This morning I woke up convinced that my outline for the book had to be revised (yes two weeks into the sabbatical and I’m already deviating from my plan).My initial interest in all this stuff feminism, art social movement, dates back almost 20 years now. At the time, and really even still now, I was fascinated by what women did when no men were around. While I realize that sounds like the promo line for a bad porno, it’s better than the academicese – attempts to craft an identity of agency by women in homosocial spaces.
The first women’s historian I could identify with a thesis was definitely Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s idea of women’s culture in The Female World of Love and Ritual. This idea overlapped with the notion of voluntary separatism in odd ways in my head. CS-R for example never argued that 19th century women wanted their limited sphere, only that they had ways of existing in their purview that didn’t completely suck (or as I forver think of it, the silver lining approach to oppression). At the same time as I learned about CS-R in women’s history class I was doing research into 1970s feminists. I became familiar with the notion of the woman-identified woman, now mostly associated with lesbian feminists and indeed promulgated by the Radicalesbians. However if read carefully, the manifesto offers to all women the option of devoting time and energy to women only, regardless of sexuality. Whether this option was practical or practicable was another matter.
These two world collided in my research about the Woman’s Building, which was NOT exclusively lesbian, but was definitely woman-identified. I was fascinated by the choices these women made inside their largely separatist institution. They described their place as a public center for women’s culture. That phrase “women’s culture” links back to the historical scholarship and captures, in two words, an entire world. So really the book needs to be about that, the entire world.