This month I read two books; both non-fiction! I found Lesbian Sex Wars lurking in the gender studies section of Barter Books (one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain, made out of a converted train station!) The other was a shiny new copy of issue 2 of Doll Hospital, a bi-annual art and literature print journal on mental health.
Lesbian Sex Wars by Emma Healey ★★★★☆
The title of this book is kind of sensationalist at first, but really it’s not as sexy or violent as it may appear. This is a book about the ‘wars’ (disagreements and discourse) between lesbians who practiced BDSM, and lesbian feminists, between the 70s and 90s. But, it also contains a lot of context about lesbian identity in the 20th century. Here are some thoughts about the issues I cobbled together:
I found it really interesting to learn about butch/femme identities (which were more prevalent earlier on) and the backlash against them. I found it interesting that Healey highlights that butch and femme aren’t academic theories being practiced, they are just natural identities or roles which develop in real, and often working class, life. Whether they are “problematic” is another issue, but it is reiterated that they are not deliberately constructed.
I was also glad to see Healey distinguishing between butch and masculine; many butch women are upset when they are read as men, and it’s a common misconception that they are “trying to be men” – I thought this was a really important thing to highlight.
Another thing that came to mind whilst reading Lesbian Sex Wars was strictness and policing of behaviour and views in social-justice or activist spaces. Some of the groups of lesbians could be compared, in their methods, to some in the online social-justice “scene” that exists on Tumblr and Twitter today? Radical opinions and a no-tolerance approach is sometimes isolating, even to those involved or in the community, and can be more detrimental than a kinder approach to educating.
…That turned into a bit of an essay, whoops. Onto the next book:
Doll Hospital: Issue 2, edited by Bethany Rose Lamont ★★★★★
This is a real gem. Both the content and aesthetic of this book are spot on! Doll Hospital is basically a compilation of art and writing on mental health. Most of these contributions are about the contributors’ own experience, and I think this is really important. The book serves as a great medium to open up conversations about mental health in a safe and thoughtful environment. There is diversity in the experiences shared – effort to include illnesses and disorders such as schizophrenia, OCD, BPD and trichtillomania which are often overlooked by mainstream mental health narratives is notable. There is also diversity in the backgrounds of the contributors; I think Doll Hospital practices intersectional feminism very well, by including voices of black women, working class women, Muslim women, women of colour, queer women etc.
Everything is written clearly, honestly, and relatably. Doll Hospital is a comforting and important resource for those struggling with mental health issues and might not find narratives (especially to do with healing or coping) similar to this elsewhere. Also, the artwork featured and the layout of the book is beautiful.
We believe print is the best medium for this project — a refuge from toxic comment sections and constant link skipping. Something tangible to slip in your book bag and read on the bus. Something still, something quiet, something just for you. – Doll Hospital Journal
I really admire Doll Hospital’s cause and the product they have managed to put out there! It is kind but political, a project about survival. Visit www.dollhospitaljournal.com for more information on the project, as well as an online shop where you can buy a copy (I would highly recommend!)