Don't judge by its cover

Issue 

Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism
Edited by Elizabeth Grosz and Elspeth Probyn
Routledge, 1995. 303 pp., $36.95
Reviewed by Jen Crothers Sexy Bodies is a collection of 15 essays. Each crosses a wide variety of disciplinary streams, including cultural studies, literature, cinema studies, queer and feminist theory. While most of the essays are about lesbian and queer sexualities, a few focus on heterosexuality, and others take sexuality beyond the human body entirely. Despite the book's stated aim of accessibility and readability, I found many of these essays heavy going. The language is academic and post-modern, the arguments thin or disguised. A few essays did stand out, though, as readable, informative and thought provoking. Barbara Creed differentiates the bodies of lesbians from the bodies of "normal" women. "There are at least three stereotypes of the lesbian body which are so threatening they cannot easily be applied to the body of the non-lesbian." These are the masculinised, the animalistic and the narcissistic. She traces each of these stereotypes historically, particularly through the examples of film. Creed also looks at fashion and the ways in which clothing and adornment give a sense of belonging. "I Used to be Your Sweet Mama" is a fascinating essay by Angela Davis examining "ideology, sexuality and domesticity in the Blues of Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey and Bessie Smith". Davis explains the history of the blues and their inherent sexual (not necessarily heterosexual) nature. The blues were a medium through which women could express their desire for sex/loving. "Such representations of sexual autonomy and openly expressed female sexual desire are powerful indicators of the historical possibilities of equality, as they were placed in the historical agenda via the cultural politics of the blues queens." The blues women redefined women's roles by using the realism of blues to expose the stereotypes and contradiction of romanticised relationships. Other good essays in this selection include "The Jewels in the Crotch: The Imperial Erotic in 'The Raj Quartet'" by Sabina Sawhney and "'I Embrace the Difference': Elizabeth Taylor and the Closet" by Melissa Jane Hardie. Unfortunately, though, there aren't enough good ones. Don't be fooled into judging this book by its very sexy and enticing cover.