Feeling Women's Liberation
Duke University Press 2013
Victoria Hesford is an associated professor of Women and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University in New York. Her book Feeling Women’s Liberation (Duke University Press, 2013) examines the pivotal year of 1970 as defining the meaning of “women’s liberation.” Applying a theory of emotions to the rhetoric of mass media and the response of movement participants, Hesford demonstrates how our memory of the movement has been formed by either feelings of attachment, or dis-identification that hide its complexity and heterogeneity. The movement came to represent a radical form of feminism standing against the more staid liberal feminism of Betty Friedan. Instead of ideologically driven, Hesford argues that women’s liberation engaged in the “politics of emotion.” She demonstrates how the visceral media coverage and participant’s experience were mutual constituted in the “feminist-as-lesbian.” The language and multiple images of the feminist as a guerilla fighter, subversive and pathological, evoked the lavender menace and the “woman-identified-woman” within the movement. The lesbian became a defining figure used as a psychic weapon against women, or to denote sexual autonomy and political defiance. Central to her provocative analysis is the often-neglected figure of Kate Millet and her 1970 book Sexual Politics. The media’s outing of Millet, hounding by movement insiders to declare her lesbianism, and the spectacle of a self-fashioning response in the autobiography Flying offers a window into the feelings of betrayal, anger and depression that propelled the movement and evidence of its attachment to definitions of socially acceptable femininity. Instead of focusing on “what really happened,” the political triumphs and failures, Hesford looks to how emotions, both personal and social, shaped the movement and our memories.