Celine and Julia Go Boating, page 2
by Julia Lesage

from Jump Cut, no. 24-25, March 1981, pp.
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1981, 2005


At this point I would like to draw back to present the larger implications of my critique of one film. To establish the outlines of my argument about feminism's need for lesbian theory, I'll have to shift the tone of my prose, moving from the discussion of a very positive and playful film to a more analytic discussion of how patriarchal ideology conceives the terms "woman" and "lesbian." There is a structural opposition in CELINE AND JULIE, which I shall discuss later, that is revealing about the ideological "matrix" from which the film comes and in which audiences receive it. Within patriarchal ideology, the term "lesbian" plays a particular role as a negative sign. I will first examine the ideological structures which depend on using "lesbian" as a negative term, then consider how the oppositions in CELINE AND JULIE challenge that ideological framework, and then draw certain conclusions about feminist theory's need to incorporate a lesbian perspective.

We all have seen instances in which institutions such as the church defend established roles for women as "natural"; this "naturalness" of women's maternity, self-sacrifice, emotionalism, weakness, etc. then becomes institutions' excuse for maintaining women's inferior status. The "natural" or the given signal what people take for granted when they do not challenge or look closely at the structures under which they live. Feminists have to scrutinize everything previously taken for granted, finding all phenomena in fact "odd" and worthy of investigation. We should ask why in our society fucking defines heterosexual intercourse, why women mother, and why women and not men worry about "how to combine a family and a career." We must especially challenge all attributions about gender and sexuality, because we know this is the specific locus of women's oppression. For example, we see that institutions punish certain kinds of so-called sexual "deviance" but not others: schools fire gay teachers, courts take children away from lesbian mothers, and police arrest prostitutes but not the men who go to them. These "punishments" not only have legal sanction but also reveal society's need to maintain heterosexuality as an ideological and prescriptive category and maintain male power over that category.

Most cultures designate certain people as marginal and treat those people as "polluters."[19] These outsiders bear the onus of being defined as "bad." Furthermore, within the ideology of a particular culture, marginal people get labeled as "dangerous" because their example seems dangerously contagious. It might spread. For example, from my perspective here in the United States, I see that pejorative attitudes that people direct toward the welfare mother, Third World women — and their presumed role in a global "population explosion — and the lesbian have something in common. In daily conversation, we can often hear these women being held responsible for the economically and socially more powerful sectors' problems. Common moral prejudice in our society assigns these women the epithets "bad" and "dangerous," assuming that, as if taken by the devil, they are supposedly dominated by a sexual drive gone out of control. For this reason, their behavior presumably calls out for social containment through institutional constraints. Accusations about homosexuality, leveled against both homosexual men and lesbians, are based on charges of "sin," "sickness," "unnaturalness," and "corruption of youth."

Such beliefs about women's sexuality and about homosexuality do not just serve a moral function. These beliefs and this mechanism of assigning blame have a social usefulness. They shape people's behavior and reinforce social pressures. In particular, notions about "dire consequences" are projected onto women, especially lesbians, who forge a satisfying emotional and sexual life for themselves outside the confines of the heterosexual couple or the family. Without any understanding of the liberatory aspects of the lesbian experience, teachers, parents, and institutions such as the law and medicine all parrot similar prescriptive notions about the "dangers" of that way of life.

Ideas about sexual dangers are often used analogically; they become metaphors for many kinds of social fears. A society's concept of sexual relations often mirrors the social order, and thus contributes to shaping the social order, especially in giving metaphorical lessons about the presumed dangers a society faces. For example, we can easily observe that notions about sexual dangers occupy an inordinately large place in the childrearing practices of many people, and these notions are used to curtail girls' freedom and range of activity. Correspondingly, boys' conversations, in their half-joking accusations about homosexuality, reflect the boys' intuited understanding of the relation between their learning to define sexuality in the dominant way and their "legitimate" acquisition of patriarchal power.[20]

Anthropologist Mary Douglas has written extensively on the way the worst dangers in a society are treated as pollutions that have to be contained. Their continued existence would threaten the society's institutionalized definition of itself and of reality. As Douglas puts it,

"Many ideas about sexual dangers are better interpreted as symbols of the relation between parts of society, as mirroring designs of hierarchy and symmetry which apply in the larger social system .... Ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating, and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created."[21]

What feminists are trying to do — and it is an intellectual project the magnitude of Marx's and Freud's, but here forged collectively — is to take "male and female" out of the category of analogical referent or metaphor for everything else and to look at woman for what she is, has been and can be. For example, too often people use rape metaphorically to describe the devastation of countries, oppressed groups, forests, and anything else that is unjustly wiped out. Such a metaphoric use of rape diminishes society's understanding and attacking rape for what it really is: a specific experience of woman and a specific tool of male dominance over women (and other men designated to be weak and inferior). As long as sexuality stands for everything, women's oppression is perpetuated. This is because the category of the female or the feminine is used as an equivalent for the impure, the emotional, the unformed, the mover-to-the-rhythms-of-the-earth, the inferior, and the non-leader culturally, religiously, and militarily.[22] And within the male-female or masculine-feminine opposition needed to buoy up so many cultural structures, the term "lesbian" has no place.[23]

 The term "lesbian," an understanding of the dimensions and possibilities of the lesbian experience, and the very existence of real lesbians living out their lives unashamed create a huge threat to cultures that depend on the antithesis of male-female and male dominance. Lesbianism seems an unabsorbable anomaly, for if understood fully, the culture would have to create a new pattern of reality to make place for the anomaly. Ordinarily people and, even more so, institutions need to make ambiguities fit into their cognitive whole. They reject discordant cues, ignore or distort facts that refuse to be fitted in, and create labels so as to have the confidence that they do indeed know where this "odd fact" can be fitted in. Otherwise, their whole structure of assumptions would have to be modified.

Institutions that deny lesbianism have much socially sanctioned authority to draw on. The institutions that we can observe enforcing heterosexuality as a compulsory institution include law, education, medicine, the social sciences, religion, art, the press, finance, industry, organized labor, and the family. People depend on institutions to create the basic patterns of their lives, and the very fact that these institutions do and can "order" ideas and values has a great feedback effect in reinforcing their authority. These institutions control lesbianism as a "disturbance" in the following ways: They declare that this is an aberrant case, not indicative of a general principle, and thus containable. When authorities claim that a certain small percentage of any population is biologically determined to be homosexual, they do so partly to acknowledge what is a social fact — homosexuality — but also to contain the "problem" and to relegate it to being caused by some kind of genetic damage. Many times moral and cognitive conflicts are reduced and contradictions flattened out by people's establishing a single, simple focus from which they will discuss the "problem." For example, there is a great pressure on many people to declare, "I'm for women's liberation," but to separate themselves from lesbianism in the same breath.[24]

That society defines lesbianism as a "moral abomination" has practical social applications. Women in child-custody cases know that the man will be told by his lawyer to look for lesbianism as the infraction that will get him the children. What two women do together is easily blown up into a huge public offense, and the very term abomination can be used to marshal public opinion on the traditional "side of right." The category "abomination" also strongly affects women's own self-image, so that many women cannot fantasize about lesbianism as a possibility; even when women face no immediate practical sanctions, the fear of being an abomination deters many women from what is potentially a liberatory experience. Most frequently, lesbianism is materially punished and controlled: by electroshock treatment, job loss, overt social contempt, physical harassment attendant on public displays of intimacy, threat of eviction, and rupture of relations with family — including parental rejection and loss of children.[25]

Societies do not just reject discordant or ambiguous elements. They develop ways to deal with them. On a daily level, discordant things may repulse or shock people, or people may react by laughing at them (in terms of subcultural resistance, "underdogs" use laughter as a relatively safe form of attack). On a public level we can observe many actions formally used to keep women in their place. Some are extremely punitive, such as those prohibiting abortion to poor women, jailing "welfare queens," and punishing lesbians. All these formal legal and economic moves are like social rituals or "performances"; in addition to the immediate reason for which they are carried out, they also function as visible external signs that define and reaffirm the ideal social order as a whole.

Complexly, a culture not only perpetuates but also mediates the contradictions contained within it. The conservatism of the institutionally and ideo­logically maintained order — its stasis, its role in summing up past ideals — is also socially recognized. Often aberrant elements are allowed to creep back into consciousness, to be talked about in art and jokes. We have established institutions to channel the freedom of art, and art becomes a socially allowable way of breaking through old forms. Yet usually artists sufficiently veil threatening material so that even "daring" or "rebellious" movements can eventually be co-opted and reabsorbed (as with Surrealism and Punk).

Sometimes art expresses an oppressed subculture's identity and experience. When tied to a social and political movement for change, its power escapes containment and actually promotes social change. Since the late 60s, for example, the women's movement has seen both a flourishing of women's art and has searched the past for our own cultural roots. It is not just a question of searching for new women-created aesthetic experiences (although it is also that), but of defining for ourselves in a whole new way who we are. Good art always asks us to consider things and forms previously unnoticed. Much of women's experience and the structures of their lives have yet to be newly "named" from a non-colonized perspective. For us at this point in our history, women's art plays a crucial role.

It is in the context of my having used women's art and feminist criticism as a way of newly defining what lesbian means that I find CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING significant for feminist concerns. The opposition between the framing story in CELINE AND JULIE and the interior crime melodrama speak both to what women already know and to what they are able to know. The film progressively extends the process — begun by the women's movement — of redefining our notions of sexual structures and boundaries and of reconsidering our sense of "woman's place" within our image of society as a whole. Two elements already present in our culture make my reading of CELINE AND JULIE possible. First of all, to use the film as a commentary on women's intimacy, as I do, depends on my having participated in an on-going intellectual and emotional dialogue within the women's movement about women's lives.

The existence of a feminist dialogue has indelibly marked and will continue to mark whole definitions of social structures and of "reality" throughout the world. However, that dialogue depends on and speaks to a deeper level of cultural formation — the split between the public and the domestic sphere. Cross-culturally, women are placed in the domestic sphere, where their unpaid labor is the index of their inferior status.[26] Because the division public/private corresponds to the division male/female across many periods of history and across many cultures, there has been a strong and definable sub-cultural formation of women's networks and women's "lore" within the domestic sphere. And women's understanding of it is the locus of a potential feminist subversion.

The oppressed subculture is both "colonized" by hegemonic, dominant ideology and established institutions, and it has its own counter, subversive, and shared understanding of the way things run. Subcultural resistance depends on the understanding by those who are structurally and materially marginal that the "emperor has no clothes." CELINE AND JULIE speaks to women's understanding of the structures, contradictions — including destructiveness, and liberating potential of personal intimacy in the domestic sphere. The film recognizes, through its witty depiction of Magic, that sphere's power, potentially subversive, potentially political. It also speaks about the hegemonic fear of women, which men translate personally and institutionally into open contempt.

Because women are officially outside the circles of economic, political, and religious power, they are associated with images of anarchy, dark powers, emotion, and blood. They are felt to be an intrinsic source of disorder (e.g., the Bible's view of Eve and the fall of Man). As Mary Douglas puts it (without, however, applying her analysis to women's oppression), a social division of the empowered and the disenfranchised in any culture sets up a cognitive and emotional antithesis. The empowered areas are seen, through self-definition, as "structured," and the politically marginal areas are felt to be unstructured, unformed, and dangerous. To acknowledge fully the experience of the marginal groups would alter the cherished definitions of nature and experience propagated by and giving authority to the established centers of power, dominated by men.

Hokey magic, humor, healing psychic interchange among women friends, and equating the category "family" with "murdering the child" — these are ways that CELINE AND JULIE lures viewers away from established notions of "womanly virtue" and "woman's place" and "woman-tied-to-man." Everything in the film is doubled and reversed, especially cultural notions about "appropriate" women's body language, woman's empowerment, her use of public and private space, and her interpersonal relations. The film sets up new oppositions and antitheses, related to understandings within women's subculture that were formerly repressed because of institutionally enforced definitions of women's roles. And the new set of oppositions established in the film is both recognizable and either pleasurably subversive or threatening. Let us look at these oppositions more closely, and examine the general social structures to which they speak:


  • Women's friendship vs. heterosexuality and competing for man
  • Lesbians vs. nuclear family
  • Spontaneity vs. rigidity
  • Healthy child vs. sick child
  • Personal relation shapes use of possessions vs. property shapes personal relations

It would be simplistic to summarize a social intent for the film, such as: "CELINE AND JULIE demonstrates that the nuclear family is murderous to little girls, and lesbianism is what will save us." First of all, the nuclear family in the film is an exaggerated and symbolic depiction, and secondly, the women's friendship is clearly an utopian one. What is more interesting to note is that this opposition — evil family with its crime vs. women's friendship with its psychic quest — makes sense artistically, that is, viewers receive it as a significant and understandable opposition. Furthermore, as a modern1st work, the film rejects certain commonly used narrative forms, especially narrative closure. Open-endedness does not just depend on aesthetic playfulness, although its genesis and referent is often play, but it is also a tactic waged against certain forms of mental and political closure, as in the novels of Virginia Woolf. We live in an historical moment where art in the state capitalist era can produce this opposition and expect it to be understood — Bad Family vs. Women's Friendship. In fact, the readability of that opposition means that there is a widespread understanding, for many on a preconscious level, of the kinds of historical changes that the contemporary women's movement has generated, of the political and emotional force driving those changes, and of the fact there will be no going back to an older definition of women's roles. One of the things that CELINE AND JULIE suggests is that the audience looks at woman-identified women as growing and healthy and at male-identified women as anachronistic. Due to Berto and Labourier's improvisation, the audience spends a long time looking at women in roles largely under their control.

The symbolic oppositions in the film are fascinating in that they reveal a rather widespread cultural understanding that women will never return to their "place." The Celine-and-Julie story, the visibility of women seen on women's terms and not as markers in a male fantasy, represents a historical and cultural change which many people intuit as desirable. The bad family in the film is a schematic depiction of many other fantasies, stories, and fictions that conventionally represent life in the domestic sphere. Through the interior story's negative imagery and plot, the film opposes all those other fictions. It opposes their closure and repetition of the same, their manipulativeness, their bourgeois prestige and salability, their valorization of male authority and control, and their murder of the child, especially the girl child. We know the fictions about women that are operative in advertising, wedding ceremonies, adventure stories, medical practice, the law, and work situations — all of those institutions that depend on a reification of women's place.

Most notions propagated about "woman" are fictions enforced by multiple social institutions, which support and embody a certain power and profit structure — and that structure is hidden behind the fictions it generates. The conservative impulse of institutions always resists a redefinition of boundaries and priorities and limits, so that people often have to sense historical change on a gut level long before institutions are forced to acknowledge that change. The women's movement has formalized the knowledge of women's subcultural experience and history in a new way. We are still trying to redefine the experience of that subculture in woman-identified terms. Feminist art and criticism intervenes in the interstices of this historical moment.

Significantly, none of the previous critics writing on CELINE AND JULIE discussed the lesbianism in the film. If the possibility that Celine and Julie were lovers was acknowledged, and that happened only rarely, it was not considered an important element in interpreting the film. The critics stuck to a discussion of fantasy, doubling, modernism, or cinematic innovation. Yet the major oppositions in the film are largely "about" what lesbianism might mean, at least in psychological terms. Much of the film is clearly a fantasy-lure for an alternate way of life, and such utopian fantasies are commonly found in contemporary feminist art to help women articulate the most desirable directions for social change. The film's oppositions therefore speak specifically to feminists as well as to a more general artistic tradition about the stultifying effects of capitalism on personal life.

Although the lesbianism of the protagonists of CELINE AND JULIE is ambiguously developed, that lesbianism is then "invisible" to critics in their interpretatlon of the film is no accident. Lesbianism is also either invisible or ghettoized within feminist criticism and theory, too. However, the feminist project of being able to see and discuss women's experience in uncolonized terms can only be effected if a lesbian perspective is embraced. There is no other way for feminists to establish a theory free from using the divisions male/female or masculine/feminine, which already serve as a metaphor to buoy up and reinforce all the institutions that depend on the "natural division of the sexes" for their functioning and for the way they define reality. To continue to use such a conceptual division is not a neutral act. It perpetuates the institutions by accepting that division as a given and gives credence to the hierarchy of social practices built up around it.

Furthermore, the terms of the division are corrupt. Masculine always signifies powerful, and feminine always bears the connotation of inferior. "Feminine' does not ever tell us anything about women, but is only the negative term in the opposition powerful/powerless as stated from the point of view of the powerful.[27] That is, all constructs that refer back to the division of the sexes, to gender constructs, as some kind of "natural" fact or "given" implicitly are also defending the "naturalness" of male power. This kind of conceptual division is socially needed to justify and explain away women's oppression and thus to shore up the patriarchal structuring of social institutions as a whole.

The same ideologically biased dichotomizing plagues all the biological and social sciences-from sociobiology to anthropology. When Claude Lévi-Strauss comments that in all cultures, women are a means of exchange, his very theoretical formation perpetuates the system that he describes. Women are still not looked at by him on their own terms as women, but as means of exchange in his study of myth, The naturalness of heterosexuality and its construction as a compulsory social institution must be challenged by feminists, or else our theory reinforces the very structures we know oppress women throughout the world.

We do not wish to turn the masters into slaves. Nor do we want to mould ourselves into the construct masculine/male or accept the inferiority of the construct feminine/female, it is not a question of discovering what the "feminine" truly is or might be, or of glorifying it. We have to redefine the boundaries and parameters of sexuality, in its broadest sense, and to disengage the old, corrupt male-female dichotomy from its metaphorical use as an acceptable "model for the collaboration and distinctiveness of social units."[28] We have to establish a whole new set of significant oppositions, emerging from yet growing away from the cultural milieu in which we are embedded. I traced out the oppositions in CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING because this is what I thought the film achieved. Part of the project of stepping out of the old framework of gender definitions has already been accomplished by women's art, especially lesbian art. At this point, it is only by articulating and defending lesbian theory as part of their whole project, that feminist theorists can start to define a new cultural analysis and vision that will be healing and generative for us all.

Captions for photo essay


To emphasize the fantasy aspect of the city, the framing utilizes the lines of streets and pathways (left), staircases, balustrades, and walls to vary the composition drastically from one shot to the next. Julie covers her face with a scarf Celine had drooped when "caught ." Celine stands next to her own poster as a magician. Julie waits outside a pension that Celine had checked into, while Celine peers down at her pursuer below. The next morning Julie returns, finding Celine in the cafe below. Acknowledging the sexual politics of the sutation, Celine laughingly receives her scarf back with a "Thanks, sir."


Communicating on their turf

1. Men control and shape the social parameters of nightclubs, nightclub districts, porn establishments, and bars. This social structure formalizes access to women; voyeurism here also serves as a metaphor for film viewing. The bosses wear the male uniform of power, suit and tie; the ones in control, they indicate by their body language that they consider their authority a given. The less powerful and more socially insecure (e.g., women, children, servants) show more attentiveness or immediacy in their body language. As Celine's stand-in, Julie will later deliberately subvert the bosses' "potency."

2. Film costumes reflect power and status relations; here there is a paradigmatic opposition of man in suit vs. woman half-dressed. The manager unilaterally violates Celine's personal space; he pushes her up against a door, addresses her like a child, and tries to negotiate a contract while she has cream on her face. Working women understand the humiliation and manipulation inherent in their boss' asking personal questions, using their first names, touching them, and considering them "emotional." Hen generally find it hard to imagine that women often do not want to talk to or pay attention to them.

3. At Madlyn's birthday party, the deep-focus cinematography keeps all the lines of action contained within the frame and emphasizes through repetition of verticals the characters' rigidity. The milieu is affluent, sterile, and claustrophobic. The characters are atomistically separated and locked into a pattern oriented around Olivier, who owns this space both materially and emotionally. Contrast this to an ordinary party, where people signal interest by proximity, forward lean, directly facing shoulderangle, legs and arms moderately open if seated, and frequent smiles and nods to maintain conversation.

4. In a Jane Eyre-type oedipal fantasy, the nurse hopes that the older man, higher in social status, will offer her security and romantic love. Here Angele and Oliver act self-conscious about their bodies and pysical closeness, indicating sexual attentiveness. Olivier's unilateral direct gaze at and shoulder orientation toward the woman indicate male dominance. Angele-Celine smiles often, cocks her head, and glances up while speaking — culturally accepted gestures of female responsiveness. Oliver's pass ironically reinforces our sense that patriarchal authority "orders" this milieu.

5. Sophie is the evil governness and the femme fatale. She is cold, immaculately groomed, and glamorous by middle class standards; and like the wicked witch in patriarchal fairy tales, she injects the child's candy with sedatives. Clamorous dresses are usually tight and restrictive; the glamorous woman's power resides not in physical movement but in being manipulative, deceitful, and sexy — like Cleopatra or Medea. As in many of the shots in the crime melodrama, the composition shows Sophie "caught" in the architecture of this rich family mansion, which one of the women will get along with Olivier when and if the little girl is out of the way.

6. The characters in the interior story follow rigidly defined paths of prescribed movement. They do not make unpredictable gestures, only very "dramatic" ones that underscore what we might predict, especially about emotional life in the domestic sphere (similar to soap opera and melodrama). The composition characteristically isolates the human figures. Camile wears red, has bouffant blonde curls, and represents another female type: emotional, pouting, dependent, and always whining.

7. Olivier tries to grab the drugged candy from Sophie, who pops it into her mouth. Compositionally the strong verticals emphasize separation, and the deep focus and high camera angle make our eye run down from the dominant Olivier to Sophie to the child Madlyn (out of frame here), who has her head under her pillow and is lying drugged on the bed. The adults' malice, here inflicted on the child by evil medicine, can be read as Celine and Julie's memory of their own fears, perhaps their "masochistic" fantasies that they generated within the nuclear family; in their fantasy life girls often rehearse for adult heterosexual relations, dramatizing roles of male dominance and female submission and associating these with an addiction to pain and helplessness.

8. In the interior story, the child is vulnerable and manipulated. She is always depicted in "correct" poses and is never messy. Her pulse is weak and she's sick and sleepy. In the family it is the woman who enacts patriarchy's mandate to repress (here, murder) the female child. "Could it be Angele?" asks Celine and Julie the morning after they tripped together, now lying on the couch with the sun pouring in. By keeping the little girl alive, they also extricate themselves from Angele's complicity with the evil "stepmothers." That is, they learn to offer each other authentic womanly nurturance.

9. Camille has cut herself on a glass and is being treated by Angele (the source of the bloody hand on Celine and Julie's backs). Her blown hair, vacant look, and sagging posture make her seem helpless and dependent. She has dressed up in her dead sister's dress to win Olivier and so to get possession of what she claims as "her" house.

10. In Celine and Julie's last visit to the house, they enact a slapstick comedy routine in mime. The family members, except for Madlyn, wear ghastly grey-green make-up and repeat their roles. Celine and Julie disrupt the linearity of the previous composition, while Olivier and Sophie's posture still echoes the strong verticals of the architecture. The women plop a crown on Olivier's head to make fun of his authority, put a tango on, and move together in a joyous dance toward the foreground, bursting through the constraint and gloom with their white clothes and action, moving straight toward us.

Communicating in the liberated zones

11. Celine uses the library to enact a transgressive performance in public space, Julie's workplace, to get Julie's attention. Celine claps books on the table and draws around her hand with a red pen, her mouth set in a childlike display of concentration. Feeling observed, Julie simultaneously stamps her finger in the red ink pad and marks a piece of paper. The psychic doubling, the tactics of women's flirtation, the exaggerated expansiveness of Celine's gestures, the unnaturally heightened sound, and the playful use of public space — all these cinematic tactics and fictional developments are used to mix up the ordinary cinematic presentation of social and personal cues.

12. In the hallway outside Julie's apartment, Celine continues her performance yet also seems genuinely hurt. She shows up bloody and needy, an invitation to both mothering and being mothered. Her open body posture and downcast facial expression indicate vulneability.

13. Both in the opening chase and here, Julie ransacks through and appropriates Celine's things, including many toys Celine has in her purse (does a purse symbolize a female "vessel"?). Julie's body language is like that of both women while in the apartment: open, active, expressive and "unladylike." Inexpensive possessions lie around in disarray. Julie tosses Celine's things out, tries an alarm clock that goes off, copies the data from Celine's carnet, puts some of Celine's clothes in the closet, and hides other things by the corner of the couch. Both women seem greedy to initiate intimacy.

14. Julie's bed is in a loft. We see no lovemaking, only Julie munching the toast she's bringing up to Celine. Each woman will enact the ritual of bringing the other breakfast in bed; the second time, we observe that each has her "side" in the bed. The duplication of situations and the similar stances each woman adopts indicates that theirs is a relation between equals. The sequences connote "sexuality" but only indirectly.

15. Women usually protect themselves from being seen this way — scratching themselves, picking their toes, sprawling out on the floor, or making faces while listening to someone. Male film stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean have used such gestures as indicators of the romantic hero's independence and social revolt. Here Celine is talking to Gilou, lowering her voice to imitate Julie. She is seen hitting her nose with a daisy, which she sticks in the fish bowl, and she rummages through everything in Julie's place.

16. Celine and Julie each demolish the other's previous entanglements. Here wearing white and meeting Gilou in a park as Julie, Celine destroys Gilou's romantic pretensions. The sequence also parodies traditional film romance, with its centered composition, sharp differentiation between foreground and background, and dancing as in a musical comedy. Gilou utters passionate, poetic remembrances about his and Julie's childhood romance, and Celine strikes a pose like a model with each phrase. His posturing, romantic fantasy, and passion are reduced to nothing as Celine pulls down his pants, he pulls off his tie, and then she declares, "Go jack off."

17. Julie had hung up three dolls, two female and one male, below a rude diagram she drew of the mystery house, the male doll being upside down. Here, using "Solomon's judgment" to decide which woman killed Madlyn, Celine and Julie tear the male doll in half, only to discover that "he dosn't have any." Celine and Julie's clothes, gestures, and agility are "tomboyish. Symmetrically posed, they act as a team. Female potency is usually represented as "unnatural" and transgressive, and here Celine and Julie's play consists of rending the male into shreds, which makes the sequence a joke about the image of the "castrating bitch."

18. After one is ejected from the house, Celine or Julie pick the other up and go to a cab magically waiting for them. Julie first wrapped the LSD candy in a Kleenex; later she brought a special little box to store it in. Here Julie in the mothering role holds and touches Celine. Notice the gestures and the style of nurturance. From Celine's dependency while sitting bruised on the stairway to the mutual support seen here, the women grow together, and by the end of the film reach the point where they take active control over their lives.

19. The women's similar garb, mutual contact, bodies relaxed against each other, and similar arm positions indicate the kind of physical symmetry associated with intimacy. That evening they had read Gilou's protest letter to Julie out loud together, hugging each other, prancing, making fun of him and acting physically and emotionally as if they were one. Here, having tripped with the magic potion they concocted in the bowl on the table (they gave some to the fish), they are laughing about their adventure and are also afraid.

20. The two women "put on" Olivier as he looks in the mirror. He doesn't see them and they act as if they are each other's mirror image. Women are usually the "background," the arrangers of the milieu in which the real, male-oriented action is supposed to occur. In fact, as marginal people, Celine and Julie know what's going on and that it's not for them. They move from being in the background and complicitous in the crime to demolishing it.


1. When I say that the film's fantasy is congruent with mine, I mean this in the sense that I see and experience a continuum in women's sexual identity between heterosexual and lesbian that the film speaks to. My own sexual practice is heterosexual, yet my relation to women is deeply intimate with a great deal of emotional commitment, including a whole range of sexual feelings. For me, lesbian indicates that part of the womanly continuum that includes sexual practice between women but is not confined to that. CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING speaks to the lesbian element in all women's experience, which is something that heterosexual women often fear to acknowledge and personally explore, even in fantasy. Yet for feminists to acknowledge, openly and consistently, this sexual continuum between all women, especially in the areas of feminist theory and political practice, would release for us two sources of strength. Lesbians' rich analysis and descriptions of the lesbian experience and lesbian struggles would not be isolated by other feminists into a "special case" or an issue of civil rights. And all of us would understand in a much clearer, more woman-identified way, the dimensions of the struggle against patriarchy. I am addressing this essay primarily to heterosexual feminists, but hope it's of use to a lesbian readership as well.

2. The film is distributed by New Yorker Films at a reasonable rental price for classroom showing ($125). Its "inaccessibility" probably has more to do with the institutional isolation of experimental cinema (into museums or college classrooms and film series) than with the film itself. I wish to thank New Yorker Films (16 W. 61st St., NY, NY 10023) for providing me with a preview copy for study purposes.

3. The introduction to this Special Section discusses the problems with the explicit depiction of lesbian sexuality in mainstream film and our consequent search for subtexts as we establish the history of lesbians in film. The problem has also been broached by women working in the area of lesbian literature and history. In particular, in "The Historical Denial of Lesbianism," Radical History Review, Special Issue on Sexuality in History, No.. 20 (Spring-Summer, 1979) and "Women Alone Stir My Imagination: Lesbians and the Cultural Tradition," Signs, 4, No. 4 (Summer, 1979), Blanche Wiesen Cook argues against needing to find references to explicit lovemaking between women before we can assert a lesbian presence in history, literature, and art. Referring to the 47-year-long relation between Mary Wooley, president of Mt. Holyoke, and professor of literature, Jeanette Marks, Cook writes:

"Even if they did renounce physical contact, we can still argue that they were lesbians: they chose each other, and they loved each other. Women who love women, who choose women to nurture and support and to form a living environment in which to work creatively and independently are lesbians. Genital 'proofs' to confirm lesbianism are never required to confirm the heterosexuality of men and women who have been living together for 20, or 50, years. Such proofs are not demanded even when discussing ephemeral love relations between adult women and men." ["Denying Lesbianism," p. 65]

For further discussions of methodology in this area, see Barbara Smith, "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism," Conditions: two, 1977; Harriet DesMoines' address to the 1978 MLA Panel on Lesbians and Literature: Transcending the Boundary between the Personal and the Political, reprinted in Sinister Wisdom, No. 9 (Spring, 1979); and Judith Schwartz, "Researching Lesbian History," Sinister Wisdom, No. 5 (Winter, 1978).

4. "Phantom Interviewers over Rivette," article and interview by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Lauren Sedofsky, and Gilbert Adair, Film Comment, 10, No. 5 (September, 1974), 20.

5. Interview with Juliet Berto, Positif, No. 162 (October, 1974), p. 23 (my translation).

6. Ibid.

7. Interview with Dominque Labourier, Positif, No. 162 (October, 1974), p. 29.

8. "Jacques Rivette," interviewed by Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky, Sight and Sound, 43, No. 4 (Fall, 1974), 198. Of interest also in that issue is the critical review of the film by Jonathan Rosenbaum, "Work and Play in the House of Fiction."

The Henry James novel and the short story which the interior crime melodrama is based are characterized by misogyny, claustrophobia, bitter rivalry between sisters, distrust of "treacherous" female passion, and the murder of the female child.

9. I use the word reframe here in the sense used by Erving Goffman in Frame Analysis (New York: Harper and Row, 1974). Goffman, following Gregory Bateson and Mary Douglas, asserts that we define situations according to implicit social principles of organization that govern events and also to our subjective involvement in a given situation. Goffman's discussion of "framing" illustrates well both the imaginative permutations and the directive force of ideology — if less well ideology's material foundation and the historical contradictions that lead to change. He writes,

"Given their understanding of what it is that is going on, individuals fit their actions to this understanding and ordinarily find that the ongoing world supports this fitting. These organizational premises — sustained both in the mind and the activity — I call the frame of the activity." [p. 247]

Feminists can usefully apply Goffman's concept of "frame" to analyze simultaneously the institutional and imaginative mechanisms that would "enforce" heterosexuality as well as our lively subcultural resistance to that ideology.

10. Rivette acknowledges his debt to William Wyler in "Phantom Interviewers over Rivette."

11. Frame enlargements were shot by Jim Risch.

12. For a feminist analysis of film melodrama and soap opera, see Tania Modleski, "The Search for Tomorrow in Today's Soap Operas," Film Quarterly, 33, No. 1 (Fall, 1979); Sheila Wawanash, "TV's Medical Center Sells Sexual Self-Determination," JUMP CUT, No. 16 (November, 1977); Carol Lopate, "Daytime Television: You'll Never Want to Leave Home," Radical America, 11, No. 1 (January-February, 1977); Charles Kleinhans, Notes on Melodrama and the Family Under Capitalism," Film Reader, No. 3 (February, 1978); Lillian Robinson, "What's My Line? Telefiction and Women's Work," Sex, Class and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978).

13. Women's exchanging identity within intimacy was clearly one of the themes Berto and Labourier wanted to develop, as seen in Berto's reference, cited earlier, to PERSONA. In literature, women's "exchange of identity" was presented by Virginia Woolf in Orlando, and it receives its theoretical exposition in Nancy Chodorow's description of how women develop psychologically, with fluid ego boundaries and with deep ties to other women, especially within the domestic sphere (The Reproduction of Mothering, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). Since Freud and more recently Christopher Lasch in his popular Culture of Narcissism pejoratively associate homosexuality with narcissism — and since that thesis has credence in the social sciences — we must be careful to delineate the ways that women's intimacy is of a profoundly different order than "narcissism."

14. For a good overview of non-verbal communications research that applies to women, see Nancy Henly, Body Politics (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1977). According to Henly,

"Persons in agreement will show high synchrony, and those in disagreement, dissynchrony. The effect of power may be seen in a group by considering whose motions the other interactants are in harmony with — it is the high power person whose behaviors will be unconsciously reflected by others."[p. 128]

See also Shirley Weitz, 'Sex Differences in Non-Verbal Communication," Sex Roles, 2 (1976); and Irene Hanson Frieze and Sheila J. Ramsey, "Non-Verbal Maintenance of Traditional Sex Roles," Journal of Social Issues, 32, No. 3 (1976).

15. Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis, and also his The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1977).

16. This readable meaning is about the politics of the family, well-articulated in the works of R.D. Laing (e.g., Politics of the Family and Other Essays, New York: Pantheon, 1971).

17. Christina Stead memorably delineated the cruel extremes of family politics in The Man Who Loved Children (New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1965).

18. In face-to-face encounters between the more powerful and the less powerful, or between those who like or dislike each other, "immediacy" indicates how people relate to each other. Non-verbally, "immediacy" (liking, trust, and interest, or else an attentiveness due to a need to please) is signaled by forward lean, eye contact, direct orientation of the shoulders toward the other, frequent smiling, no finger tapping, moderately open arms and legs, sustained rather than very brief periods of speaking, and frequent nodding and smiling to keep the conversation going. Verbally, immediacy is indicated by the speaker's using the collective first person and terms like "here" or "this" and not many qualifiers. Thus a boss who introduces the woman next to him as "my secretary," "Mary," or "my co-worker," indicates mutuality or "us" in the last term, which makes that the term of immediacy and respect. For a further discussion of both verbal and non-verbal immediacy and the power relations which immediacy signals, see Albert Mehrabian, Non-Verbal Communication (Chicago: Aldine-Atherson, 1977).

19. This analysis is drawn from the work of cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas, in particular her Purity and Danger: Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966) and Implicit Meanings (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975).

20. Freud's description of the boy's oedipal stage can also be read as a description of the way that heterosexuality and its concomitant ordering of male power and female "inferiority" become imbedded in the boy's psyche as a metaphor for the entire social order and his "natural" right to be heir to it.

21. Douglas, Purity and Danger, pp. 3-4.

22. For an exposition of the symbolic implications of and power differentials implicit in the division between domestic and public spheres, cross-culturally and trans-historically, see Michele Z. Rosaldo, "Woman, Culture, and Society: A Theoretical Overview," in Women, Culture and Society, ed. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974). For a summary of the anthropological literature detailing women's status in specific cultures, see "Anthropology: A Review Essay," Rayna Rapp, Signs, 4, No. 3 (Spring, 1979).

23. Many British and French psychoanalytic and feminist critics have perpetuated this metaphorical division of masculine vs. feminine. In France, although their work is otherwise very different, Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous have both asserted that women's strength and source of resistance reside in the realm of the emotional, the "imaginary," and negation — versus women's being effective agents in the cultural, symbolic, and political realms.

In England, in contrast, not glorifying "feminine" traits, the Lacanian-influenced women's publication m/f perpetuates in is title and articles a simple bifurcation of sexual and gender identity, following the path of Juliet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Apparently in an attempt to criticize essentialist arguments coming out of some parts of cultural feminist thought, British feminist critics have often gone in the opposite direction, denying that women have a separate identity, consciousness or identity. For example, Laura Mulvey, speaking of her first film, made with Peter Wollen, stated, "...in PENTHESILEA we were saying women's language and culture have disappeared under patriarchal culture." (Wedge, No. 2, Spring 1978, p. 4) By insisting upon the overwhelming influence of patriarchal structures on all aspects of women's lives, these critics rely upon a dichotomy of masculine-feminine in which the "feminine" is always subordinate. Lesbian realities are ignored within this critical framework, and heterosexuality as an ideology is not challenged. Rather, heterosexuality, as an ideology, is the given upon which the Lacanian-influenced feminist critical method depends.

24. The Radicalesbian Collective signaled this as a problem in 1971, but things have not changed much since then. They wrote that as long as women seek acceptance from mainstream society for women's liberation, "the most crucial aspect of the acceptability is to deny lesbianism — i.e., to deny any fundamental challenge to the basis of the female." [Radicalesbians, "The Woman-Identified Woman," Notes from the Third Year: Women's Liberation, 1971]

25. In this discussion of "abomination" and "pollution" I am talking about an ideological construct, specifically about the role of sexual accusations within ideology. This is not to imply that lesbian oppression is the worst oppression, nor that lesbians of different races and classes have a unified experience, nor that this ideological oppression is so overwhelming that lesbians succumb to self-hatred. In fact, lesbian oppression is part of women's oppression. The violence against lesbians is part of a more general violence against women. For example, we see the abuse and containment of our sexuality in every aspect of our daily life — in people's ordinary comportment, in jokes, and in the media. Politically in the U.S. we see this containment and abuse in the failure to stop rape, the refusal of abortions to poor women, and forced sterilization.

Furthermore, women's oppression at this point in history is intimately tied to class and race oppression. A greater institutional and/or personal acceptance of lesbianism in the U.S. would not automatically make any beneficial changes in capitalism or directly affect racism. Yet an observable global fact has convinced me that an analysis of what lesbian means, ideologically, is crucial for left and feminist theory at this time: Communist countries also institutionally uphold the nuclear family and they institutionally "contain" homosexuality.

Lesbian oppression is related to the oppression of homosexual men, particularly ideologically, as both are often considered "abominations." Yet cross-culturally men have had more access to the public sphere and thus to power than have women. I have to ask: What are the contradictions that will produce lasting change for women? What now limits our vision of the dimensions that change should take? I am committed to fighting capitalism and racism and homophobia. Here I hope to demonstrate some of the ways that lesbian has a significance as a social category which should more profoundly affect those struggles, and affect post-revolutionary communist societies as well.

Beyond this, I recognize that my discussion of how patriarchal ideology conceptualizes the terms lesbian and woman does not speak out of or describe the lesbian experience. Clearly that experience must be so positive as to disprove the dominant ideology. Otherwise lesbians would not choose to live as they do. And within that experience, there are contradictions, many interrelated elements, and whole different sets of personal expectations. To understand these, we must listen to lesbians as they speak in their own voice.

26. Michele Rosaldo, Women, Culture and Society.

27. "A man cannot be a predator unless there is something in need of protection. And he cannot protect unless there is something 'vulnerable' to predation. These concepts structure reality and our understanding. The boys appear to describe reality when they talk of measures they must institute to 'protect' us, but in fact they create a particular conceptual framework." — Sarah L. Hoagland, "Coercive Consensus," Sinister Wisdom, No. 6 (Summer, 1978), pp. 86-87.

28. Douglas, Purity and Danger, p. 4.