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Spring 2009

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In 1988, the feminist/lesbian performance group Split Britches performed a deconstruction of Louisa May Alcott’s canonical Little Women. Their play, Little Women, the Tragedy (LWTT) highlighted the division within the feminist movement at the time over pornography, and called into question the norms of morality and feminine virtue reflected in and by Alcott’s classic ‘American girls’ novel.’ The play, however, illustrates a problematic construction of feminist/lesbian identity as outside of racial discourse. This paper argues that feminist performances which aim to deconstruct gender and sexuality should also be examined in terms of racialization; the common omission of whiteness as a category of identification can undermine the political goals of feminists of colour and white feminists alike. I briefly describe how Little Women constructs the American female as moral, heterosexual and of ‘white’ European descent. The paper then illustrates how LWTT seems to ignore the actors’/characters’ positions as belonging to the racial majority. This piece’s ability to expose oppressive systems of identity construction relies on the whiteness of the actors’ bodies and characterizations. This reliance indicates a critical gap between how feminists of colour and white feminists approached the performance of sexuality and morality during the 1980s, revealing historical and social inequities between groups of women.


This article was originally published in Platform, Spring 2009, Volume 4, Issue 1, for special edition on "Staging Genders".