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Girls in the Back Room

Looking at the Lesbian Bar

2002
Author:

Kelly Hankin

Girls in the Back Room

The first in-depth study of how lesbian bars are depicted in popular culture

The lesbian bar has long been seen as a mysterious place, steeped in mythologies of clandestine meetings and sexuality that is alluring because it is wayward and sinful. Kelly Hankin focuses on the lesbian bar, looking at how it is portrayed in such films as Foxy Brown, The Killing of Sister George, Basic Instinct, Bound, and Chasing Amy; in television series like The Simpsons, Xena: Warrior Princess, Roseanne, Ellen, and Sex and the City; and in independent, lesbian-produced documentaries. The Girls in the Back Room provides an engaging historical and theoretical analysis of the visual lesbian bar as a revelatory intersection of gender, sexuality, and space.

The Girls in the Back Room is an original and engaging piece of film scholarship. The book is full of provocative insights and original research on the visual representation of lesbian bar space.

Judith Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity

The lesbian bar has long been seen as a mysterious place, steeped in mythologies of clandestine meetings and sexuality that is alluring because it is wayward and sinful. In The Girls in the Back Room, Kelly Hankin focuses on the lesbian bar, looking at how it is portrayed in such films as Foxy Brown, The Killing of Sister George, Basic Instinct, Bound, and Chasing Amy; in television series like The Simpsons, Xena: Warrior Princess, Roseanne, Ellen, and Sex and the City; and in independent, lesbian-produced documentaries.

Hankin examines the lesbian bar through a consideration of the ways its representation in popular culture both oppresses and nourishes lesbian cultures. In popular commercial entertainment, she finds, the view of the lesbian bar as a private space for those who practice aberrant sexuality implicitly reinforces heterosexual spatial and social privilege. Through her in-depth history of the production of The Killing of Sister George in 1968 and the deception involved in director Robert Aldrich's use of a real lesbian bar and its patrons, for example, Hankin uncovers the heterosexist preconceptions in evidence on both sides of the camera. She argues that lesbian-produced works effectively challenge this paradigm, articulating and confirming positive visions of lesbian public life and identity. The Girls in the Back Room provides an engaging historical and theoretical analysis of the visual lesbian bar as a revelatory intersection of gender, sexuality, and space.


Girls in the Back Room

Kelly Hankin is assistant professor of English at Old Dominion University.

Girls in the Back Room

In The Girls in the Back Room, Kelly Hankin searches the celluloid closet of Hollywood’s representations of the dyke watering hole. Populated by barflies wearing hetero-fantasy garb, these scenes, Hankin argues, have been more the stuff of heterosexual imagination than of lesbian congregation. For example, Hankin shows how, in The Killing of Sister George, the camera behaves like a police agent, penetrating queer spaces in order to identify and contain its inhabitants. From Garbo’s Anna Christie to Last Call at Maud’s, The Girls in the Back Room examines the nostalgia, mystery, and curiosity surrounding the lesbian bar in popular and alternative film.

Girlfriends

Hankin argues that mainstream representations of the lesbian bar work to contain rather than expand lesbian spatial and sexual liberation. Through her eyes we become much more sophisticated viewers of mainstream films that assimilate the space of lesbian bars into yet another story about heterosexuality.

Women’s Review of Books

Hankin persuasively argues that filmic lesbian space usually ends up underscoring heterosexuality’s domination.

Bitch

With its combination of political commitment, thoughtful analysis, and readable style, The Girls in the Back Room makes an important contribution to our understanding of the historically grounded but ever-shifting cultural meanings of sexuality and space in western screen media today.

Screening the Past

The Girls in the Back Room is an original and engaging piece of film scholarship. The book is full of provocative insights and original research on the visual representation of lesbian bar space.

Judith Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity

Hankin’s enormously readable book provides patient, detailed analysis of the spatial trope of the lesbian bar as it has developed since the 1960s, primarily in American commercial and independent cinema. She provides a sensitive look at how representations of the lesbian bar serve to colonize lesbian space for heterocentric pleasures and powers, and how lesbian filmmakers themselves project, with varying degrees of self-consciousness, their own utopian vision onto the bar scene.

Judith Mayne, author of Framed: Lesbians, Feminists, and Media Culture

Girls in the Back Room

Contents

Come Here Often?

ONE Looking at the Lesbian Bar in the Twentieth Century
TWO Lesbians on Location
THREE Badass Supermama Meets Foxy Brown
FOUR Wish We Didn't Have to Meet Secretly?

Conclusion, or Confessions of a Former Lesbian Barfly

Acknowledgments
Notes
Works Cited
Films, Videos, and Television Programs Cited

Index