JoAnne took a break from finishing up this issue of Feminist Collections to attend the annual conference of the National Women's Studies Association in Las Vegas. Mostly she represented our publications at the Book Exhibit--and handed out hundreds of purple-and-white pencils promoting our website--but she managed also to take in a few Film Series showings, attend a plenary session or two, swim after dark, and brave the harsh desert sun to find espresso. She met a few of our subscribers and more than a few folks we hope will soon join our readership. Phyllis, meanwhile, was presenting at the American Library Association's annual meeting in Atlanta (where the weather was lovely).
NWSA's decision to hold a feminist conference in "Sin City" raised the eyebrows of some of the
organization's allies as well as its critics. (See, for example, the reaction of a writer for the conservative
SheThinks.org on page 27 of this issue's "Computer Talk.") But the planners had anticipated that. A brochure
distributed by the conference host, the Women's Studies Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
asked attendees to "park your preconceptions" about this notorious town. And NWSA aptly explained its
intentions in the advance publicity for the embedded conference (fittingly titled "Deconstructing Sin City"):
Las Vegas's commercialization of vice has always capitalized on women's bodies: from skimpily clad cocktail waitresses to the iconic images of showgirl and stripper that adorn the glitzy postmodern spectacle of the Las Vegas Strip, women's bodies are the most popular playthings in this internationally famous amusement park of capitalist excess. There is surely no shortage of material for feminists to deconstruct, critique, and politicize.
At the same time, however, Las Vegas has one of the highest percentages in the nation of women holding public office and has the most unionized service industry in the nation. These unions make it possible for many women in the hotel/casino industry to earn livable wages for themselves and their children. Nowhere else in the United States is so replete with contradictory messages about women as Las Vegas, which makes the deconstruction of Las Vegas a lively and important enterprise with relevance to feminists far beyond the boundaries of Sin City.
Director Amie Williams' Stripped and Teased: Tales from Las Vegas Women (distributed by Cinema Guild, www.cinemaguild.com), shown during the Film Series, offered an openminded, nonsensationalist look at women's work (which includes construction and labor organizing, not just waitressing and exotic dancing!) in Las Vegas. Williams was present, as was one of the women she had interviewed in the film: a sex therapist who also wins regularly at poker (against men) in the casinos. To be sure, there was lively discussion after the showing!
Sure to provoke lively discussion in women's studies classrooms are the films reviewed by Catherine Orr in this issue's "Feminist Visions" column (pp.15-18): four on feminism and sex work, tackling issues that range from the tragedy of children and women being literally sold into sexual slavery, on the one hand, to the proud affirmations of a young feminist stripper and her coworkers who have empowered themselves by organizing a labor union, on the other. Young feminists--and their unique takes on issues from marriage to music--are the subject of two titles reviewed by Sara Meirowitz in the book review that begins on page 1. Our World Wide Web Review (pp. 19-24) is by Tobe Levin, who examines websites that offer resources for anyone concerned about the worldwide phenomenon of female genital mutilation.
We welcome Christina Greene, who introduces the special section of book reviews (by Deborah Louis, Stephen Grubman-Black, and Kalí Tal) about women in the 1960s civil rights movement beginning on page 4. Christina is busy moving her family this summer from Tampa, Florida, to Madison, Wisconsin, where she'll be Assistant Professor in the UW's Afro-American Studies Department. We appreciate her willingness to write for us in the midst of that transition. Her introductory essay names a number of books and studies on the topic, beyond those reviewed in the following three articles, that are worth looking into.
Enjoy--or survive--whatever weather you've got this season. We'll be back in a few months with reviews of periodicals from the Russian women's movement, books about the history of women's clothing, zines that exemplify fringe feminism, and websites on women playwrights.
m J.L. and P.H.W.
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Mounted August 1, 2002.