Feminine Aesthetics and Identities in Women’s Neo-Pagan Spiritual Communities on the American West Coast

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 11:30 AM
Thurgood Marshall West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jenna Danchuk, York University
In this paper I explore the ways in which spiritual feminists explored concepts of the feminine and the divine in cultural production, conversation, and experience, with the goal of complicating our understandings of essential notions of womanhood, the “feminine,” and “the woman identified woman” within second wave feminisms. Complex and contradictory engagements with understandings of femininity and sexual and gendered difference – often framed through racialized terms – were central to the ways that spiritual feminists created woman-identified communities and cultural practices. Noble and Carter have noted the un/productive tensions between the shifting identitarian notions of the 1970s “woman identified woman” and the re-conceptualization of femme identities in the 1990s (26). Through close-readings of primary sources which capture the experiences of participants in separatist spiritual communities on the American West coast c. 1970 and onwards, in particular, Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove’s Rootworks Collective and Womanspirit Magazine (1974-1984) I seek to answer the following questions: How do spiritual conceptions of the feminine and the “woman identified woman” enrich our historical understanding of the recapitulation of femme identities and their place within feminist and LGBTQ communities since c. 1970? How can an intersectional analysis which makes room for the sacred unsettle the logics of essentialized womanhood so often associated with these communities, and in turn, the “femme” as a “lesbian” identity? By turning to the primary sources of these communities, this paper contributes to not only a historiographical understanding of “femme” as an emerging theory, but also attends to the ways that spirituality has been overlooked and marginalized within historiographies of second wave feminisms, and the development of queer and feminist theories.
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