MSA Up-Close is a column we will run until the start of the MSA conference in order to give readers more information on periodical studies related panels at the 2010 conference. We will be posting paper descriptions, abstracts, and panel descriptions; please make comments and raise questions in the Comments section. Our fourth column features Margo Hobbs Thompson’s paper, “Lesbian Separatism in Cowrie and Dyke,” which she will present as part of the The Efficacy of Activism in Modernist Magazines panel.
“Lesbian Separatism in Cowrie and Dyke,” 12 November 2010, 1030am-12pm
“We are experimenting with new ways of presenting ourselves to each other. The farther away we get from a patriarchal way of thinking, the uglier and uglier we will be to ‘them,’ and the more and more beautiful we will be to ourselves,” wrote editor Liza Cowan in the inaugural issue of her magazine Dyke. (Winter 1975-1976, 25) Cowan analyzed women’s fashion from a lesbian separtist perspective in a series of articles titled “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear” that ran from June 1973 to early 1976 Dyke and its precursor, Cowrie. Ideally, a dyke’s closet would be stocked with fashions made by “dyke hands” for a “dyke’s body,” to express herself fully and uniquely. Fashion is thus an essential site for the articulation of lesbian feminist identity.
Cowan returned repeatedly to the lady expatriates of the Paris Left Bank in the 1920s and 1930s as exemplifying the confident style to which her readers could aspire. While butch role-playing was discredited in the 1970s among feminists, and the woman-identified woman had relinquished sexual desire in favor of political alliance, these intellectual, independent lesbians exemplified a style that was unfeminine and sexually self-assured. This paper explores the fashion/lesbian feminist nexus posited in Cowrie and Dyke in the real and imagined affinity between Cowan and her readership and the women of the Left Bank.