Norms create categories, and categories create norms. Such processes are circular, communal, and inflected by history and culture, as this special issue of Feminist Studies illustrates with respect to sexuality and gender. One roundtable of scholars debates lesbian history, turning the discussion of identities into a debate on the place of lesbian studies, and sexuality studies more broadly, in contemporary US universities. Another roundtable queries future directions for women’s studies and sexuality studies; this forum becomes a lively discussion on the political effects of names and labels.
Major essays in this volume advance our understanding of the possibilities present in non-solidified categories, such as gender identities formed by Thai women living in urban dormitories, or the increasingly expansive de-medicalized understanding of asexuality. Categories are also layered by historical and political contexts: an insightful review essay on “Queer Ethnic and Indigenous Studies” traces links between this new field of study and prior feminist theories and critical race studies. The ideas of Mary Daly, a pioneer of woman-centered theology in the United States, are re-examined for their subterranean streak of Roman Catholicism and even Mariolatry. The psych ward looms in another essay as a place where friendships among women are intersected by medical and bureaucratic lines of authority, while the poetry of women of color configures an additional perspective on feminist history and the texts taught in gender studies courses. A poem in this issue, “Researcher as Hostess,” riffs on a graduate student’s multiple roles, while fluid identities influence even the art essay focused on the work of photographer Laura Molloy, the blurred faces of whose subjects remain as evocative as they are indefinite.
The News & Views articles in this issue reflect on the intersections of feminism, the internet, and social media. Rachel F. Seidman’s essay relates as she narrates a classroom project that went viral and its impact on her students and on wider feminist discourses. Photographs document and illustrate the different faces and diverse responses to the question “Who Needs Feminism?” as thousands of people replied in an online dialogue to the students’“PR campaign for feminism.” Seidman explains that asking “Who needs feminism? ” rather than “Who is a feminist?” moved the participants “away from a claim of feminism as an identity and toward an idea of feminism as a toolkit, a community, a philosophy on which one can draw.” We close the issue with a reflection on the distinct features of antifeminist internet attacks on women, described by Karla Mantilla as “gendertrolling.” Complementing Seidman’s account of feminist activism via social media, this essay recounts a series of recent troubling misogynist attacks and analyzes them as a distinct phenomenon akin to older forms of street and sexual harassment. Taken together, these final contributions point the way to more expansive feminist futures.