What’s in a Name: Semantic Slips And Slides in Lesbian, Gay, and Feminist Studies’ Key Terms

  • Jacqueline Foertsch


In her brief but important meditation on “catch[ing] herself in the act” of reading as a lesbian, Barbara Johnson discerns a lesbian dynamic played out between the Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis characters in the film The Accused. For Johnson, the lesbian erotics of the film are powered by highly charged “looks across” (163) the women’s many differences: “class, education, profession, and size” (163). In other words, what separates these women is what draws them together—at least for Johnson in her particular subject position as a lesbian filmgoer. These differences, the reader recognizes without Johnson having to be explicit, define and differentiate these characters’ gendered identities. Johnson perceives the placement of McGillis’s Kathryn Murphy in “a male role” in the film, most likely because of her size relative to the diminutive Foster and to her position of “power,” which Johnson acknowledges as this character’s most seductive quality. While not explored by Johnson, this gendered picture is complicated when we consider the other elements on her list—specifically education and social class—that would reverse the gender dynamic between the women: Murphy’s refined manner of speech and dress (frequently, skirts and high heels) rustles up against the tough talk and denim jackets of Foster’s Sarah Tobias, helping us to understand that these women’s gendered identities with respect to each other, though divergent and thus mutually attractive, do not confine either character to static, “classic” masculinity or femininity.


Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Subject Position Female Masculinity Feminist Study 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Jacqueline Foertsch 2007

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  • Jacqueline Foertsch

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