Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Feminist Messages: Coding in Women's Folk Culture // Review

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Feminist Messages: Coding in Women's Folk Culture // Review

Article excerpt

Reviewed by Diane Tye Centre for Canadian Studies Mount Allison University Sackville, New Brunswick

In their introductory essay to Feminist Messages, Joan N. Radner and Susan S. La nser use Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers" (1917) as an illustration of how women within a community may communicate in code. Here two women read the chaotic elements of a neighbour 's kitchen and sewing to understand her murderous rage and despair. The example shows that such coding is ambiguous -- in this story men overlook the details of disarray that speak to the women -- and not always deliberate. Glaspell's character may not have planned to encode any messages for her neighbours; nevertheless, the coding speaks powerfully.

The 12 articles in Feminist Messages examine women's use of implicit coding in a variety of contexts: homes, all - female circles, and larger communities. Each illustra tes one or more of women's informal strategies of coding as outlined by Radner and Lanser: appro priation, juxtaposition, distraction, indirection, trivialization, and incompetence. From Cheryl L. Keyes's exploration of African American women rappers' appropriation of male space and b ehaviour, and Linda Pershing's discussion of a Texan quilting group's creation of a subver sive "Sunbonnet Sue" quilt, to Barbara Babcock's analysis of Pueblo women's pots and stories, an d Susan S. Lanser's "Burning Dinners: Feminist Subversions of Domesticity," the articles cr oss lines of race, age, and class. Together they present multiple views of women's informal efforts to "refuse, subvert or transform conventional expectations and to criticize male do minance in the face of male power" (p. 23).

As a folklorist and feminist, I am enthusiastic about this collection. Fem inist Messages offers a focussed analysis of characteristics of women's folk expression as it b uilds on earlier works -- most notably the 1975 Journal of American Folklore symposium issue on " Women and Folklore," and Rosan A. Jordan and Susan J. Kalcik's Women's Folklore, Women's C ulture (1985) -- that emphasize the recovery and reassessment of women's folk culture. As well, it is encouraging to see folklorists working to develop less hierarchical relationship s with the people whose experiences inform their work. For example, the final section of Feminist Messages contains two articles by storytellers (one is Winnipeg folklorist and storytelle r, Kay F. Stone) who interpret their own materials and suggest ways in which stories affect their lives. …

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