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.
Readers who have followed the postmodern gender debate in the university presses (ranging from Thais Morgan's sedately twisted analyses of Victorian male lesbianism to Judith Butler's acclaimed Gender Trouble) will delight in the latest little earthquake: Judith Halberstam's deft separation of masculinity from the male body in Female Masculinity. If what we call "masculinity" is taken to be "a naturalized relation between maleness and power," Halberstam argues, "then it makes little sense to examine men for the contours of that masculinity's social construction." We can learn more from other embodiments of masculinity, like those found in drag-king performances, in the sexual stance of the stone butch, and in female-to-male transgenderism. Halberstam's subject is so new to critical discourse that her approach can be somewhat scattershot--there is simply too much to say--but her prose is lucid and deliberate, and her attitude refreshingly relaxed. Essential reading for gender studies and a lively contribution to cultural studies in general. --Regina Marler