G. Roger Denson is currently writing a seven part series “XX Chromosocial: Women Artists Cross The Homosocial Divide” for HuffPo. I admire Denson for taking on such a broad sweep of art history and I am ecstatic to see feminist art getting such serious attention in the mainstream media by such a s well-respected critic.

As I read his articles I was struck again by how complex and overlapping academic terminologies can be and the confusion that can ensue as a result.  When a historian reads the term “homosocial” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick or Judith Butler aren’t the first scholars to pop to mind, and the following chronology isn’t the expected one.

But it wasn’t until the mid 1980s, when such terms as the “homosocial” and “fluid genders” began to circulate, that we became possessed with a deeper understanding of why human socialization existed as one gaping divide.

Homosociality was a concept in women’s history (c 1975) long before Sedgwick (1985) (not that I have anything against EKS, I like her work, just like I like Butler’s), mostly closely associate with the highly influential “The Female World of Love and Ritual” by Carroll Smith- Rosenberg  (cited by EKS, p3) and was widely used and discussed in the late 1970s, early 1980s by  women’s studies scholars.  Sedgwick most emphatically did not coin the term “homosocial” (despite what wikipedia says) (cf A Heritage of her own:  toward a new social history of American women, my undergrad women’s history textbook 1979, and Mary Ryan’s use in 1983, and these works which cite CSR with EKS).

Google ngram (imperfect but useful for broad sweep) for homosocial 1960-2000

Image

The same terminology being used by disparate disciplines and to discuss various groups creates all sorts of issues in writing about feminist art.  The complex applications of “women’s culture” and its homosocial, (sometimes read as) separatist implications (which ultimately led to conflation with essentialism) are at the heart of my book, The Politics of Women’s Culture, which traces the concept through various strands of women’s liberation, including some of the same U.S. feminist artists discussed by Denson.

Advertisements