January 2003

Highlights from this issue...

The second time around
This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation edited by Gloria E. Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating. New York: Routledge, 2002, 624 pp., $24.95 paper.

Reviewed by Heather Love

IN 1981, GLORIA ANZALDÚA AND CHERRÍE MORAGA published This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, a book that changed the practice and politics of feminism in the United States. As early as 1987, Teresa de Lauretis traced a "shift in feminist consciousness" to the publication of this and the 1982 collection But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith. These two books, she wrote, "first made available to all feminists the feelings, the analyses, and the political positions of feminists of color, and their critiques of white or mainstream feminism." Yet the situation of women of color remains dire, and This Bridge continues to speak to readers with real urgency. It is a sign of its continuing importance that AnaLouise Keating and Anzaldúa have published a new anthology, This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, that attempts to assess its impact, to offer new perspectives on its themes, and to work toward a political vision for the twenty-first century.

In her preface, Anzaldúa writes that This Bridge We Call Home is intended to "take the model provided by This Bridge Called My Back and give it a new shape." The earlier collection offered a rich and diverse account of the experience and analyses of women of color; with its collective ethos, its politics of rage and regeneration, and its mix of poetry, critique, fiction and testimony, it challenged the boundaries of feminist and academic discourse. The editors of its successor have attempted to stay faithful to its revolutionary spirit and at the same time to speak to a very different historical moment.

Ironically, the greatest challenge to this project may be the overwhelming success of the earlier book. The rhetorical and political force of This Bridge Called My Back grew in large part out of its passionate outsider stance; it is more complicated for the contributors to This Bridge We Call Home--many of them working in academia--to raise questions of institutional authority and continuing race, sex and class inequality.

This Bridge We Call Home registers striking changes in feminism over the past twenty years. "Women of color" has disappeared from the title, and the questioning of the politics of identity leaves room for a wider range of subjects, including men and white people. The scope has expanded to include ethnic and diasporic politics both within US borders and beyond. The contributors address the politics and effects of globalization, and its relation to histories of colonization and de-colonization. The volume features new attention to disability, to indigenous populations in the US, to Arab American women, to the construction of white privilege and to transgender politics. An essay by Max Wolf Valerio, a transsexual man, would have been very hard to imagine in the 1981 Bridge. Not only does Valerio spend a good deal of time praising masculinity (among its benefits: a "white hot sexual drive that exists on its own terms, without emotional clutter or sentiment"), he dismisses the feminism of transgender academics and activists Leslie Feinberg and Judith Halberstam as (respectively) "sentimental" and "preachy."

Several contributors have returned from the 1981 Bridge and offer sharp commentary on their earlier writings. Their self-consciousness about their position in the history of feminism makes for fascinating reading. In "Lesbianism, 2000," Cheryl Clarke revisits her essay in the original Bridge, "Lesbianism: an Act of Resistance": "Anger is the challenge I should have ended 'Lesbianism' with, instead of that corny 'love' thing," she writes.

The shift from second- to third-wave feminism was marked by a shift in tone, and a rejection by late 1990s zinesters, punks and queers of what they saw as the "corniness" of a late 1970s womanist politics. Whether the subject is love between women, institutional racism, or the road to revolution, this tonal conflict is played out in This Bridge We Call Home. In "'All I Can Cook is Crack on a Spoon': A Sign for a New Generation of Feminists," Simona J. Hill reflects on her ambivalence about the snarkiness of contemporary feminism, about its apparent indifference to the real facts of human suffering. While several contributors speak of inequality in a voice that is knowing and tinged by irony--as in Deborah A. Miranda's comment that she doesn't want to "compete in the Oppression Olympics"--others speak with an earnestness that seems untimely ("It is to my misery that I would like to turn").

PERHAPS THE MOST STRIKING DIFFERENCE between the two books is the status of academic feminism and academic writing. This Bridge Called My Back pitched itself explicitly as a critique of academic feminism, and showed that vital feminist writing could be produced outside the academic and professional sphere. It was produced largely by and for women who were distant--by choice or by necessity--from institutions of higher learning. In her "Letter to 3rd World Women Writers," Anzaldúa urged her readers: "There is no need for words to fester in our mouths… They wither in ivory towers and in college classrooms. Throw away abstraction and the academic learning, the rules, the map and compass. Feel your way without blinders. To touch more people, the personal realities and the social must be evoked--not through rhetoric but through blood and pus and sweat."

This Bridge We Call Home continues to speak the language of blood and pus and sweat, but it also speaks quite fluently the language of abstraction, the rhetoric of college classrooms. Several contributors recount their first experience reading the 1981 This Bridge: these primal scenes often take place in women's studies classes, in college libraries, in dorms--on campus, in short. (There are significant exceptions, for instance the case of Donna Hightower Langston, who "first read This Bridge while working on an oil refinery crew" and who insists that the most important thing about the 1981 book was its ability to reach women outside academic settings.) They find themselves in the paradoxical position of responding to the academic success of a book that presented itself as an attack on the academy.

In her preface, Keating expresses her surprise at the number of theoretical contributions she received in response to her call for submissions. She recalls her reaction: "I'm worried. Many submissions are quite theoretical, and in this sense indicate a remarkable change from This Bridge, which has been used as a model for how women of color don't theorize in 'white' academic ways. Piled in stacks all over my dining room floor as I type these words are theoretical pieces by self-identified women of color. Even more remarkable: they don't apologize for or justify their use of high theory." In the end, Keating acknowledges that "you can't make simplistic assumptions about who does and does not use theory," but still feels that the editors may need to ask people to make their contributions more accessible.

QUESTIONS OF ACCESSIBILITY AND ACCESS are crucial here. The status of theory and academic feminism is conflicted, ambivalent and shifting. In "Imagining Differently: The Politics of Listening in a Feminist Classroom," Sarah J. Cervenak, Karina L. Cespedes, Caridad Souza and Andrea Straub describe the "theory/testimonio" divide as it emerged in a 1998 college class on US latina feminisms. Many students in the class dismissed theoretical discourse as abstract, elitist and "discursively exclusive," but the four authors question what they call the "false dichotomy between theory and practice," and argue that US feminists of color should strive to "connect how we theorize in our everyday lives to theory's testimonial aspects." Such a neat lining up of identity markers with styles of discourse happens all the time, but its logic is troubling: to invert hierarchies of competence does nothing to change their fundamental structure. In my own experience as a teacher, it is often the students of color and students from working-class backgrounds, not the more privileged students, who are most drawn to theoretical and abstract texts. The authors of "Imagining Differently" acknowledge this apparent paradox in their conclusion that "[f]or queer, colored, and other disenfranchised people, theorizing is a crucial aspect of survival."

Laura A. Harris meditates on the paradoxes of practicing feminism in the academy in "Notes from a Welfare Queen in the Ivory Tower," in which she grapples with Audre Lorde's classic essay, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House." She writes, "When Audre Lorde made her statement about the master's house, she did not mean do not get an education, do not speak forcefully, do not write critical essays, and do not live every day in the fray of the battle (you were always there). I believe she meant do not think the battle is ever done, do not think that because you made it everyone can, and do not buy into the prevailing myths."

While Harris imagines a way of inhabiting the master's house that is both ethical and politically transformative, others are more skeptical. Judith K. Witherow puts a much sharper edge on this question in "Yo' Done Bridge is Fallin' Down," pointing out that "Some women have gotten a place at the proverbial table, while others are left to endure belly-touching-backbone hunger."

The problem of privilege and class stratification may be at the limit of what This Bridge We Call Home can address. In an article on Chicana politics, Susan M. Guerra suggests that though issues of race and sexual diversity have been addressed in the past twenty years, class inequality remains a problem that cannot be worked through. People are willing to think and talk about "'the other,' the 'marginal,' the 'diaspora,' the 'theories of resistance,' 'identity politics.' The only thing they still won't read or listen to is 'class.' The poverty (and Karl Marx) still taboo." Class inequality remains intransigent, and continues to underpin fundamental social and academic hierarchies. As Harris writes, "The academy, now the locus of much critical work purporting to report on and effect real change in the lives of the marginalized…is one of the most prominent long-standing cultural bastions of class elitism."

This Bridge Called My Back confronted "business as usual" in the academy; there is no doubt that it changed many women's lives at the same time that it radically altered the practice of feminist politics. Now This Bridge We Call Home registers the extent to which the main challenge of its predecessor--its commitment to total revolution and to the dismantling of academic and class hierarchies--has been absorbed without noticeable effect. The failure of this dream haunts This Bridge, and raises the question of what "radical visions for transformation" might address the massive economic inequality that continues to structure--now more than ever--our public and private lives.

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Out of her depth
Emma's War by Deborah Scroggins. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002, 389 pp., $25.00 hardcover.
emma mccune

Emma McCune at home in Nasir,
1991. From Emma's War.

Reviewed by Sondra Hale

EMMA'S WAR IS TOLD as an exciting adventure story, drawing readers into the intricacies of the little understood "tragedy of Sudan." The tragedy refers to the longest-running civil war in Africa, begun in 1983, although one could date it to 1955, when southern contingents of the army mutinied and slaughtered northerners. This war has brought famine, displacement and slavery to the Sudanese people, and I am grateful to Deborah Scroggins for exposing its atrocities to a larger audience. Yet her book is problematic in other respects, not the least of which is the focus on Emma McCune, a young British aid worker turned spouse to one of southern Sudan's charismatic military commanders, Riek Machar.

For the better part of Emma's War, Scroggins skillfully interweaves her own experience in Sudan, where she covered the war for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with Emma McCune's story. Her writing about the war is amazing in its depth, revealing what a skilled journalist can do. But as the book progresses, the thread gets lost and even the chronology seems garbled. In her ending chapters and epilogue, Scroggins stuffs into a few pages too many sage comments about Africa, world politics and the meaning of Emma McCune's life.

Sometimes Emma's War reads like a standard biography with a chronological narrative. At other points, it's more like a war story, and McCune serves simply as a window to the conflict. Then again, it's a critical work of investigative journalism, with Scroggins on the case of "humanitarian" aid abuses, exposing the characters who work the aid circuit. In her prologue, she frames McCune and other aid workers as romantics: "Aid makes itself out to be a practical enterprise, but in Africa at least it's romantics who do most of the work--incongruously, because Africa outside of books and movies is hard and unromantic. In Africa the metaphor is always the belly."

This is a complex book, raising many questions that can only be touched on in a single review. So much film and literature on Africa makes a white person the center of the story-Donal Woods instead of Steve Biko (Cry Freedom), or Ruth First instead of Nelson Mandela and any number of other South African heroes (A World Apart). Emma's War joins a long line of literary depictions of Euroamericans playing out their fantasies, sometimes heroically, against a colonial backdrop--from Joseph Conrad and E. M. Forster novels to Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky to Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient to Olivia Manning's The Levant Trilogy. As Scroggins notes, "Africa's most memorable empire-builders tended to be those romantics and eccentrics whose openness to the irrational--to the emotions, to mysticism, to ecstasy--made them misfits in their own societies."

During my own time in Sudan (six years' residence, spanning several decades), I too lived the colonial life as a white woman, not quite understanding until much later the power of my whiteness. Emma McCune didn't live long enough to begin to understand this power and what it meant in terms of race, class and gender, and Scroggins only tangentially helps readers interpret McCune's life in this way: "She had a vision of overcoming racism through romantic love. She wanted to break the seal of her whiteness--to 'make herself that bridge between black and white,'" in her friend Bernadette Kumar's words.
emma w/riek

Emma McCune and her husband Riek
Machar with their bodyguards.
From Emma's War.

McCUNE'S STORY runs as follows: she was born in India in 1964 to parents who were remnant figures of the British Empire. A woman of modest means and mediocre academic talents, she first went to Sudan in 1987 when she was 23 to teach for the British organization Voluntary Services Overseas, returning in 1989 to work for UNICEF-funded Street Kids International (SKI). "In my heart, I'm Sudanese," Scroggins quotes her as saying. McCune spent much of the late 1980s in the south in the midst of war and famine, emerging as a high-profile khawagiyya (foreigner) and the wife of Riek Machar, whom she married in 1991. Riek Machar was one of two leading southern guerrilla commanders (although Scroggins insists on calling him a "warlord"), the other being John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). McCune died in a car accident in Nairobi in 1993, at the age of 29. Along the way with SKI, she opened more than a hundred schools in southern Sudan while also campaigning against the recruitment of child soldiers.

Such an outline, however, reveals very little about the idealism, adventure and risk with which she conducted her life. Nor does it explain why Scroggins chose her as the protagonist of a 350-plus-page book. She writes that McCune's story may "shed some light on the entire humanitarian experiment in Africa. Or at least on the experiences of people like me, people who went there dreaming they might help and came back numb with disillusionment, yet forever marked." But her identification with McCune is a troubled one, filled with self-doubt about the whole enterprise of aid, reportage and just being there. The consequence is a harshness that can be both unfair and suspect. Scroggins seems to be critical of those who disapproved of McCune's marriage to Machar; nonetheless, she writes of McCune: "She had always been attracted to African men, though she can hardly have laid eyes on many Africans in Yorkshire. Her attraction was frankly erotic. She found black men more beautiful than white men, even joking with her girlfriends that the penises of white men reminded her of 'great slugs.'"

A friend of McCune's is quoted as saying, "[S]he would come out of these swamps of hell, walk into my wardrobe in Nairobi, and come out looking like something out of Vogue…." Scroggins hides behind quotes from such "friends" and colleagues that give the impression that McCune was promiscuous, had a particular penchant for Nilotics (a generalized ethnic term that includes the Nuer, the group to which Riek Machar belonged), and was a beautiful but superficial woman who imagined herself an African queen when she was no more than a "warlord's consort." That Scroggins may have the last word on McCune highlights why writing biography can be so vexed, especially if the writer fears her subject because of the horrors reflected in the mirror.

TWO ISSUES ARE CENTRAL to Emma's War, and Scroggins' handling of them shows both the strengths and weaknesses of this book. The first is McCune's role in the Sudanese civil war itself, one of the bloodiest in this and the last century. The war is stereotypically referred to in the Western media and by many scholars as a religious and racial struggle between an Arabized Muslim north and a Christianized African south. Oh, that it could be so simple! Scroggins, much to her credit, uses the "layered map" metaphor of Sudanese British writer Jamal Mahjoub to convey the complexity:

I have often thought that you need a similar kind of layered map to understand Sudan's civil war. A surface map of political conflict, for example--the northern government versus the southern rebels; and under that a layer of religious conflict--Muslim versus Christian and pagan; and under that a map of all the sectarian divisions within those categories; and under that a layer of ethnic divisions--Arab and Arabized versus Nilotic and Equatorian--all of them containing a multitude of clan and tribal subdivisions; and under that a layer of linguistic conflicts; and under that a layer of economic divisions--the more developed north with fewer natural resources versus the poorer south with its rich mineral and fossil fuel deposits; and under that a layer of colonial divisions; and under that a layer of racial divisions related to slavery…a violent ecosystem…. (pp. 79-80)
What Scroggins omits is a layered map of colonialisms, wave after wave, that have left the country divided and unable to build a nation. She also omits to gender the war, highlighting the horrible victimization of women and children, as well as the greater role of women in holding together the fabric of society. Still, she teases out many of the complications of oil, political Islam, and myriad militias and parties. To her, no one is a hero; no side is without blame:

The Khartoum elite supplied southern and western tribes hostile to the Dinka with machine guns and encouraged them to form militias to raid the Dinka for cattle and, some whispered, even for women and children…. There was an Arabic saying that summed up the strategy of the northern elite: "Use a slave to catch a slave." The south and its borderlands were divided among many tribes, many militias…. The region was also home to smaller, weaker peoples who had no weapons at all…. They were everyone's victims. For the Sudan People's Liberation Army [the military wing of the SPLM] did its share of raiding, too… It was an ugly business of robbery and revenge…. (pp. 83-84)
Scroggins ably describes the ethnic, regional and personal splits among SPLM members, perhaps best dramatized by the insurrection led by the Nuer Riek Machar against the Dinka SPLM head John Garang. This brought about a temporary coalition between Machar and his group and the northern National Islamic Front, until the two guerrilla leaders were reunited in 2002.

Yet part of the dramatic tension in this journalistic account comes from the question of how important Emma McCune was to the war and its political intrigues. Scroggins tends to be dismissive of her. She accuses McCune of holding "a peculiarly Western idealism that was all the more poignant for being totally out of place in the context of an African civil war. It was not a political vision that truly animated Emma as much as an ideal of romantic love. She was in love with the idea of love and with the idea of sacrificing herself to it." But others have stressed McCune's role as an advisor to Machar, an identification that became a double-edged sword for her when Garang's group blamed her for the insurrection against them. Thus the term "Emma's war"; it was Nilotic custom to name a conflict after a woman who caused it, although it is surprising that Scroggins feeds off such sexism.

The second issue involves Scroggins' critique of neocolonialism in the form of the "humanitarian industry"-that is, aid and the entire culture of helping which inundates many African countries with countless outsiders, few of whom have expertise in the area, know the language, or harbor any deep understanding of the groups with which they work. Their presence is at worst a kind of adventure and at best a display of vacuous idealism. Scroggins is rightly critical of the Nairobi and Lokichoggio expatriate communities whose version of roughing it looks like the Nile Hilton to the local people. Many of these aid workers are women, underscoring the complicity of Euroamerican women in the whole colonial and postcolonial venture.
emma at home

Emma sitting on her bed at Ketbek. From Emma's War.

But Scroggins pays too little attention to the positive contributions of Emma McCune and to her popularity among the Nuer. Almost patronizingly she implies that the Nuer were unable to judge McCune's character for themselves and worshipped her blindly: she quotes one colleague as saying, "Everywhere we went…the Sudanese [the Nuer] seemed happy to see Emma even though she had learnt little of their language. She enjoyed the sort of star attention usually afforded to royalty and celebrities. In villages, people would run up to her car as she drove past, bringing presents and seeking advice." She also tends to accept the snide remarks of other expatriates who might have been envious or felt territorial.

"Everything about Emma had a story," remarked one of her friends. Another commented that McCune "was always on trial with the Sudanese because she was a white woman, and with the expats because she had married Riek...." It seems she was on trial with her friends, too. The gossip of close-knit communities living under a microscope is something that Scroggins could have explored rather than taking so often at face value. Evidently she even left out some of her own interviews that presented McCune in a positive light (as I learned from a personal communication with a southern Sudanese colleague). That so many judgments of Emma McCune were not interrogated for their racism and sexism is troubling, marring a well-told tale about a war that few readers know enough about.

That a young white woman in her twenties can offer readers entry into one of the most complicated and heterogeneous societies in the world suggests that her life is fascinating precisely because of the intersection of gender, race, sexuality and politics it represents. Yet for those of us immersed in Sudan and self-critical of our own presence there, a metaphor Scroggins invokes-that of a cobra spitting into a mirror--is apt. Scroggins says this metaphor reminded her "of how the West is alternately enthralled and enraged by its own reflection in Africa." And it reminded me of why analyzing the spaces some women have invented for themselves in military and political struggles matters.

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Building a better shoestring
Kitchen Table Entrepreneurs: How Eleven Women Escaped Poverty and Became Their Own Bosses by Martha Shirk and Anna S. Wadi. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002, 306 pp., $26.00 hardcover.

Reviewed by Leslie Brokaw
kitchen - spotted eagle

Roselyn Spotted Eagle. From
Kitchen Table Entrepreneurs.

"CUTE DOESN'T SAY ENOUGH ABOUT THESE LITTLE MOCS," reads the copy for item twenty in the Lakota Crafts Online Catalog (lakotafund.org), a collection of products made by members of the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota. The "Baby Mocs"--and they are cute--will set you back $43, but the price includes personalization: artisan Roselyn Spotted Eagle hand-beads any three colors you want into the fringed leather moccasins, and the shoes are built to order. "Draw an outline of your baby's feet," reads the copy at the web site. "We will add some for growth."

Roselyn Spotted Eagle pulls in less than $10,000 a year from her beading and quilting. She lives in a three-bedroom trailer on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with her physically disabled adult daughter and mentally disabled grandson. But for her, this income and these circumstances constitute hard-won success: her craft work used to add up to fewer dollars, and her previous home was a two-room cabin with an outhouse. Now she sells her work through her own Spotted Eagle Enterprises, fulfilling orders that come from the reservation and over the Internet at the Lakota Crafts web site. "Things are so much better for us now," she says.

Poverty is a grim subject, and Martha Shirk and Anna S. Wadia's Kitchen Table Entrepreneurs, which tells the stories of Roselyn Spotted Eagle and ten other women, is equal parts miserable and encouraging. The victories are sometimes heartbreakingly modest. Roselyn Spotted Eagle's mother sold off all the family possessions to pay for her drinking; her husband almost killed her when he stabbed her in the neck and the back. With a $400 loan from the Lakota Fund, Spotted Eagle is able to buy a batch of beading supplies in one swoop. Another woman achieves her dream of owning a hot-dog cart. Another is glad when she can pay herself a salary of $425--every two weeks.

The threads that tie the stories together are that all eleven women started independent businesses to ease them out of the most desperate poverty, and all eleven received "microloans"--some as small as several hundred dollars, a few in the tens of thousands--at crucial points in their businesses' growth. The research behind Kitchen Table Entrepreneurs was sponsored by the Ms. Foundation for Women (co-author Wadia is program director for the Foundation), which provides resources and funding for microenterprise groups such as the Lakota Fund, which gave Roselyn Spotted Eagle her first loan and coordinated her twice-monthly repayments of $17.44. Shirk and Wadia spotlight the five-hundred-plus programs that provide these modest yet crucial loans nationally and put faces on the programs' recipients.

The power of a small loan to change a person's life is almost improbable. But loads of businesses are started with teeny amounts of capital, and not all start-ups remain modest. For instance, fully fourteen percent of the 2002 Inc. 500--the annual listing by Inc. magazine of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the country--were started with less than $1,000 in seed capital, including the founders' personal assets. (Almost half--41 percent--were started with less than $10,000.)

These women are tenacious, and that they can even bring themselves to get out of bed some mornings is a minor miracle. Yasmina Cadiz had her lean personal years, making $250 a week as a furniture saleswoman, working part-time on top of full-time to pay her bills, but she now runs Punctilio, Inc., which sells high-end Fortuny lamps from Italy. These are luxury goods: the "Cesendello A Stello" floor lamp, for instance, sells for $1,690 at the company web site (punctilio.com). Cadiz' microloan partner was the Women's Self-Employment Project, which lent her $15,000 in 1998 for initial inventory and advertising costs. By the end of 2000, Cadiz had revenues of $136,000 and $16,000 in profit.

kitchen - garza

Lucille Michelle Garza (far left) chats with some
of her regular customers outside a skate park.
From Kitchen Table Entrepreneurs.

THE 35 PAGES DEVOTED TO YASMINA CADIZ'S STORY are about the only stretch of the book that isn't a cavalcade of disaster. Sharon Garza, the hot-dog cart woman, is more typical of the women profiled here. She struggles with an ex-husband who only sporadically pays child support, a child who dies of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a daughter with severe asthma, allergies and back problems (who nevertheless becomes her partner in the outdoor venture) and a homeless brother who dies of cirrhosis on a city street. Garza's daughter and business partner Michelle takes an entrepreneurship class called b!zwork$ at her high school, a course targeted at teens who appear likely to drop out of school. "I never considered myself at-risk, and when they used that term, I'd be insulted," says Michelle Garza.

Reading so many harrowing stories is the equivalent of facing an unplowed sidewalk full of snow--you know you have to go through it, but it's hard to muster a lot of enthusiasm for the trudge. The authors present their eleven stories straightforwardly and without much levity, and readers might find the book more of a responsibility than a pleasure.

It's not clear that Kitchen Table Entrepreneurs is intended for struggling microentrepreneurs; they are likely to be too busy to read it. And in any event, the book doesn't seem to be designed as a guide. Its practical tips, for instance, aren't bulleted, so interesting ideas get swallowed up. More people might take advantage of so-called "remnant ads," which magazines sell late in each production cycle at discounts of up to 65 percent--Yasmina Cadiz used them at first to advertise her lamps--if the suggestion was highlighted somehow. I didn't know until I read it here that Massachusetts is one of many states that offer something called an Individual Development Account, a state-sponsored savings program that matches savings by low-income workers at a ratio of up to eight dollars to one (www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs). The stories are told chronologically instead of by lesson or challenge, and information on how to contact microlenders is perfunctory. There are a lot of missed opportunities for presenting usable information to would-be entrepreneurs.
kitchen - washington

Lucille Barnett Washington explains
to a customer exactly what repairs
his car needs. From Kitchen Table

Perhaps the primary function of this book will be to show policy-makers and funders the power of these programs. "The budgeting and decision-making workshops started me to thinking about how important it was to budget," says Roselyn Spotted Eagle; the workshops, write the authors, "helped her move from thinking of her work as a hobby to regarding it as a real business." "So that microenterprise programs can continue to provide quality services to their existing clients and expand to reach latent demand," they recommend "public funding should be not just sustained, but increased."

Kitchen Table Entrepreneurs adds up to an indictment of a system in which a woman loses her Social Security if she succeeds in supplementing it too well; in which a missed rent check makes the difference between having a home and losing it; in which funeral expenses can tap out a family's life savings. It's a solid addition to the body of literature that, as the authors write, "bear witness to how owning a small business can transform a woman's life, not only in economic terms, but in terms of her self-esteem and her contribution to her community."

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Dramatic monologue
Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi by Nawal El Saadawi, translated by Sherif Hetata. New York: Zed Books, 2002, 251 pp., $69.95 hardcover, $19.95 paper.

Reviewed by Marilyn Booth

Nawal El Saadawi

IN 1956, BABY DAUGHTER IN HER ARMS, Nawal El Saadawi traveled from Cairo to her father's village, Kafr Tahla in the Nile Delta. Newly graduated from Cairo University Medical School, she welcomed a change of air and took a post running the government-built village clinic. "My stride on the earth was powerful, big like my village grandmother," she exclaims in this second volume of her autobiography. "I needed space, yearned for the smell of green fields, of mud ovens baking bread."

El Saadawi has staked out vast space in her novels, autobiographical writings and bold works on sexuality and gender in Egyptian society. She has become an international figure, the first Arab feminist writer to be widely read in English, a flamboyant speaker in university lecture halls and a commanding presence on international feminist circuits. And she's framed this book with spaces and distances: beginning it in her North Carolina study in 1993, among the North Carolina evergreens, and ending it with her return to Egypt in 1996, on a flight enlivened by an intensely sympathetic seatmate and a good gin and tonic. She and her husband (translator of this book and many of her other works, and a novelist in his own right) had come to Duke University as visiting professors after deciding to leave Egypt when El Saadawi's name appeared on a roster of intellectuals targeted for harassment--and apparently a death threat--by the Egyptian government's most vocal opponents, who call for a theocratic government based on their version of Islam.

But it is El Saadawi's early adult years in Cairo and Kafr Tahla, punctuated by medical aid excursions to Suez in 1951, to the Canal Zone in 1967 and to Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan in 1968, that command most space in this book. It might almost have been given the working title of a novel she was writing in the early 1960s, "Woman Searching for Love." Throughout the narrative, the stories of her three marriages recur as dominant motifs of gendered oppression intertwined with national trauma, followed by a wary triumph, both serene and troubled. These are political stories, of course, as El Saadawi links marriage trajectories to the entangled realities of national and sexual politics. How can a marriage survive the profound disillusionment of a colonial war fought steadily by the young yet disavowed by the government? How to resist the grim pressures of respectable convention, urged by family and friends upon a young divorcee with a child? What a relief when she finally meets the quiet and lovely Sherif Hetata, a survivor of aristocratic forebears and years and years of political imprisonment, and a steadfast supporter over nearly forty years of her writing and activism.

Readers of El Saadawi's fiction will find here the autobiographical correlates of male characters in her novels, from the husband in her first novel, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, to the fathers in Searching and The Circling Song, to her later villains, the most repulsive and in-your-face representatives of Patriarchy. As in the first volume of her autobiography, which appeared in English as Daughter of Isis in 1999, her own father is a much more equivocal, and more finely etched, figure, the recipient of ambivalent affection from his "wayward" daughter. There are echoes here, too, of her earlier descriptions of her mother and grandmothers, who as they socialized her into the ways of the fathers also offered her strong models of female power.

Like other Arab women who write, El Saadawi attests to the power of women's storytelling, and recalls the shaping force of supernatural figures who inhabit women's tales:

I remember the stories told to me by my grandmother and [the trees near Duke] are transformed into witches or devils, their long tresses hanging down on either side of their heads as they reach up into darkness.

Throughout my life devils have surrounded me. In my village, when I was still a child, I used to look for them. In Cairo, after I had grown up, they looked for me. (p. 2)

They hover over lives as they flit through her pages, turning now into "visitors of the dawn"--policemen come to raid or arrest--now into enforcers of social norms, or prospective suitors, or colleagues in the Health Ministry.

DAUGHTER OF ISIS traced El Saadawi's childhood--literally from birth--and school days, her relationships to parents and grandparents and siblings, her moves between village and town and city school. There was a concreteness to that volume that seems absent here, particularly as she moves into the presumably wider world of adulthood. In Walking Through Fire, her world often seems curiously small, bounded for good or ill by parental ghosts, as she is hounded relentlessly by her opponents and by the government that insists on "protecting" her from its Islamist opposition.

Though we meet a trio of friends who accompanied El Saadawi from secondary school through university and far beyond, we never gain a sense of the larger stage on which activism moves. We do hear of her vocal attendance at political meetings as a student, her outspoken presence at a gathering of Nasserist politicians (about which she has spoken before), her impatience with the Ministry of Health. We see her dodging bombs to treat patients in Ismailiyya. We hear of the hypocrisy of student leaders, socialist politicians and medical school professors. We read of brief encounters with villagers and wounded soldiers with whom El Saadawi seems to feel a sense of connection and communication. But has El Saadawi never felt a sense of collective political work, of the shared aims and difficult negotiations that feminism means to many, in Egypt as in the United States? If she really was the only female student from the medical school who went to political meetings, as she claims, did she have no contact with women of her generation in other faculties who were certainly politically active and vocal and who, like El Saadawi, have written about it?

El Saadawi has been criticized for muting others' voices in the organization she spearheaded, the Arab Women's Solidarity Association, closed down by the Egyptian government several years ago. Perhaps her strength lies in her ability to forge ahead regardless of others, yet I would have welcomed her open assessment of the value of individual versus collective work, of where her projects have succeeded and perhaps where they could have succeeded more fully. I would also have welcomed a thoughtful analysis of how she feels about today's feminist Muslim reevaluation of the sources of Islamic doctrine and practice, a revolutionary move from within that women active in gender politics are taking up from Morocco to Iran. Instead she writes, "I kept searching in the holy books and sayings for mention of the rights of women. There was nothing, absolutely nothing." Whether one agrees or not, surely her long history of activism has yielded some dialogue and reaction.

And how might the presence or absence of a community contour the ability--or not--to write? El Saadawi is constantly grappling with the blank page, both compelled and unable to write. Is it simply because the "Arabic language was not made for me"? Her mother tongue, she declares, "does not speak to me. It was made for men, uses divine words and expressions that deny my existence. God and Satan are masculine. Death is masculine." Yet she writes, as do many other women. Could the awesome stare of the blank page stand in for a lack of community?

As a translator of numerous novels and short stories by Egyptian and Lebanese women (including El Saadawi's Memoirs from the Women's Prison and her novel The Circling Song), I've long been concerned with English-speaking readers' access to the rich, resolute presence of feminists in contemporary Arabic literature. I've also rejoiced in the growing range of autobiographies by Arab women available in English--works by Fatima Mernissi, Leila Ahmed, Fedwa Tuqan, Latifa al-Zayyat and others, welcome alternatives to the genre of "unveiling the Arab (or Muslim) woman" by Western journalists that have found a ready market among New York's major houses. El Saadawi's importance as an activist and a bold voice in Arab feminism's most recent half-century cannot be denied. I hope she'll make her autobiography a trilogy, moving on to contemplate her role as part of a feminist history alive with many voices, productive conflicts and continuing struggles.

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Supporting cast
The Girls in the Back Room: Looking at the Lesbian Bar by Kelly Hankin. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002, 248 pp., $18.95 paper.

Reviewed by Nan Alamilla Boyd
hankin - streicher

Rikki Streicher (right), now-deceased
owner of Maud's, with a bartender, in
Last Call at Maud's. From The Girls
in the Back Room

THE POLITICS OF VISIBILITY have long structured lesbian and gay social movements. Early homophile activists struggled to break the conspiracy of silence that trapped lesbians and gay men in damaging stereotypes. An abundance of images, they argued, could work against negative stereotypes to produce social tolerance. Today, as Kelly Hankin observes, there is an abundance of queer images on television and in film. Hankin focuses on representations of the lesbian bar in such films as Bound, Living Out Loud, Boys on the Side, Chasing Amy, The First Wives Club, French Twist, Henry and June and Basic Instinct. She also finds images of the lesbian bar on television programs like Ellen, Roseanne, Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, NYPD Blue, Law and Order and Sex and the City. But what sense can be made of these representations? Do they signal the success of a politics of visibility? What kind of cultural work do these images accomplish?

Hankin argues that mainstream representations of the lesbian bar work to contain rather than expand lesbian spatial and sexual liberation. As she puts it, these representations are "part of a broad cultural project working to maintain heterosexual spatial supremacy." She observes that most public spaces--for example the employee lunch room, the airport, the college football game--are overtly heterosexual, but the lesbian bar is a space ostensibly free from the voyeuristic possibilities of what feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey calls "the male gaze." It is here that lesbians have historically maintained some degree of autonomy. In mainstream media, however, depictions of the lesbian bar are staged as part of a heterosexual story line--that is, lesbians and lesbian space are a backdrop for the more important story of heterosexual romance. Hankin argues that representations of the lesbian bar in mainstream film and television fix and flatten the possible meanings of lesbian public space and transform what might otherwise be understood as a site of queer sexual liberation into a tool for heterosexual dominance.
hankin - lianna

Lianna (Linda Griffiths, right) learns
to gaze sexually at other women in
a lesbian bar in Lianna. From The
Girls in the Back Room

So how do films like Chasing Amy, Boys on the Side and Living Out Loud, films that were partly marketed and consumed as alternatives to the standard story of heterosexual romance, assert a heterosexist point of view? Each depicts the lesbian bar as a cultural space that welcomes or enables heterosexual pleasure and surveillance. In Chasing Amy, for instance, when Banky (Jason Lee) and Holden (Ben Affleck) unintentionally visit a lesbian bar, Banky expresses arousal rather than discomfort or alienation: "When am I ever going to get the chance to see this shit live without paying for it?" This sentiment is echoed in an episode of Law and Order in which Detective Munch (Richard Belzer) investigates a lesbian bar: "There's gotta be ten women for every woman in this place." These comments reveal a heterosexual male fascination with lesbian sexuality, and they filter the scene through the perspective of male rather than female desire. Mainstream representations of the lesbian bar, Hankin argues, are limited by a heterosexist logic that "rarely permits heterosexuality to capitulate [sic] its privilege as the moral and literal center of those narratives."

While some mainstream representations of the lesbian bar sexualize lesbians from a heterosexist point of view, others depict it as a space that is useful or curative for heterosexuals. In both Boys on the Side and Living Out Loud, the lesbian bar reinvigorates the main characters' troubled heterosexuality. In Boys on the Side, the film's fictional and utopian lesbian bar, Teatro Carmen, frames heterosexual resolutions. Hankin observes that the character Holly (Drew Barrymore) becomes successfully engaged to her policeman boyfriend there, but a sexual relationship between Robin (Mary-Louise Parker) and Jane (Whoopi Goldberg) is foreclosed. Later, the party celebrating the birth of Holly's child takes place not at the Teatro Carmen, as one might expect, but in a domestic space because "[t]he lesbian bar is a liminal space that, after heterosexuality has been negotiated and rejuvenated, can be discarded." In Living Out Loud, the redemptive possibilities of the lesbian bar are even more pronounced. The main character, Judith (Holly Hunter) is dramatically transformed after a night at a lesbian bar where she walks to the center of the dance floor and becomes surrounded by a multiracial cast of beautiful women who caress her body. The experience changes her not into a lesbian but into a happier and healthier heterosexual who stops defining herself through men.
hankin - killing of sister

The lesbian bar scene in The Killing of
Sister George.
From The Girls in the
Back Room

THE MOST INTERESTING PART of Hankin's book is her analysis of how representations of the lesbian bar, both in movies and on television, are authenticated by the inclusion of "real lesbians" or signifiers of lesbian culture and community. Hankin observes that the lesbian café scene in Ellen was shot at Little Frieda's, a real lesbian coffeehouse in Los Angeles, and k. d. lang made an appearance in that episode as a lesbian folk singer. In Bound, lesbian writer Susie Bright ("Susie Sexpert") made a cameo in the bar scene; to further authenticate the film, Bright was credited as the film's "technical consultant." In Boys on the Side, the Indigo Girls performed as part of the bar's lesbian band, and The First Wives Club featured lesbian comedian Lea DeLaria as a butch bar dyke. Chasing Amy's bar scene was staged at New York's Meow Mix, a real lesbian bar, and actress Guinevere Turner appeared in a cameo role as a nightclub entertainer.

Why do representations of the lesbian bar demand such authentication when other locales do not? Hankin argues that quasi-documentary ethnographic representations objectify and exoticize the subject; lesbian spaces become an extension of heterosexual public space or territory.

To clarify this point, Hankin devotes a whole chapter to Robert Aldrich's The Killing of Sister George (1968), the first Hollywood film to represent a lesbian bar. Because it was shot just after the collapse of the Hollywood production codes that forbade direct references to homosexuality in films, Aldrich's production played on a social fascination with lesbians and lesbian public space. As Hankin's research reveals, Aldrich added the lesbian bar scene to the script and insisted that it be shot in a real lesbian nightclub, the Gateways Club in London. A paper trail of office memos and publicity material illustrates how Aldrich attempted, through location scouts, treatment of lesbian "extras" and film techniques like handheld camera inside the bar, to depict lesbians in the bar ethnographically. As a result, the "genuine lesbians" in the bar scene who played themselves "not only were framed . . . as documentary subjects but were meant to be publicly consumed as such as well." Publicity material for the film emphasized the Gateways Club's authenticity and highlighted Aldrich's success at "effortlessly penetrating . . . the historically guarded secret space of Gateways." The space of the lesbian bar was representationally reconfigured as a heterosexual territory.

HANKIN CAUTIONS US to be careful readers of mainstream texts, even those like Ellen that seem to present a lesbian point of view. But what of lesbian-produced materials? How do lesbian-made independent films represent the lesbian bar? In her final chapter, Hankin persuasively argues that "lesbian media practitioners can reshape and resist the ideological work of popular lesbian bar depictions in their own productions." More important, lesbian-made bar films, including Forbidden Love (1992), Last Call at Maud's (1993), The Riverview (1994) and The Boy Mechanic (1996), reflect their makers' anxiety about the decline in the number of lesbian bars. To different degrees, they express concern for the future of lesbian public space. Forbidden Love, for instance, balances a narrative about the shift from secrecy to liberation in lesbian history with a nostalgic yearning for the past, suggesting that the lesbian bar of earlier eras may have offered women something that present-day lesbian bars do not. Although she is suspicious about the role of nostalgia here, Hankin concludes that because lesbian bars are not known for their longevity, nostalgia may be "a legitimate response to the spatial inequalities that lesbians continually face in the public sphere."

Juxtaposing mainstream representations to lesbian-made representations of the lesbian bar may seem a superficial exercise to some readers, but this technique allows Hankin to forge a link between lesbian film production and lesbian spatial autonomy. She expands this analysis in a chapter that analyzes a lesbian bar scene in the 1976 "blaxploitation" film Foxy Brown, asking whether this scene, which seems homophobic on the surface, allows for black lesbian spectatorship and identification. While this is an interesting question, it shifts the focus of the book away from heterosexual spatial supremacy. Hankin's goal is to make a case for "complex spectatorship." But by including a chapter on how lesbians of color view representations of the lesbian bar, she unintentionally highlights the absence of such analysis of lesbian spectatorship in her other chapters. While she makes a persuasive case for filmmaker Etang Inyang's positive treatment of Foxy Brown's lesbian bar scene, she is less successful in explaining why so many lesbians eagerly consume mainstream images of lesbian bar life.

Hankin's strength lies in looking at films rather than analyzing their reception. Through her eyes we become much more sophisticated viewers of mainstream films that assimilate the space of lesbian bars into yet another story about heterosexuality.

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