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Female Masculinity [Paperback]

by Judith Halberstam
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 26, 1998 0822322439 978-0822322436 1
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

Amazon.com Review

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

From 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
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books; 1 edition (October 26, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822322439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822322436
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J. Jack Halberstam is the author of "Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal" (Beacon Press, 2012), along with four other books, including "Female Masculinity" and "In a Queer Time and Place." Currently a professor of English and gender studies and director of the Center for Feminist Research at the University of Southern California, Halberstam regularly speaks on queer culture, gender studies, and popular culture, and blogs at The Bully Bloggers.

Photo Credit: Assaf Evron, 2012.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars radical---and dashing! December 24, 2003
I know this book takes a lot of flak, but I adore it. Halberstam rips through transhistorical definitions of lesbianism to reveal a multitude of queer 'masculinities,' from female husbands, FTMs, butches...She's been accused of fetishizing masculinity and not critiquing it at all, but I find this to be untrue. I think that, in separating so-called masculinity from maleness, she reclaims what can be striking and powerful about the genders we've labelled "masculine" and in doing so critiques the ways domination has been embedded in traditional male masculinity. This book is truly breakthrough, and I urge you to buy it, and read it, and mull it over. Amazing.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas, but something is lacking. September 9, 2000
By Chris R
Halberstam's ideas around being a masculine female have helped me gain acceptance of my own masculinty. For this reason, the book was groundbreaking for me. However, it's a difficult book to find pleasure in reading because of the hyper academic language and its emotional distance from anything personal or of human interest. The books that are close to my heart about gender and that have been pleasureable to read are Persistent Desire and Stone Butch Blues because they tell a story about the human side of being a masculine female. I'm glad someone's picking apart gender in 1950's film, but it doesn't do to much for me.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful analysis of female masculinity January 23, 2002
By A Customer
When picking up a book that does not purport to be anything other than academic, one must be prepared for the contents to be just that - academic. Halberstam writes well, her ideas are important, and she adds complexity and insight into several areas of scholarly research and debate. I would strongly recomend this to anyone interested in feminism, gender, difference and social justice.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a stunning history of female masculinity June 26, 1999
By A Customer
A highly readable and stunning history of female masculinity in Britain and the USA, considering court cases, literature, film, pop culture and drag king performances. I learned that the most interesting masculinities are not male, and that the history of the occlusion of butchness is a crucial foundation for understanding gender construction of all kinds.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (lesbian) female masculinity. September 4, 2006
Despite my huge frustration that Judith "Jack" Halberstam utterly dismisses the masculinity of heterosexual women (and so should be called Lesbian Female Masculinity if it were being honest), there's a lot of good research and history here, including an interesting look at Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness and interesting commentary on the boundary lines between butches and FTMs.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very multicultural, just one complaint August 29, 2002
The fact that this book was not written by a person of color in no way reduces the racial-inclusion in the book. Halberstam dedicates the book to Gayatri; perhaps having a lover of color influences her racially-diverse perspective. Then again, maybe its the influence of the ethnic studies professors at her college, UCSD. Whatever it was, it's great. Halberstam makes a point of saying how butches of color face different issues from white butches. She states from the start that works on masculinity as it affects men of color and working-class men were much more informative to her research than books on hegemonic masculinity. Halberstam even criticizes white lesbian academics like Faderman when they fail to confront racism in their academic subjects.
I only have one big problem with this book: Halberstam's discussion of the Latina character Vasquez in "Aliens" is all wrong. Halberstam implies that Vasquez is lesbian and she goes on to state that Vasquez dies first, dies tragically, and was in general not dynamic. In the film, they show Vasquez panicked over the death of a man, impliedly her lover. They very consciously render her straight. She was one of the last characters to die, not the first. Further, she died valiently (and heterosexually in the arms of a white man) by killing herself in order to kill more aliens. In such a strong book, I don't understand why Halberstam felt the need to fudge the facts.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an important historical analysis October 21, 2005
this book will not hold your hand as you discover your masculinity. it will, however, inform you about the bredth and depth of female masculinity from a variety of perspectives. it is thorough in it's look at the affects of class and race and also contains a very interesting and important chapter on the tensions between butch, transgender, and FTM. this book is an important read for any student of women's or queer studies.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The generative work on female masculinity December 19, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm not a big fan of Halberstam's structure of argumentation, but if you are interested in female masculinity, you need to read this book.
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