Inside and Outside Structures of Oppression: Reading Film as Lesbian Imagination and Social Action

By Katherine Elizabeth Zelinsky and Christine A. Walsh.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In this article, we combine the (seemingly) disparate disciplines of Literary/Filmic Analysis and Social Work to investigate issues of lesbian representation, oppression and (in)visibility. We argue that Literary/Film Studies and Social Work are not just complementary but, in fact, inextricable pedagogical and disciplinary perspectives from which to explore lesbian narratives within social, political and personal contexts. As well as informing this paper, these perspectives will ultimately inform a joint course in Lesbian (In)visibility and Oppression, which we will teach at the University of Calgary in 2010. We use sequences from the HBO film “1961,” the first of three film vignettes from If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000) as model “texts” for this analysis. HBOs incorporation of the film, The Children’s Hour (1961), serves as a kind of springboard from which we will discuss issues of lesbian oppression within institutionalized structures and spaces such as the media, and the legal and medical system in the early years of gay liberation, from the late 1950s to the Stonewall era. Our initial focus on HBO’s narrative of an elderly lesbian couple, confronted with the culturally-pervasive homophobia of post-World War II, Cold War America, will yield to a larger discussion of the expanded social/public spaces and institutional changes brought about by Stonewall activists. However, as we go on to argue, films such as “1961” document not only historical but also current, ongoing struggles within what still remain vulnerable lesbian (and GBT) demographic groups, including the elderly. Both literary/filmic texts (like “1961”) and studies of current lives and conditions reflect the ongoing need to address the tenacious heterosexist assumptions and practices that continue to relegate such groups to the margins, as cultural outsiders.

Keywords: Lesbian Representation, Lesbian in Film, Lesbian and Social Work, Oppression

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 6, pp.91-100. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.154MB).

Dr. Katherine Elizabeth Zelinsky

Instructor, Department of English, Faculty of Humanities, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Dr. Christine A. Walsh

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


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