How women-only communities provide spaces for new forms of culture, sociality, gender, and sexuality
Women’s lands are intentional, collective communities composed entirely of women. Rooted in 1970s feminist politics, they continue to thrive in a range of ways, from urban households to isolated rural communes, providing spaces where ideas about gender, sexuality, and sociality are challenged in both deliberate and accidental ways. Herlands, a compelling ethnography of women’s land networks in the United States, highlights the ongoing relevance of these communities as vibrant cultural enclaves that also have an impact on broader ideas about gender, women’s bodies, lesbian identity, and right ways of living.
As a participant-observer, Keridwen N. Luis brings unique insights to the lives and stories of the women living in these communities. While documenting the experiences of specific spaces in Massachusetts, Tennessee, New Mexico, and Ohio, Herlands also explores the history of women’s lands and breaks new ground exploring culture theory, gender theory, and how lesbian identity is conceived and constructed in North America. Luis also discusses how issues of race and class are addressed, the ways in which nudity and public hygiene challenge dominant constructions of the healthy or aging body, and the pervasive influence of hegemonic thinking on debates about transgender women. Luis finds that although changing dominant thinking can be difficult and incremental, women’s lands provide exciting possibilities for revolutionary transformation in society.
Keridwen N. Luis is lecturer in the departments of anthropology; women’s, gender, and sexuality studies; and sociology at Brandeis University, and in the departments of women, gender, and sexuality and sociology at Harvard University.
"No foggy remnant of a dying era, lesbian (and women’s) lands continue to provide meaning and solace to many women who are dissatisfied with and alienated from the dominant U.S. culture and its heterosexism. Herlands documents a particular moment in history in which a radical movement of primarily white women imagined and crafted a different world. There are few instances cross-culturally in which women have taken such dramatic steps to remake the world in their own image, which is why this story, an empathetic view of a group of women continuing to define themselves and live independently, is a must read."—Evelyn Blackwood, Purdue University
"Herlands is an accessible and sympathetic ethnography of the lesbian back-to-the-land movement. Going well beyond caricatures of landdykes, Keridwen N. Luis shows the promise of feminist intentional communities—their enactment of utopic ideals of collectivity, feminist embodiment, and ecofeminism—without sidelining how the animating logic of women’s nature/nature-as-woman also reproduces transphobia, white supremacy, and settler colonialism. What emerges is a complex reading of gender, race, and nature in a rural lesbian culture."—Margot Weiss, author of Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality