberstam's new book, Female Masculinity, is an extraordinary and studied work that carefully presents an analysis of gender, and more specifically, masculinity, without over-simplification or narrow definition. . . . This is the most thorough and broad-visioned work on female masculinity that I have yet seen. Halberstam's work is an essential contribution to our increasing understanding of gender expression and its relationship to biology and sexual orientation, as well as to everything else.
Halberstam's book can be added to the list of important studies of masculinity and femininity. . . . [H]er intriguing and intelligent study covers a wide range of subjects and time periods. . . . Along with Judith Butler, Terry Castle, Sue-Ellen Case, and Eve K. Sedgwick, Halberstam-especially in her previous work on masculinity and lesbianism-is already established as one of the most thought-provoking voices in queer studies. This book will only enhance that reputation. Female Masculinity should find a wide readership. . .
Campy, trashy, tough, and violent, Chopper Chicks in Zombietown is all you could ever want in a "women's movie,"' contributing movie editor Judith Halberstam writes in her recent book Female Masculinity, the first full-length study on the subject. That one quote about an obscure female zombie biker movie reminds me why we'd rather have Judith doing movie reviews than anyone else: she has her finger firmly on the pulse of queer representations in film.
Gay and Lesbian Times
Judith Halberstam's Female Masculinity is truly a pioneering document which disrupts eras of silence surrounding this topic. . . . [S]he crafts her language in a very inviting and accessible manner. She is clearly trying to be understood, which is a refreshing change from too many academic works. In addition, she infuses humor and little personal preferences or irritations (mostly through colorful adjective choices) into the middle of serious analysis, which makes the whole academic process more interesting and less elusive. . . . Whether you agree or disagree with her choices, the ideas are definitely stimulating. It is a book you'll want to sit down with your friends and talk about. You find yourself overjoyed at one moment that someone has finally written down exactly what you've felt but haven't been able to articulate, and in the next moment irritated because you think she's mistaken. It is essentially an opening to the major taboo of masculinity in women . . . . [T]he genuine enthusiasm she brings to her research is catchy and this book could very well be the catalyst for expanding a whole field of thought. And, on a personal level, it simply affirms our lives and ideas.
Windy City Times
A masculine woman herself, Halberstam states her case clearly and argues it passionately in this book, the first full-length study of its kind. . . . [She] presents fresh counterproposals to stale arguments. Halberstam's film theory is excellent and . . . her more theoretical discussions are fluid and easy to understand. She's written a fascinating book, and she's opened the door for much more to come.
Female Masculinity is a full-on attack on the idea that masculinity is exclusively-or even primarily-the property of men. . . . [It] aims to help restore a sense of butch pride, and to validate the entitlement of women to their own masculinity. . . . There's an interesting defense of the stone butch, more often cast as a damaged and dysfunctional figure, and a walk along the debated borders between butch lesbians and female to male transsexuals. An accessible chapter on butch representation in film observes the emasculation of butches in mainstream productions-Fried Green Tomatoes, Desert Hearts-and there's a useful analysis of what's at stake in the drag king club acts in America and the UK. . . . [This is] the first full-length study in a crucial area and it's a great starting point.
There is a need for this book; Halberstam's analysis offers the reader a fresh and positive spin on the much maligned stone butch figure, for example, and the book contains an interesting selection of photos of drag kings, transgender, and butch women. There are long sections detailing butch characters in film and modern drag performers, an area on which little has been written.
From the Publisher
Female Masculinity is a very important work that scholars in cultural studies will be talking about for years. Nothing like it exists, period.”—Esther Newton, author of Cherry Grove, Fire Island

“Thank goodness for the dashing Judith Halberstam! Her new book is a smart, entertaining and informed tour of that most threatening of cultural identities: the masculine female. Oh, yum!”—Kate Bornstein, author of My Gender Workbook

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822322436
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Pages: 329
  • Sales rank: 690,164
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Halberstam is Professor of Literature at the University of California in San Diego. She is the author of Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, also published by Duke University Press, and writes a regular film review column for Girlfriends magazine.

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Table of Contents

1 An Introduction to Female Masculinity: Masculinity without Men 1
2 Perverse Presentism: The Androgyne, the Tribade, the Female Husband, and Other Pre-Twentieth-Century Genders 45
3 "A Writer of Misfits": John Radclyffe Hall and the Discourse of Inversion 75
4 Lesbian Masculinity: Even Stone Butches Get the Blues 111
5 Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum 141
6 Looking Butch: A Rough Guide to Butches on Film 175
7 Drag Kings: Masculinity and Performance 231
8 Raging Bull Dyke: New Masculinities 267
Notes 279
Bibliography 307
Filmography 319
Index 323
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