Fulbright fellow Dahl ’94 lectures at gender studies talk

Marie Jeruc

Fulbright Hildeman Fellow and Lawrence graduate Ulrika Dahl returned to Appleton on Nov. 3 to present a gender studies lecture detailing the relationship between feminism, vintage styles, and nationalism.

Dahl, a native of Sweden, graduated magna cum laude with the Lawrence Class of 1994. According to Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics and chair of the gender studies program, Dahl “is a very successful product of Lawrence and the gender studies department.”

Her lecture, “White Gloves, Feminist Fists: Vintage and the Politics of Race and Nation in Contemporary Femme Figurines,” was based on her book “Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities,” which was published in 2009.

Through both her lecture and book, Dahl explores different aspects of both the feminist movement and the effects of nationalism through an anthropological perspective. She writes ethnographies to detail the effects of European post-colonialism and its association with feminism.

Although one might not immediately detect a correlation between feminism, preference for vintage-style clothing, and nationalism, Dahl’s lecture explained the relationship between these apparently disconnected subjects.

Particularly, Dahl focused on the actions and lifestyle of “femmes,” who are lesbians that are stereotypically feminine in appearance and manner. Dahl explained that these women, especially performers, “often dress in the burlesque style or other excessive forms of femininity.”

Dahl also described the frequent preference among American femmes to dress and decorate in the vintage style. Especially reflecting the styles of the 1940s and 1950s, American femmes seem to find that “style can create bonds across time and space” and that vintage clothing and styles represent nostalgia for a different time.

Dahl explains that this form of solidarity with women from other decades helps strengthen the feminist movement because one can “find feminist empowering tools in all decades.” However, by celebrating these time periods, the feminist movement perpetuates the dominance of the Caucasian race in American history.

Dahl explained that there is a “largely white archive of queer femininity,” and thus “the white feminist history becomes ‘standard’.” Dahl asserts how this actually creates an “imperialist nostalgia.”

Even though femmes, a minority group themselves, strive for power and legitimacy in society, their preference to reflect a time in American history that repressed the African American minority actually creates racial domination.

Dahl also asserts that the white glove, “a quintessential symbol of high femininity,” also perpetuates this racial domination because it often represents racial purity and “is tied to whiteness.”

Dahl’s lecture and book presents the relationship between these themes in an innovative and thoroughly researched way. She analyzes the connections of feminism, vintage fashion, and nationalism and provides an interesting conclusion to seemingly unrelated topics.

Pickett was pleased to see that the lecture attracted a good turnout of students and faculty alike, especially since the audience consisted of “a nice mix of people who were interested in gender studies.”