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17 February 2006 @ 02:18 am
The Outskirts of feminism......  
FishyFem: Would you be interested in starting a post regarding what you would like the younger generation to know? Or just describing your experience of the second wave? I actually never quite caught onto what you were saying about the metaphorical bookshelf so if you want to go over that again that'd be great!

The latter is far more concrete and communicable in a short period of time than the former which needs to wait until I can dedicate quality time to a meaningful response including thinking about it.

Sometimes I am a little embarrassed by my early experience because I went to school in the South plus we were students and pretty much followers.

My initial experiences came from a concentration of about four places:

• The first was a series of WS courses and all that occurred in relation to them.

• The second was in the construction of a Lesbian Commune near the school – well within 40 miles.

• The third was a single evening at a gay and lesbian party before there was a significant lesbian culture.

• Later, in the early eighties after coming out…. Life in a local NOW chapter. They are all connected temporally and related to one another if through nothing else - contrasts.

The other thing that’s interesting is they were non-overlapping and isolated segments which speaks to the diversity of early feminist groups in the South.

At risk of being repetitious but toward putting this in a consolidated place I’ll begin again.

I was waiting for a movement like Feminism. I didn’t know what it would be but I knew of the evils of male dominance through the violence against us at home. I knew it wasn’t “natural” as it was seen then and I was waiting for something to come along to confront that.

One early evening, just as I was finishing undergraduate school, during Walter Cronkite, there was a film clip of women in jeans, tennis shoes and sweatshirts confronting men on in suits on Madison Ave.

This was so anomalous that I sat up and took instant notice. It was something called feminism. But this was the South and there was noting visible like that here. I just stored it away and this was about 1968.
Btw, I should note that I grew up in a conservative environment. Both of my sisters are Republicans. One is anti-abortion. I love them very much but there are topics we have to avoid or upset will occur. In 1968 Nixon ran against Humphrey and had I voted I would have voted for Nixon. I was “apolitical” which is really quite political because there’s not such thing as apolitical. I was also poor and lived on a porch and paid $5.00/week for rent.

Just before grad school, there was a life changing event for me called Kent State.

I was walking across campus and it changed my life forever, but it wasn’t over night. We can call it “process”. When I arrived at grad school, I was in a lab full of Californians. As soon as I settled in, since I had gone further South I sought out feminists. There were no WS departments at the time, but feminists could be found around t Psych of Women’s courses and I made that my minor.

One the first day, there were two men in the course and they immediately began talking about how patriarchy hurt them. The prof cut them off and said, “I’m sure that’s very important, but this course of about women and is for women and we need to listen to women.” You could have heard a pin drop because this was the first time I ever heard that and I LOVED it. I knew I was in the right place and I understood, we all did and we relaxed and marveled at this space – the kind of space that we’ never known in the presence of men. It’s important to understand just how gigantic this was. It was so new and the incident was so informing. It told volumes. Btw, there was little feminist literature at the time. We had the brand new edition of OBOS. I still have a copy like it. It was printed on acidic recycled paper and they are all brown now and my copy is much thinner than the version now.

**** Violence described in next paragraph***

We were eager to learn about this new way of BEING. We never challenged the prof until the end of the course and I’ll get that. We had a CR and that was wonderful. During the class, I sat across from an Back woman. She was the first lesbian I’d ever met. She wore coveralls, was big, angry and scary because of that anger but we supported her. She and I formed a gentle comfortable friendship. It was a little distant. I was white and straight. But we used to walk to school together. How bold it was to announce that she was a lesbian. During that quarter, a man blew her lover’s head off with a shot gun. We supported her through that.

We loved the course and lived for course days because it was the only place that felt safe. Through CR, I was converting to a feminist. Oddly enough, I couldn’t interest the other women in the lab into these courses. Somehow they seemed threatened. That’s always been around.

We also went to the First AWP meeting in Carbondale, Illinois, in a caravan. I think all of use slept in a Red Rooster Inn – together. The meetings were exhausting. We didn’t stay up and talk. I guess I need to talk about that.

Feminism was pretty geographical. It felt to us as if it were being run from the North – Chicago and Columbia, SUNY and NEW, Columbus and in the West it was Berkley. We definitely felt as if we were followers. This meeting was interesting because the pros came down from the North. They were solemn and serious. I made my only faux paus at this meeting. In a workshop on gender, there was the statement of NO DIFFERENCE and I piped up and said, “But there are brain differences” and the big dykes scowled at me. “We don’t talk about that.” “Oooh…….” But through these experiences, our class became cohesive. We stuck together for years. It was a time for reflection also.

There were several times that I realized that we were standing on the edge of time. We didn’t know where this was going. Roe had just been decided and it was unexpected and a shock. It took a long time to realize exactly what this meant. You see, this was a freedom we had never known. What did this freedom mean, exactly? How did it translate from gavel to our day to day lives? How could not know this was coming?

While speaking of the edge of time, I clearly remember being at an AWP meeting and talking to a woman with the most beautiful blue eyes. So many thoughts. There was the realization that we were isolated and how important these meeting were. The was the realization that we didn’t know where we were going or where this would take us and most of all there was the realization that we were doing this for our daughters. I was sure the volumes that we were writing about women and about our insights and discoveries would be our legacies and our daughter’s treasures through which they could understand us and the times. Ours was somehow a well educated generation and we were prolific analysts and writers of every aspect of women’s experiences. I was sure this would be a wide bridge across the generations and a vehicle through which we would be able to talk to each other. Few things could be further from the truth. Temporality.

There was no differentiation between liberal and radical feminists. My training seemed to be in the vein of liberal feminist.

Thread II – The Lesbian Commune

One day a tall skinny gentle man came into the lab and announced that he was a new Computer Science Prof and that he wanted to help us with our research needs. We became friends and I met his wife. They were from Columbus a hot bed of radicalism. They were Quaker and different. The made homemade butter biscuits with hand utensils and used natural honey as a sweetener and had a honey ladle. She canned. K, had a HUGE wooden bookcase, full of books on women. Where did they come from? I’d never seen so many books on women. I didn’t know they’d been written. They were all paperback, a reflection of our economic status. I spent time with them and got to know them well. At that time all middle class and college educated lesbians had big homemade books full women’s literature. It was almost automatic. We didn’t have a Womyn’s Bookstore but larger cities did. Columbus did. All lesbians were automatically feminists except butches in many parts of the country. Often they weren’t accepted by feminists.

One day, M announced that his wife had discovered she was a lesbian. They were going to separate but before they did, he would help them identify land and build a commune. GOODNESS. This was all coming so fast and furious. My head was spinning. I’d never heard of anything like this. But I helped them too. We ran land tests and “percolated” the land to see if it would drain and was suitable for sewage. They were afraid of flash floods and actually built the house on trees as pillars. There was space for grape arbors and running streams through the land. And there were BIG DYKES now in coveralls. Some had hair on their chins. They had their own culture so there were three cultures. His, mine and the lesbian culture which I had to grope my way around. I was afraid of offending as I respected the culture but did not know it.

I was concerned about their safety in this little Christian backwoods part of the world. They said they were valued members of the community and as long as they didn’t cause any problems the town folks accepted them as they were. That was the seventies.

We did get the commune together. It actually had a composting toilet, the only one I’ve ever seen and it was “loud” in announcing its presence in the summer. It was far worse than the porta-Janes at festival. I did manage to offend the lesbians once. One night I was going out on date and got dressed and put on makeup. That’ all it took. They never said anything but I could see the look on their faces. I wanted to shrink.

Thread III – A Lesbian and Gay Party

In and of itself this may not be interesting except it is. I was invited to a GLF party and I went. It was in a house and as rather amazing because it was completely gender separated. When I arrived the host hugged me hello and said, “The women are out there on the porch”, and after that we never saw the men after that. But here is where it becomes interesting.

At that time, in the South there was no shared lesbian culture. Yes, there was “Beebo Brinker”, perhaps Jane Rule and The Well of Loneliness by RadClyffe Hall. But that was it. This wasn’t true nationally. Larger cities did have a common shared lesbian culture. But I wanted to talk about us. What did I encounter at the GLF party? Perhaps the very opposite from the dykes at the commune. Everyone, including me was in skirts, everyday school attire. We weren’t, or they weren’t distinctive as lesbians, perhaps they could ill afford to be at school. Given that there was no common culture, we had to fumble to find commonalities and we discussed our studies and what departments we were in. I mention because only a few years later I would come out in the very early eighties after Olivia Records had given us Womyn’s Music. The two periods contrasted like day and night. Rita Mae Brown had published Rubyfruit Jungle, standard training for any lesbian.

There was this tiny point in time when I came out. There were two artists on Olivia. Meg Christian and Cris Williamson. They gave us our culture, two Olivia Artists and staff and Holly Near. By the time I came out we had a language. You could ask a woman if she ever heard of Meg Christian and if she said yes, you’d know she was a sister and she’d know you were one. It was a horribly white period which may not have been apparent at the time. As a separatist community the lesbian community was strong and had our own stores and events. DC had a two days Womyns Music Festival Called SisterFire which died in the mid-eighties. Gone. We had bookstores. Gone. And we had the GWA, a weekly gathering of 100 lesbians which for two dollars an evening served wine and cheese and had speakers like Sonja Jonson. It was wonderful. It was powerful and it’s disintegrated.

Just before I came out, we lost the ERA. I broke up with the man I was with and swore off men. I had succumbed to heteronormativity. But I didn’t think I was a lesbian. After all, I couldn’t see myself in coveralls, picking up women in a bar. But again there was another life event where I met this wonderful woman and we had the most beautiful summer of my life. She was patient with me and taught me so much and took me to my first Womyn’s books stores. We slept in each other’s arms all summer and were never lovers. “Never bring a woman out was one of her maxim’s”. But it was a beautiful summer of snuggling and white gowns and close friendships, champagne, Meg Christian, Holly Near, and Cris Williamson. She didn’t stay in town and parting hurt so bad…but I was soon in a long term relationship for the next eight years with a wonderful but tough lesbian and we co-mommed raising her daughter.

During that time we joined NOW, which was really disappointing. I understand why but, it was a horrible experience. The chapter was totally hierarchical and there were no open chapter business meetings. Essentially members came and heard a presentation often given by men and then we went home but not before telling us where the next abortion protest would be. Oooh, we face lots of angry male anti-abortionists and I learned early that there was no discussing these issues with them. It was IN YOUR FACE SHOUTING AND SCREAMING as were surrounded by pictures of meaty, bloody fetuses marching hour after hour.

Other than that the NOW experience had no intensity to it. The board was clustered as they were because they feared chapter takeovers by pro-lifers. Even in 1984 that struggle was going on. I have never been able to find a group of intense feminists like we had in grad school.

But my partner and I had our own wooden bookcase and our prized book was Rita Mae Brown’s Plain Brown Wrapper. By that time you could call me a Lesbian Feminist.

Thread V – Radicalizing - a Postlog

I wouldn’t have called myself an acutely schooled feminist. I came up at a time that there just wasn’t feminist literature and reading feminism wasn’t something that was a part of me. BUT, my instincts were good.

In the early nineties, I began to encounter “feminists” who condoned prostitution and pornography. All my instincts said that these hurt women but here were feminists around me advocating it. I went into crisis. If this was feminism, I had to consider saying goodbye because this just wasn’t tolerable. I knew somewhere there were feminists making good arguments who knew what they were taking about and I sought them on the net. Finally I found one. I asked her what she read and she said MacKinnon. The rest is herstory.

It’s rare that really young women become radical feminists. Normally there’s usually a bit a path. The young feminist begins liberal but then encounters issues in her own life and if she cares she begins to re-evaluate and re-evaluate. After I devoured everything of MacKinnon’s and went into standpoint theories and feminist epistemologies. I love those. They are rich in insights.

There’s more but it occurred in the last ten years and can be separated from your questions on the second wave.

But what I’m becoming aware of is how time and society reality change. Patriarchy propagates itself not through a single point in time but across generations. We lose what we learn. As individuals we come into ongoing patriarchy as a point in time. I want to begin looking at that along with other feminist philosophers because I think there’s a lot there that can’t be seen until there is a herstorical perspective in place.
fishyfem on February 17th, 2006 11:17 am (UTC)
Wow! I appreciate you sharing all that. May I ask where you got the pictures? The one of the woman kneeling in the "Slave" t-shirt before the woman on the ground is especially powerful.

I find it amazing that you "knew" male violence was not natural. Are we born with the willingness, the very drive, to survive, yet for some of us this gets nixed or is there some other explanation?

May I ask what Walter Cronkite was?

In my own case, there *was* a bit of a path before becoming a radical feminist, at least on some issues, but it all happened very quickly. As soon as I discovered MacKinnon's material, I knew intuitively it was right, it made sense, it was about equality. How can one proclaim caring about women yet say photographs of them [us] being torture abused, and degraded is more important than they [we] are?

I sooo wish I had live through the '70s....oh, how I do! I'm not sure what to comment on, as there is so much, but I defintitely plan to come back and re-read and then may add questions.