PEOPLE: Alix Dobkin Feed

"What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear" at The Museum Of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art has a major exhibition called  "Is Fashion Modern?"  Part of the exhibtion covers t-shirts. 

Coordinating with the exhibition, the museum publishes a blog with some wonderful articles. I'm honored that they wanted to know the backstory of my photograph of Alix Dobkin wearing "the future is female" shirt from Labyris Books.  Please read the actual blog...it's got some great essays. I've reprinted mine here.

The future is female t-shirt labyris books worn by alix dobkin photo by liza cowan 1975

The story behind the The Future Is Female graphic T-shirt is well known, both within feminists circles and outside them. In 2015, the Lesbian history Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y posted a photo of folk singer Alix Dobkin wearing a T-shirt with the logo in 1975, a piece of merchandise from Labyris Books, New York City’s first women’s bookstore. Soon after, the owners of Los Angeles–based boutique Otherwild approached Liza Cowan — the photographer and Dobkin’s then partner — requesting permission to reproduce the T-shirt. The garment and logo have since become an enduring symbol, worn by celebrities and civilians alike. It has also sparked numerous debates about the binary nature of gender and about the necessity for more inclusive discourses in mainstream feminism.

The story of the groundbreaking project that gave birth to the famous photograph is less known, however. As an artist working in the context of separatist Lesbian politics, Cowan was interested in the semiotic power of fashion to communicate identity. Years before costume and dress gained academic validation, Cowan developed a photo essay called “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” an exploration of Lesbian dress and its role in the construction of identity. As part of our research for item #044 on the Items: Is Fashion Modern? checklist, the Graphic T-shirt, we spoke with Cowan about the project, the political implications of Lesbian dress, and the proliferation of identity-proclaiming merchandise.

 

You first published your photo series “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear” in COWRIE Lesbian Feminist magazine. Can you talk a little more about what prompted you to work on this and the context in which it was developed?

COWRIE was a small magazine I started in 1972, originally as the newsletter of a women’s group on the Upper East Side of New York City. The group was called Community of Women, and our goal, unachieved, was to start a women’s center to serve the women in the neighborhood. By the third issue, in June 1973, the group had disbanded, but my editorial partner and I decided to continue publishing the newsletter as a magazine for Lesbians, renamed COWRIE Lesbian Feminist.

I had been observing how the women in the Lesbian community — as we called it then — were dressing. In 1972 I was inspired by a wonderful article in Rags Magazine, edited by Mary Peacock and Daphne Davis, called “What Gay Women Wear.”

I began to ask questions about clothing, both to myself and to my friends. I had just come out the year before, at age 21, and had started to dress like my Lesbian peers. I wanted to know why we dressed as we did, and what were the social and political implications. Mind you, this was decades before fashion, or even culture theory, was considered worthy of study as an academic discipline. In those days it was considered trivial, and I was often ridiculed for being interested in fashion. I knew it wasn’t trivial, and I knew that clothing carried a message. I wanted to decipher it.

In the seven-part series, I covered general observations, history of Lesbian clothing — including ancient Amazons — and contemporary lesbian clothing designers, hair, and shoes. In every one, I was trying to decipher the political and social consequences and meanings of our clothing choices.

My main theory, I suppose, was that contemporary Lesbians didn’t want to look like men, as we were constantly accused of trying to do, but we wanted to look like Lesbians — women-loving women — to invoke the styles of at least some of our foremothers. We wanted to honor our history and to wear clothes that would signal our identity to other Lesbians.

Why did our foremothers, some of them, dress in men’s clothing? Because of the power and freedom that men’s clothing both symbolized and allowed. Through the ages men have dressed for freedom, for comfort, and for power. Women have been forced to dress as second-class citizens and sexual objects. From hobble-skirts to corsets, from stiletto heels to beehives, our clothing has confined and constricted us. Lesbians didn’t want to look like men, they wanted to be free — free to move, free to play, free to run, free to work, free to catch the eye of other women, and free to mark themselves as off-limits to men.

Clothing — in addition to being necessary, sometimes fun, and always interesting — is about power and class. It always has been. Clothing is deeply symbolic. That is my interest. Writing about clothing was always an intellectual pursuit. I was not interested, or able, to tell women what to wear or where to shop, or what accessories to buy. I wanted to explore the meaning.

“The discussion I had with my friend [who had asked me why I wanted to look “dykey”] made me start thinking about the Lesbian Look. What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. And why. I knew we look different from straight women. Is it a clothing style? A hair style? The movement Lesbians that I know, the community that shows up at conferences, women’s dances etc. all tend to dress similarly: comfortable clothes, T shirts, sturdy footwear, hair cut short, tied back, or loose au naturel. Women wear put-together suits, and blazers are always popular. But many of the women that go to bars (at least on weekends) wear outfits straight from Glamour magazine: platform shoes, tube tops, baubles, crimson mouths and plucked eyebrows. These clothes carry quite a different message.”

Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, Vol. 1 #3, June 1973

“The clothes I wear help me to know my own power. So does being a Lesbian. I love the way I look. I love the way other lesbians look. I’m learning to rid myself of all straight patriarchal values and build my own world. So it’s a combination of clothes and attitude that make a woman identifiable as a lesbian”

Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, Vol. 1 #3, June 1973

In 1975, along with my childhood friend Penny House, I started another magazine called DYKE: A Quarterly. The “What the Well Dressed Dyke” series continued there, but only for one issue. Our inaugural flyer for the magazine has become somewhat famous now, and exemplifies that Dyke look I had been describing in my articles. Decades later, in 2016, the flyer was featured in the book Gay Gotham, by Donald Albrecht and Stephan Vider, who curated the Gay Gotham exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.

Penny House and I had read fashion magazines ever since we were young girls. We both came from upper-middle-class families in New York City, where fashion — and the fashion industry — was part of the air we breathed. We had one school chum who had moved to England and became one of the world’s first supermodels in the ’60s, and we also had other friends whose parents were photographers, fashion editors, or were featured in magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the like. We thought it would be amusing to do a photoshoot of Dykes as a fashion image. Dykes — the famously “ugly” and badly dressed. We found a Lesbian photographer who had access to a fashion photography studio. Her dad owned it and she was one of his assistants.

Penny and I gathered a couple of women to join us in the shoot, including Alix Dobkin as well as Penny’s modelesque friend Val. The photographer’s girlfriend was also in the shoot. Alix and I were wearing jeans. I had just shaved my head and was wearing a bandana and a blue work shirt, the kind I’d loved since I was a “folkie” teen. Blue work shirts were emblematic of ’60s folkies, as were bandanas. Laborers’ outfits, appropriated by middle-class kids, had become trendy again within a subcategory of Dykes who had grown up as Beats and folkies. Penny, Alix, and I are wore vests. Alix and Penny’s were traditional, woolen “men’s” vests, which we used to buy at thrift stores. Mine was blue cotton with tiny white flowers on it, a kind of a vestigial hippy item. Val had on gorgeous tall leather boots with a folded-over top. Alix and I were wearing workmen’s boots and shoes, another leftie/folkie appropriation that was quite popular among Lesbians. Debbie and Penny seem to be wearing Frye boots, which were all the rage.

More than anything, though, it is our posture that says, “We’re Dykes!” Ladies just did not stand like that; hands on hips, standing squarely on two feet, balanced and ready, staring straight at the camera with no smiles. It would never be unusual to see a group of men with this body language, but a group of women? Highly unusual, and only could be read as Lesbian.

It was around this time, 1974 and 1975, that Alix Dobkin and I were contacted to do presentations at an event in California called The Lesbian History Exploration. I decided to make my series into a slide show. One of the photos I used was an image I took of Alix wearing The Future Is Female T-shirt from our friends at Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City.

In the series, you explore what you call Lesbian “archetypes,” like the Amazons, but you also discuss certain stereotypes like “haute Dykes.” What was your research process like?

I prepared for the slideshow by taking photos of images in books of Lesbians from a particular era of Lesbian history, mostly American and British expats living in Paris — women like Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Clifford Barney, Sylvia Beach, Alice B. Toklas, Romaine Brooks, Janet Flanner, Renée Vivien, and more. I relied heavily on photos taken by the legendary Lesbian photographer Berenice Abbott. These women had recently earned legendary stature among my Lesbian friends and colleagues.

Then I took photos of contemporary Lesbians, mainly in New York City. I created the categories of fashion expression, “DYKE Schlepp” and “DYKE Finery,” and set about going to every event I could find at the time. For a couple of months I went to many events for Lesbians including dances, workshops, conferences, networking gatherings, concerts, and even a fashion show by Lesbian clothing designer Morgan Zale, whom I had interviewed for COWRIE. I went looking for what women were wearing, and asking permission to photograph them. In that era, there were many such events every month in New York City. I did not go to bars, mostly because the lighting would be terrible.

DYKE Schlep was, as it sounds, our everyday clothing: jeans and T-shirts, pea coats, work boots, denim overalls, sneakers, and Frye boots. Pretty much an up-cycled workman/folkie look. DYKE Finery included the outfits we wore to mostly evening events: jeans, suspenders, blazers, Frye boots, wingtip shoes, and the occasional fedora or tie. The difference between Schlepp and Finery was not huge, as I recall.

There was a section on hair. We tended to wear our hair short, sometimes the very bold shaved their heads. I did it once, just to see what it was like, and so I could document it for the slide show. I also included categories of lesbian accessories, like feminist/lesbian political buttons, which everyone wore, and the ever-present bandana/kerchief, which was tied in many different ways. As I travelled around the country, I continued to add slides and would include them in subsequent presentations around the US.

The last section of the show was about the style evolution of a few Lesbian friends, showing how their looks had changed as they went from girlhood to adulthood. I made slides from the photos in their photo albums and then photographed the women as they were at the time I was putting together the presentation. Most had gone through a period of being heterosexual, which made the whole thing both interesting and hilarious to my audiences. I think only one woman had been a Dyke her whole life, but even she had a marriage of “convenience,” which she had documented and was in the show.

In addition to my live photoshoots, I also did a number of interviews for the COWRIE series. I spent a wonderful afternoon at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Stella Blum, who was at that time the curator of their fashion/clothing department. I also tried to interview Dietrich Felix von Bothmer, curator of Greek antiquities at the Met when I was researching Amazon clothing. He scoffed at me and told me he would not do my “homework.”

“h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y” and Otherwild took inspiration from your photograph of Alix Dobkin for their first collaborative clothing collection, which gave rise to many Lesbian-history-inspired garments. What are your thoughts on the growing availability of queer identity-proclaiming garments and their popularity? What is the biggest change that you see when you compare this context to the radical Lesbian one in which you came of age?

I don’t know why garments with slogans are popular in general. I never wear shirts with slogans, no matter how much I agree with them. I never have. I don’t enjoy being a walking billboard, and I find it odd that so many women do. The only one in my household who wears slogan shirts is the Rootstein mannequin who lives in my dining room. She likes when people stare at her — it’s her job. If I were going to wear one, I’d wear the T-shirt from Old Lesbians Organizing for Change that says, in simple block letters, “This is what an old Lesbian looks like.” It’s an inspiring message, it’s a fundraiser for a great organization, and it would be really hard to appropriate it.

However, the fact remains that these shirts are now big business. There were plenty of feminist and Lesbian T-shirts, of course, during the 1970s. Enough that DYKE: A Quarterly was planning for a theme-based issue on Lesbian Media, including T-shirts and buttons. But most of the T-shirts of that era were decorated with slogans and symbols from women’s groups, events, or places. Bars, conferences, sports teams, political groups and actions, etc. had their shirts. They were popular, and they were a great way to fundraise. T-shirts commemorated a place, an event, a group, but usually not a free-floating idea. Even the original The Future Is Female T-shirt had the name of Labyris Books on the back.

The point of buying these shirts was to support the places, the women, or events that created them. Sometimes the shirt was a medium for communicating a political action or “zap,” like the day in 1970 when a group of radical Lesbians occupied the stage at a meeting of the Second Congress to Unite Women wearing “Lavender Menace” T-shirts, protesting the exclusion of Lesbians and Lesbian issues from the feminist movement.That was a defining moment in lesbian history, made more powerful by the shirts themselves. This was not T-shirt as commodity. The action and the shirt are entangled.

T-shirts also acted as a way to signal other women. Wearing a T-shirt that said “Amazon Expedition,” for example, was a cue to let other women know that you’d been at that wonderful event, and the word “Amazon” let other women know that you were probably a Lesbian without actually broadcasting a message to everyone.

It was not hard to find T-shirts that included words like “Lesbian” or “Amazon” or “Sister” commemorating a march or an event, if you knew where to look, but you’d rarely find a T-shirt without the name of the group that made it, and date of the event. There were, of course, times when you’d see shirts that were just a slogan without a corresponding place or event. One well known photo shows a pair of women wearing shirts, one of which said “femme” and the other “butch,” but I think those shirts were homemade.

The big change came when T-shirts went from being fundraisers, cues, and memorabilia for events or groups to being commodities in themselves. In the past, the only place to buy Lesbian T-shirts, buttons, etc. was at an event, or at a woman’s bookstore. So you were supporting either an event, or a feminist venue, or both. Today, there are only a couple of women’s bookstores in existence. In the past, there were dozens and dozens.

Today, e-commerce and the huge popularity of slogan T-shirts have changed the whole ballgame. Anyone can buy a shirt without ever setting foot into a women’s bookstore or a feminist or Lesbian event. The shirts are are now just free-floating commodities. When you see someone wearing a T-shirt that says “Feminist” or “Love wins,” it does not reference a particular event, group, or even timeframe. It’s just something you bought.

Back cover dyke a quarterly 1977 photo by Irene Young
Back cover, DYKE, A Quarterly. Lesbian t shirts. photo by irene Young

"Casting spells for a female future with 70s lesbian separatist Liza Cowan"

 From i-D magazine. By Charlotte Gush. December 7, 2015. Original here:

In 1975, Liza Cowan photographed her girlfriend wearing a T-shirt that read ‘The Future Is Female’. Fast forward to 2015 and a replica bought by Annie Clark for girlfriend Cara Delevingne has caused an Instagram-based feminist fashion frenzy. i-D caught up with Liza to find out about the T-shirt’s lesbian separatist roots, her magazine DYKE and what ‘The Future is Female’ means to her. 

 

 Alix Dobkin, photo ©Liza Cowan. the future is female 1975 high res copy 2
Alix Dobkin wearing original The Future Is Female Shirt form Laybris Books. Photo ©Liza Cowan 1975

 

In recent weeks, perhaps the very first truly Insta-famous feminist fashion item has emerged: a sweatshirt worn by Annie Clark, of St Vincent, and girlfriend Cara Delevingne that reads, 'The Future Is Female'. Far from being the latest catwalk creation, the design actually has its roots in the radical feminist movement of lesbian separatists in the 70s, having been created originally to raise funds for Labyris Books, the first women's bookshop in New York City, which opened in 1972.

In 1975, photographer Liza Cowan photographed her then-girlfriend Alix Dobkin wearing the slogan T-shirt, for an advert the magazine DYKE: A Quarterly, which she co-edited with Penny House. [note from Liza - this isn't actually true. I took the photo for my slideshow, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear] Fast forward to 2015 and the lesbian feminist Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y posted Cowan's image, where it was seen by graphic designer Rachel Berks, who sells feminist products from her studio-store, Otherwild. With permission, Berks recreated the T-shirt and began selling it -- with 25% of profits going to women's health organisation Planned Parenthood -- in her online store and in the gift shop of a lesbian feminist haunted house called KillJoy's Kastle, where St Vincent singer Annie Clark bought two slogan sweatshirts for herself and girlfriend Cara Delevingne. Paparazzi shots of them wearing the designs spread across social media and a feminist fashion frenzy was set in motion.

i-D caught up with photographer, artist and feminist Liza Cowan to find out more about lesbian separatist feminism in the 1970s, her magazine DYKE: A Quarterly and what 'The Future is Female' means to her.

 

Alix dobkin and liza cowan at three maple farm NY circa 1975
Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan at Three Maple Farm, NY. Circa 1975



 How does it feel to see a radical statement created by your community of lesbian feminists in the 70s become famous on the internet in 2015?
If you had told me 40 years ago, when Alix Dobkin and I made this photo, that it would become a pop culture sensation of this magnitude, we would have said that the idea was impossible.

Are you concerned that the feminist message gets lost and people think it's just a cool image?
In some ways the message 'The Future Is Female' is, if not lost, then certainly understood differently than it was in the 70s. Feminism has changed, the world has changed. It is difficult for many younger women to imagine the power, the excitement and the urgent need for women to come together to change the world. This may change. I do like that people think it's a cool image. It IS a cool image.

What does 'The Future is Female' mean to you?
The beauty of the phrase is that there is no precise meaning. We are asked to absorb two powerful archetypes, and to imagine them in relationship to each other. It is a dynamic phrase, a lively phrase. In order to make sense of it, we have to engage with the words. The archetype of 'the future' asks questions about the nature of time: When does the future begin? Where is the future? How does it happen? As an archetype, 'female' covers broad territories. Flora or fauna. Virgin Mary or Kali. Medusa or Quan Yin. Astarte or Parvati. Bringer of peace, or destroyer of illusion. Nurturer or avenger. Mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandmother. Nymph, maiden, crone.

'The Future is Female' reminds me that all life formed in a matrix. Matrix means womb, matrice, mother. Life springs from the female. Whether the future starts right this second, or in a million years, it emerges from the female body; not just the body of women, but of all female sentient beings, including the body of our home, Gaia.

I have also said that the slogan is a call to arms. While I think this is true, it is also true that it is an invocation. If we are to have a future, it must be female, because the rule of men -- patriarchy -- has just about devastated life on this beautiful little planet. The essence and the spirit of the future must be female. So the phrase becomes not just a slogan, but a spell. For the good of all.

 The image of Alix was part of a photography project about women. Tell us more?
From 1972 to 1978 I wrote a series of articles called What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, starting in a small lesbian magazine I published called Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, which ran from 1973 to 1974. Later I published them in my bigger magazine, DYKE: A Quarterly of Lesbian Culture and Analysis, which I co-edited and co-published with Penny House.

Today, you can get a PhD in fashion theory. In those days, it was considered trivial. I knew it wasn't, and I knew and that clothing carried a social message. I wanted to decipher it. In the seven part series, I covered general observations, histories of lesbian clothing -- including ancient Amazons -- contemporary lesbian clothing designers, the politics of hair and the history and politics of footwear.

How did you discover feminism and when did you start to identify as a feminist?
I first heard about Women's Liberation in 1970, listening to Robin Morgan being interviewed on the New York City listener-sponsored radio station, WBAI. My life changed immediately. I joined a consciousness-raising group, and I never looked back.

After you became a feminist, you began to identify as a lesbian separatist -- what does that mean and why was it an important distinction?
I was not a lesbian when I became a feminist. I came out gradually over the next year or so. In the process of producing feminist radio shows at WBAI (the same station where I'd first heard Robin Morgan), I had the opportunity to interview many many accomplished and exciting women, including some lesbians. One morning I had a dream in which I revealed to myself that I deeply loved women, and I decided at that very moment to be a lesbian. Soon after that, I met Alix Dobkin, a recently divorced folksinger and mother of a nine month old daughter. We met when she came to the station to be a guest on my late-night feminist radio show, Electra Rewired. We became friends, and then fell in love.

Over the course of the next few years, we spent much of our free time reading and discussing lesbian books, periodicals and theory, with each other and with friends. The new ideas about lesbian separatism resonated for us, and we developed our own ideas, which I wrote about in DYKE, and Alix sang about. Our work took us to women's actions and communities in New York City and soon, all over the United States, where we enjoyed the opportunity to work out ideas with many brilliant lesbians.

Contrary to popular belief, lesbian separatism was never a prescriptive code for behaviour or relationships. It did not dictate who to be friends with, what 'family' should mean, or how to live your life. It was an analysis, a lens through which to observe the world. There was no centrally-distributed dogma. Lesbian Separatism, boiled down, was a way to figure out what it meant to be a woman, without having to bother with men telling you what you could not think or say.

It was a way to develop networks of women's businesses, publishers, bookstores, conferences, cafes, trade organisations, credit unions, music production, health care centres, media, schools, self-defence courses, cooperative farms, festivals, auto-repair shops, distribution networks. We did everything. Not everyone who participated was a lesbian, but most were. Women-only networks, spaces and actions are one of the cornerstones of creating community, and forging effective feminist activism. That's why it's such a difficult and contested thing to do these days.

 

 

Liza Cowan and Penny House circa 1975 photo by Alix Dobkinjpg
Liza Cowan and Penny House at Three Maple Farm, 1975. Photo ©Alix Dobkin

Why did you create DYKE: A Quarterly, and what was the reaction to it?
DYKE: A Quarterly (DAQ) was my second feminist magazine, following a smaller predecessor, Cowrie Lesbian Feminist. Before that I'd been a radio producer. I like media, I like to write, I like to design; and we had wonderful resources of lesbian writers, artists and activists to draw on as contributors. Co-editor Penny House and I decided that publishing a lesbian feminist magazine would be our perfect contribution to the movement.

Some women loved it. Some hated it. Some loved how brave and honest we were. Some women were frightened by that. Some hated that we wrote about such 'frivolous' topics as clothing and fashion. Others found that enlightening. Some women loved that we tried our best to make it beautiful and substantial. Others were suspicious of us because it was beautiful and substantial. But we were always taken seriously.

All our articles were written by lesbians, (except one, by our woman dentist, about oral hygiene.) Our typesetters were lesbians, and the magazine was printed by a lesbian printshop. We sold only by subscription, or in women's bookstores. Sometimes we sold the magazine in person as we toured the country with Alix Dobkin. All our advertisers were lesbian feminists. We paid for everything we published. It was quite the cottage industry. Our biggest problem was funding. But that was par for the course in what was then known as 'alternative publishing'. We folded after four years and six issues.

Back cover DYKE A Quarterly photo ©Irene Young

In DAQ Issue 1, the introduction says that subscriptions will be returned to men, that you don't want male readers or straight women, just lesbians. Why did you want to be exclusive in that way?
The idea of women talking seriously to other women is often seen as a threat to the social order. We just wanted to talk amongst ourselves. Nobody else was interested, anyway.

Some people feel that lesbians have been ignored in the history of both the feminist movement and the gay rights movement. What's your take on that?
I agree, that absolutely happens, and I find it infuriating; but that doesn't mean that nothing has been written. It does depend on where you look. Lesbians have been writing both popular and scholarly works about lesbians for decades now, and there are some wonderful documentary films. Once you start searching, you will uncover a goldmine.

The DAQ archive is now held at The Museum Library at MOMA in New York. Do you think more needs to be done to preserve original feminist and lesbian cultural history?
Absolutely. I always encourage lesbians to donate their personal papers and their personal lesbian libraries to local or national women's or lesbian archives.

Flier for DYKE A Quarterly photo ©Irene Young
Flier for DAQ, Media issue. Photos ©Irene Young

 

The Future Is Female statement spread around the world after Annie Clark and Cara Delevingne were photographed wearing the Otherwild sweatshirts, and there is a big resurgence in celebrities endorsing feminism, like Beyoncé, who performed in front of a huge bank of lights that read 'FEMINIST' on her tour. What do you think of celebrity feminism?
I don't keep up much with celebrity feminism. I'm not a huge consumer of contemporary pop culture. I don't think it can be a bad thing for women celebrities to endorse feminism, and if it encourages other women, particularly young women, to feel good about being feminist, that's a good thing. For me, it depends a lot on the scope and content of their message. If there is no analysis or activism, feminism becomes a symbol with no substance. "The map is not the territory. The name of the thing is not the thing named." -- Alfred Korzybski, 1931. The word 'feminist" is not the same thing as feminist activism.

Although is it very popular to say you are a feminist now, some of the achievements of 70s feminists seem to be being undone. Has progress been made or are we slipping backwards?
I hope that we are reaching the end of an era of mean-spirited attacks, critiques and disavowal of 70s Lesbian activism, attacks which have been painful to witness, and are filled with lies, distortions and half-truths. I see a new generation of folks who have discovered us, and appreciate our work. The h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y Instagram account is one of many examples of this. I hear from more and more young people every day who are truly excited to know more about what we did, and are inspired to carry on the work.

Photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT circa 1974
Image from contact sheet, photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT flier 1974

 

What advice do you have for young feminist and lesbian activists today?
KNOW YOUR HERSTORY: Read, read, read. There is so much to read, so much scholarship, so many articles, so much literature. Get to know the radical roots of feminist theory. Read about 1st and 2nd wave feminists. Become familiar with the legions of amazing feminist and lesbian feminist women who came before you: activists, artists, scholars, scientists, trade-unionists, abolitionists, community leaders, organisers. Likewise, listen to women's music, watch feminist and lesbian films and documentaries. Explore lesbian theatre, and lesbian novels.

Form consciousness-raising groups with a few trusted women-friends. Consciousness-raising was the foundation of second wave feminism, and I can't stress enough what an important tool it is. Meet weekly, pick a topic for each week, and talk honestly and openly with one another. You'll be surprised what you discover. Things you thought were your private problems are not just common, but are the very structure of oppression. This is the technique by which we discover that "the personal is political". Not only will it expand your consciousness and political understanding, it will help you develop the small, trusted and intimate groups from which all kinds of networks and activism can spring.

lizacowan.com

Credits

Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Liza Cowan


Prototype cover sketch for DYKE A Quarterly. 1975

DYKE A Quarterly  prototype cover drawing by Liza Cowan and Alix Dobkin. September 1975

 

"DYKE The punchy magazine for today's Dyke."

I'm fairly sure that Alix Dobkin, Penny House and I (Liza Cowan)  were sitting at The New York Women's Coffeehouse when we made this sketch, one of several we made as we were beginning to conceptualize the magazine. 


What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear: The Lesbian History Exploration,1975.

Letter from Liza Cowan to the Lesbian History Exploration collective march 22 1975 about the slideshow what the well dressed dyke will wear Dyke a Quarterly

 

 

Early in the Spring of 1975, I was preparing for my slde show, "What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear" for the upcoming Lesbian History Exploration, a small national conference to be held outside of Los Angeles. 

The Good Taste Collective was organizing the Exploration. Here is some correspondence from me, Liza, to the collective. I only saved my responses, not their inquiries.

Snapshots of Liza Cowan and Alix Dobkin 1975 Potter Hollow NY
Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan, Spring 1976. Three Maple Farm, Schoharie County, NY


 

White Mare Archive to Lesbian Hirstory Exploration

To: Good Taste Productions

From Liza Cowan 3/22/76

Private correspondence

Page 1

Dear Good Tasters,

My slide show is coming along ok, I guess. I took about 200 pictures at the NY Women’s Music Festival, and none of them came out because I didn’t know that the shutter speed had to be at 60 for the flash to be in synch. So consequently I have lost most of my contemporary Dyke fashion slides. I took some pictures at the Lesbian Feminist Liberation/ New York Radical Feminist Lesbian Speak Out, but there was no picture taking allowed inside so I had to take them outside and didn’t get too many. We are going to Washington, D.C in 2 weeks + I’ll get more there.

I think that my first showing will be at the exploration. I wish I had about another year to finish, because I’ll be taking pictures in California + everywhere we go, and it

Page 2

will get better and better. But anyway, it’s good now, too. I will show slides of the Older Lady Dykes (Gertrude, Alice, Natalie, Romaine, Sylvia, Colette, et al) also before and after (coming out, Dykes in drag (in ladies clothes) and contemporary dyke duds. Also I will play appropriate music, and preface the whole thing with a short talk about the power of clothes.

I don’t know how long it will run. I hope it will be at least 15 minutes (I’m very upset about losing all those contemporary dyke slides.)

It will be light and amusing, fun to watch. I decided not to get into any heavy analysis and history because it’s too talkie. I think a slide show should be more fun.

I will need a screen + cassette play back machine. I have a projector.

I’m thinking of changing the name to “How We Look” or “What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear – how we look 1900-1975.

[I shaved my head yesterday]

See you soon, love, Liza Cowan


What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear: The Slide Show 1976

In September, 2012, I - Liza - took a trip to The Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City to delve into my own collections. I was looking specifically for my 1976 slide show, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. I found it, and brought the slides home to digitize. 

The online magazine Dapper Q, which had interviewed me about Dyke Clothing, had requested some of the slideshow images, should I ever find them, so I sent some along for them to publish HERE

In my interview about What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear in dapperQ, I mentioned that the slides from my traveling slideshow were at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in NYC. Since then, I visited the Archives and borrowed my slides to digitize them.

In 1975 and 1976, I took pictures at various events and places around the country to show to women-only audiences. While I had permission to show the slides in this context, never in my wildest dreams, in the mid 1970s, could I have imagined the internet, or websites like dapperQ. So, I have selected a few images to share in this context, choosing only the women who have given permission or who are famous, or whose identity I think won’t be recognized after all these years. Photos by Liza Cowan unless stated.

 

Alix Dobkin circa 1975 wearing t shirt from women's bookstore Lammas. Photo ©Liza Cowan
Alix Dobkin in a t-shirt from Lammas, a women’s bookstore in Washington, DC. We had all just gotten new haircuts and were happy to show them off.

 

 

Alix Dobkin, 1975. Photo ©Liza Cowan
Alix Dobkin in vest and striped shirt. This was taken on Amtrak, travelling from DC to NYC. Alix is wearing one of the buttons I created, “A You’re An Amazon,” the first line of one of her most popular songs, “Amazon ABC.”

 

 

Alix Dobkin wearing various feminist t-shirts. 1975. Photos ©Liza Cowan
T-shirt collage, featuring Alix Dobkin. Lammas was a women’s bookstore in Washington, DC. “The Future Is Female” - the slogan for New York City’s first women’s bookstore Labyris Books. Amazon Expedition. I can’t remember what this shirt was for, but there was a popular anthology of the same name, published in 1973 by Times Change Press, edited by Bertha Harris, Jil Johnston, Esther Newton, Jane O’Wyatt and Phillis Birkby. I am Woman, a shirt we found at some five and dime store, probably a take off from the famous song by Helen Reddy. Note the props.

 

 

Amy and Phranc at concert in LA. 1975. Photo ©Liza Cowan
Amy and Phranc taken at an Alix Dobkin concert in LA. This concert took place the week after the What The Well Dressed Dyke slideshow made it’s debut at the Lesbian History Exploration outside Los Angeles. In an interview in The Advocate, July 22, 1986, Phranc said: “…then I saw the slide presentation by Liza Cowan [at the Lesbian History Exploration] on ‘What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear.’ It was great: all these women in 3-piece suits. They showed a slide of Liza shaving her head and I thought, ‘This is great.’ ‘I went home and got a total buzz-cut, and just loved it.” Note that Amy is wearing the “A You’re An Amazon button and Phranc is wearing another one of my buttons, “I like Older Women.”

 

 

Liza-and-penny-on-wall-photo-by-alix-dobkin
Liza Cowan and Penny House, posing for the slideshow. I am wearing my favorite wool vest, tie, jeans and green Converse sneakers. Penny is wearing wool sailor pants, a vest and tie, and Frye boots. Photo by Alix Dobkin.

 

Liza-getting-a-shave-photo-by-Alix-Dobkin
Liza Getting her head shaved. Our neighbor, friend, and riding instructor, Dorethea, had a haircutting salon. She was puzzled and amused when I asked her to shave my head. Photo by Alix Dobkin.

 

Louise-and-liza-2-photo-by-alix-dobkin
Louise Fishman and Liza. Louise wearing the now-stereotypical flannel shirt, Liza wearing, again, my favorite wool vest, a bandana with women’s symbols on my neck, and, again, the “A You’re An Amazon” and “I like Older Women” buttons. Photo by Alix Dobkin.

 

Three-piece-suit-by-morgan-photo-%C2%A9Liza-Cowan
Three piece suit by Lesbian designer, Morgan, at a fashion show/tea party she hosted to present her collection.

 

 

Val, wearing vest, tie and jacket. Going to a dance. Photo ©Liza Cowan
V in three piece ensemble at a women’s dance.
title card from slideshow What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. ©Liza Cowan 1975
Title card from slideshow. Liza self-portrait.




DYKE A Quarterly No. 6. Separatist Symposium. 1978. Part one

Separatist symposium, dyke a quarterly, 1978, title illustrationTitle graphic, Separatist Symposium, DYKE A Quarterly, No. 6 1978

 

NB: If  you are reading this for a course, please make sure to click on the scans of the magazine pages for full text. 

The following are excerpts from "Separatist Symposium" in DYKE A Quarterly, published in the Summer of 1978. You can read the full article on the scans below, which you can enlarge by clicking on them.  The articles by Penny House and by The Gorgons will be posted later

This section was written by Liza Cowan.

 

 

Cover letter for separatist symposium dyke a quarterly 1977
Cover letter for Separatist Symposium. Click to enlarge
Last Fall, Penny and I made up questions to send to self-defined Lesbian Separatist groups around the country. We had hoped that the answers to these questions would help to clarify just who exactly Separatists are. In our cover letter we said, “The non-Separatists, and those who are quietly unsupportive, have hundreds of false and destructive fantasies about Separatism. Because we know that Separatism is not a monolithic ideology, but a collection of many women’s years of hard work and consciousness raising, we have decided to send the questionnaire to you.” 

 

We sent this questionnaire to approximately ten groups and/or individuals. One group wrote to tell us that they did not want to answer the questions because straight women and men might see the magazine. Another group, the Gorgons, sent us a collection of previously written essays which speak to many of the points we raised. We received no other answers.

 I have worked on my own answers to the questionnaire on and off for about three months. The questions we posed were difficult and requite a great deal of time and thought. We tried to ask the questions in such a way that would elicit responses not so much about the ideology of Separatism, but about who separatists are.  We have been feared, scorned and most of all misunderstood. We thought it was important for all Lesbians to understand that Separatists are not a bunch of hard-line weirdoes, women with no feeling and no doubts. This is the impression given by anti-Separatists. We hoped to show what a diverse group of Lesbians call themselves Separatists; to show that Separatism has no centralized laws, no rules and regulations. Unfortunately, since I am the only one who has responded to the questionnaire, we are not able to show our diversity. We hope that those of you who call yourselves Separatists will write your own answers to the questions and we will print them in a future issue.

 In answering these questions, I have tried to be as open and honest about my life and my feelings as possible. I have done this to help explain what Separatism means in my day- to -day life; how my beliefs and politics affect my dealings with my family, my community and my work. 

DYKE A Quarterly, no. 6, Separatist SymposiumDYKE A Quarterly, summer 1978, No. 6. Separatist Symposium

 

How do you define Separatism?

 Lesbian Separatism is a vague title that explains only about 1/1000 of the way I think and behave. Last year Alix, Penny, Janet and I decided to quit calling ourselves Separatists because it was too imprecise, it seemed to mean too many different things to different women. Unfortunately, when word got around that we were no longer calling ourselves Separatists, , many women began to think that we were no longer going to be stubborn about having women-only spaces, it meant that maybe we no longer hated men, that we were going to be nicer and not so threatening to be with. It was quite terrifying to get the feeling from all over the country that we used to be monsters but that now we were going to be “good.” When, on a concert tour, Alix announced from stage that she was no longer calling herself a Separatist, some women actually clapped and cheered. It made us realize that it was our duty to call ourselves Separatists because the word had become identified with issues and emotions that touched a raw nerve in the women’s community – gender and sexual politics.

 It seems that it is still too frightening for many Lesbians to realize that they have the right to be exclusively with women, whether it is for a concert, a conference or a business, and that it is a right that must be fought for. I have travelled around the country meeting Lesbians who live in a more Lesbian world than I do, Lesbians who live, work and socialize almost exclusively with other Lesbians, who will say to me that they are not Lesbian Separatists, and they do not agree with Lesbian Separatists. The “personally” prefer to live with women, and to socialize with women, and yet they will not call themselves Separatists. The are not willing to commit themselves even to the idea of working to maintain the life they enjoy so much. There are Lesbians who will fight, lie, get sick or leave town rather than commit themselves to such a seemingly simple act as claiming a concert is to be for women only. Why is this so? The label “lesbian separatist” has become the hot line to everyone’s flushing-boy-babies-down-the –toilet fantasy, and they run away from it screaming. How did Separatism get such a terrible reputation?

 When I say Lesbian Separatism I am talking about the analysis and observation that there is a profound difference between male and female, and the understanding that women have the need and right to be together without males and to define the world in our terms. Men “rule” the world, but Mother Nature is a Lesbian. Men try to control Mother Nature and they try to control women. Lesbian Separatism is an analysis which shows women that it is possible to withdraw support from men, and a belief that withdrawal of women’s support will dissolve the patriarchy.

  CONNECTING THE DOTS between patriarch and climate change. 1978 dyke a quarterly. graphic by liza cowan 2012

 Connecting the dots between patriarchy and climate change. Design Liza Cowan


Men, and most women, do everything in their power to make life uncomfortable for women who challenge the patriarchy. Most women do not really want to rock the boat; it is too frightening, and we are taught thoroughly to be passive. It is hard not to cooperate with the patriarchy -  everything is involved. Every single piece of information, every action has to be understood and frequently challenged. Everything sent from the patriarchy tells us that this world was created by, for and about the male. All information from the patriarchy is colored by a male point of view. Challenging and dissolving the patriarchy means withdrawing support from male assumptions. Take for example, the energy crisis. Men have decided, and informed the world via all their media, that there is a terrible shortage of energy, that is a crisis. There is no shortage of energy. The sun can give us an abundance of never-ending energy, and there are at least 25 other simple, organic solutions to the “energy problem. “ Rather than explore these possibilities -most of which women would probably utilize in about fifteen seconds if we had the learning and access that men have - men prefer to fight each other for the money, power and domination that comes with scrambling for oil, threatening out health and our lives with nuclear power plants, spilling wastes into the waters and throwing junk into outer space. It is clearly and S&M power game that they would prefer to play to the end of their days. By accepting the assumption that an energy shortage exists, we allow, even help, the “crisis” to continue. That is just one example of how we support the patriarch by giving power to their beliefs. We can begin to withdraw support with as simple an act as saying “I don’t believe it; I refuse to give “power” or “energy” to this assumption. Without women’s energy and power men will truly have and “energy crisis”

Dyke A Quarterly, Separatist Symposium, 1978 p 33, 34DYKE A Quarterly No. 6. Separatist Symposium, 1978

 Another assumption that must, I believe, be challenged is the assumption of “human being.” When I first became a feminist, I rejected the notion that there was any basic difference between men and women. I saw how the patriarchal analysis of the difference between women and men only served to keep women enslaved, and I believed that women and men had just been socialized badly…that the world could be a better place if men and women were socialized differently. But I also realize that it is men who have been in control of the socialization, no matter how often or how loudly men scream that it’s  “all mom’s fault.”

 After I came out and started to spend more time and energy in exclusively female company, I began to realize just how different men and women really are. I realized, too, that seeing everybody as “human” would help men stay in control and would keep women enslaved. It is in the interest of the patriarchy that women not realize that it is men, and not “human nature” that have created pollution, racism, the energy crisis, agribusiness, fast food, and every other symptom of the agony of life in the patriarchy. Men and women have known all along that there are enormous differences between the sexes, but t I think that when it seemed clear from the first and second waves of the women’s movement that women were going to make public this best known secret, and were actually going to do something about it, that men quickly realized that they had better hide behind the collective title of “human”, thereby not having to take the blame for their crimes. Women, for many complex reasons have, for the most part, accepted this and are frequently grateful for being recognized as “human, too.”

 Once I became conscious of the fact that men and women are so different,  - a realization that came from feelings, observation, analysis and support from other Lesbians who were making similar discoveries - it became clear that we know very little about what it actually means to be a woman. In order to explore the difference, to learn what it means to be a woman, and to exorcise that which is male from our own patriarchally trained brain-patterns, it seems obvious that we have to remove ourselves from men. Hence the title, Lesbian Separatist. The natural separation between male and female. The separation is as much emotional and intellectual as physical withdrawal. In order to take control of my own life, I separate myself in varying degrees from men and their influence. I try to be constantly aware, on guard, alert to recognize, understand and challenge all patriarchal assumptions, attitudes and actions, whatever their source. This is a full –time job.

DYKE A Quarterly, Separatist Symposium, 1978 pp 35 36DYKE A Quarterly, No. 6nSeparatist Symposium. 1978

 

How do you act with the men you have to deal with in everyday affairs, such as supers, shopkeepers, servicemen, neighbors, men at your job? How do you feel about them?

 Sometimes I surprise myself at how well I get along with so many of the men I have to deal with in my life. But I have had to spend more time and energy on men since I moved to the country four years ago than I had to in the city. I have heard from women who say that it is easy for me to be a  Separatist because I live in the country. I guess they thought that I could isolate myself on my own land and never have to deal with landlords or supers or men on the street. This common fantasy is wrong in two ways: first of all you can be a Separatist and still speak to men; second, being in the country does not mean moving away from men, since men live in the country too. When I rented an apartment in the city all dealings with trades people were taken care of by the super, but now that I own my own house and land, everyone has to deal directly with me. When our furnace starts choking and farting I know one or two things to do to relieve it, but usually I have to get on the phone and call the plumber. Our hundred year old house had wiring that was almost as old and we were afraid that all the extension cords and old wires would start a fire, so we had to call an electrician man to rewire the house. When the car breaks down we have to call the garage, which is run by men. The gas for our stove is delivered by a man, the fuel for our furnace is delivered by a man, the UPS driver who comes t our house a few times a week for pick-ups is a man. When the roads are covered by a foot of snow and we haven’t seen the plow all day, we have to call the highway department, which is run by men. All these men have to be dealt with.

...The same man delivers the fuel oil each time, the same man delivers the bottled gas, the same plumber comes, etc. Soon we learned that this one was born right down the road, that one went to school with one of our friends, another one’s wife works in the post office and so on. We have developed a nice, courteous, friendly rapport. We have, after all, joined their community.

...At first we were not sure how people would take to us. Being Jewish Lesbians in a straight white Christian community could cause some problems. Much to our relief and delight, we found that as far as we can tell everyone has very nice feelings about us, and we discovered we have very nice feelings about them too. They like us because we keep our house and yard looking clean and neat and we are working to improve the land. We are polite, courteous, and respectful of them. We are “good girls.” We don’t live with men. We are not hippies. We help each other in times of trouble. We are nice people and they are nice people. We don’t intrude in their lives and they don’t intrude in ours. We have managed this without betraying our principles and we are very happy about it. We love our neighborhood. 

What is your relationship with your family?

 ….When I was first a Separatist I thought that  to be consistent with my politics, I had to abandon the notion of blood family. I learned years ago that the nuclear patriarchal family is bad for women, bad for society, bad for the world at large. Nevertheless, no matter what system we have for propagating the species we will always have relatives. Family, after all, is not man-made, it is woman-made. Having a family satisfies a great need in me, a need I suspect we all have, Separatist or not. Because I was born into a patriarchal world I make due with what I have. I can be friends with my siblings and cousins and uncles and aunts and still be a good Separatist. I don’t bring my Lesbian business to my family and I don’t bring my family business to Lesbians. Each satisfies a need and can remain quite independent of one another.

 

Is there any political work you do or would do with men?

 In a crisis, for a short- range project I would work with men. Otherwise, no. I want to change the world to a place where femaleness is the primary assumption. It is not possible for men to create this change.

Dyke a quarterly, Separatist Symposium, 1978 pp 37 38
DYKE A Quarterly, No. 6, 1978. Separatist Symposium

 

Is there any political work you do, or would do, with straight women?

Yes, I am currently working with a local Planned Parenthood group to design and erect a pro-choice abortion billboard in a local town. A few months ago we were driving on a road not too far from our house and we saw a billboard showing a baby with the headline, Never to laugh….never to taste sunshine…fight abortion. It was at that moment that I realized that something had to be done, and that I had better help. Right To Life and anti-ERA forces are powerful and destructive and must be stopped. A while ago Alix and I went to Albany, NY to lobby to keep Medicaid abortions and there were women from all over the state. It was the first time in years that I had done anything political with straight women and it was very interesting. It think it is vital to work with whichever women want to work on such issues. If women lose the right to abortion we are back to square one.

Do you, or would you, do Lesbian work with non-Separatists?

 My main Lesbian work is DYKE. Not everyone who works for DYKE is a Separatist, so the answer is yes. I would not, however, do Lesbian work with a group that was anti-separatist. I have found that I prefer to do most of my work via the US mail, and basically I only work with my close friends, who are all Separatists. I am not a group joiner anymore, because all the groups I have ever been involved with ended with horrible fights, mainly over Separatist issues.

 How is Separatism expressed in your Lesbian work?

 My main work is DYKE A Quarterly. DYKE is sold only to women and only at women’s and gay stores. We do not sell subscriptions to men. We are aware that once in a while a man sees it, but after a certain point there is nothing that can be done about it.

 As important as directing our circulation only to women is that fact that we write directly to Lesbians. DYKE is a magazine for Lesbians and we have never had, nor will we ever have one that is written for straight women, although we do not mind if straight women read the magazine. In all the articles is the presumption that a reader is a Lesbian. We think that this is revolutionary. Women-only space is a fight I am willing to dedicate my life to.

 

Separatist questionnaire dyke a quarterly original questions  1977
The questions we sent for the Separatist Symposium. 

 

 


DYKE A Quarterly, no. 2. Rated XX Recorded Women's Music - Lavender Jane Loves Women

Dyke a quarterly rated xx recorded women's music alix dobkin liza cowan p.26DYKE A  QUARTERLY, Rated xx: recorded women's music p. 26,27. Rated xx: recorded women’s music Lavender Jane, Alix Dobkin

Here is another review from this long article, Rated XX. I've broken them up into separate posts to make the reading easier: 

 

Lavender Jane Loves Women, review by Liza Cowan in DYKE A Quarterly, No. 2, 1976,

In March of 1973 Alix met Kay Gardner at the Women’s Skills Festival at the women’s center in Manhattan. Soon they began to meet together for reversals. The first time they performed together was at the Lesbian Lifespace benefit at Barnard in NYC. It was right around this time that Alix, Smokey and Mary and I began to talk about and analyze the human being theory, and we started to develop a separatist consciousness. We had been fortunate that almost all of the women’s events we had attended in NYC had performances for women only as well as for mixed audiences. At Brooklyn College there were some men present for one of Kay and Alix’s performances. Alix was able to make them leave before she sang her Lesbian songs. That was the last time men were ever able to set foot in one of Alix’s concerts. We knew how disgusting it would be to have men present, and insisted that there be only women allowed at the concerts. Lavender Jane made its titled debut at the women’s center in August 1973. Abacate, who had been playing bass with Alix and Kay, left to join the women’s rock band, Street Fighting Woman (later known as Sister Moon). Soon they found Patches Attom to play bass, and in October they went into the studio to record Lavender Jane Loves Women.

 

Each time I listen to this album I am disappointed in the way it sounds. Alix and Kay are almost drowned in reverb (echo) and there is so much tape hiss that I have to cringe. I realize that many women are not bothered by this, but to me, sound quality is one of the most important features of a recording. Besides being the oldest cliché in recording, the reverb makes Alix and Kay sound like they were at the bottom of a canyon. There is no presence. I want to feel like the singer and musicians are sitting next to me, not in the next county.

 

Other than that I think Lavender Jane Loves Women is a far out, brilliant album. It is so blatant and specific, you never have to guess what Alix is singing about in a song. I am a detail junkie, I always want to know every detail about something that interests me. I think it is important to know how and why something was made or written, what it was based on, what year it was done, and what was happening at the time, etc, etc. Alix satisfies my need for details in her liner notes. It’s our history and I want to know all about it.

 

One thing that I feel is so fantastic about Alix’s music is that she sings so explicitly about Dyke experiences. I love and dearly appreciate that everything she writes about comes directly from her own experiences, and is written about as such. There are no vague generalities (except in her old hetero songs, and you won’t hear too many of those.) Many women love to hear A Woman’s Love, one of Alix’s coming out songs. She wrote it from my 23rd birthday, in 1972, but it is really about her, the anxiety of coming out, and the delight of actually being out. View From Gay head is the first Dyke separatist song I ever heard. It chronicles the events and ideas that led us to be separatists. Smokey and Mary used to talk about men being ‘them’ and the women ‘us’, not all human beings. I was really upset at having to look through all the books by men in the library. Carol Hardin, our neighbor and my partner for Cowrie (a Lesbian magazine) spoke of pacifying men with pretty smiles, and Louise Fishman had just finished her electrifying series of paintings: Angry Djuna, Angry Radclyffe Hall, Angry Alix, Angry Harmony, Angry Judy, Angry Billie, Angry Sarah, Angry Bertha, et. al. Alix took all our thoughts and turned them into a song so Dykes all over the world could share the ideas with us.

 

Another thing I like about LJLW is how varied it is, with Balkan songs, old American folk songs, and original compositions. I’m also glad to hear children singing on Little House, and Kay’s piccolo solo is fantastic on that cut. Many Dykes objected to the song Charlie, because who want to hear about some dumb man? I agree. Talking Lesbian is another separatist delight. Kay Gardner’s flute playing on this album is wonderful to hear, supporting Alix’s voice with her beautiful tone and intonation. Her arrangements add another dimension to  Alix’s music.

 

  6a00e54fabf0ec88330168eb6ff655970c-200wi

 

After all these years I still adore Alix's music. It just doesn't get old for me. And now you can get it on iTunes, which is something we'd never have been able to imagine in our wildest dreams. Not just the technology, which is mind boggling, but the idea that Alix's music would be available in any other venue than ones that are totally controlled by women. Of course, you can still buy her cd's at Ladyslipper Music, and I encourage you to do so. For albums, you will have to search online auctions.


Sil lavender jane loves women, album by Alix DobkinLavender Jane Loves Women, original cover and album

 

Louise fishman angry jill from louisefishman.com
Louise Fishman, Angry Jill.  


For more on Alix Dobkin and Lavender Jane see Queer Music Heritage Website

More on Louise Fishman HERE




DYKE A Quarterly No. 2, 1976. Rated XX: Recorded Women's Music. Review by Liza Cowan

 

This article is long and I plan to transcribe and write commentary on the whole thing. I will be adding more in bits, as I get them done. So stay tuned and check back. And, as always, feel free to chime in.-Liza


Dyke a quarterly, No 2,  rated xx, recorded women's music, rounder records, mountain moving day, virgo rising

Dyke a quarterly, no 2, p 26, 27,rate it xx, women's music, virgo rising, olivia records, meg christian
DYKE A Quarterly, no. 2 pp 28, 29, women's music, olivia records, meg christian, cris williamson, casse culverRated XX: Recorded Women's Music. 1976. Review by Liza Cowan. Click to enlarge images.

Introduction 1

This article is about my reactions to all the women’s music released on records and tapes to date. I define women’s music as music that is made by, for and about women. What this means, in effect is that women’s music is Lesbian Music. I am always offended to see women’s records for sale in straight stores. I have seen them in movement and “peoples” stores all over the country, and I don’t think they have any business being there. I do not want men to even set their beady little eyes on our culture; the thought of them actually buying or listening to women’s music is nauseating to me; and they most certainly should not be allowed to make money from women’s music. I have also heard stories about musicians from the women’s music community telling the patriarchal press about women’s music, and telling mixed audiences about women’s private business. I consider this to be a breach of confidence. The only women I know who limit their music distribution are Alix Dobkin and Linda Shear. Alix sells Lavender Jane Loves Women in women’s and gay stores only. Living With Lesbians sells in women’s stores only.

 This article has been very hard for me to write because I am writing about so many different women, there is so much to say, and I have had to write about the things that I did not like about each record. There has been a movement dictum that we are not to criticize our ‘sisters’ and if someone does criticize it is called ‘trashing’ and everybody gets mad. I think this is absurd. When Alix writes a song I give her word by word criticism. If something is not clear, or inaccurate, or sounds wrong, I tell her. I think about what se has written, and I respond to it. When I am writing I always go to Alix for her to criticize my work. She tells me which parts are confusing or awkward, or suggests words. If I don’t know how to express something we discuss it until I can get a clear idea of what I want to say. We depend on each other for this. It has not always been easy. Sometimes it hurts, and I want to say, “It’s my writing, butt out!” but later I usually find that what she has said is true. She feels the same about my criticisms of her work. Penny, Smokey, and Mary also criticize our work, and each others’ work. The more we do it, the easier it gets.

Please keep in mind when you are reading this, that for each song or record that I dislike, there are women who love it, and equally, that each one I like has women who don’t like it. There are as many ways to perceive these records and tapes as there are women to listen to them.

 I hope you all get a chance to buy or listen to all of these records and tapes. They are our culture and our history.

 

Electra rewired 1972 cassette tape aircheckAircheck, Electra Rewired, WBAI 1972, Liza Cowan

Introduction 2

I discovered the women’s liberation movement in 1970. That same year I started to do feminist radio on WBAI in NYC. I worked on a program called Electra Rewired which was a weekly live feminist show. At first there were three women working on it, and my job was to find music. Sometimes I would ransack the station record library to find women composers. Pauline Oliveros and Ruth Crawford Seeger are two I remember playing. We would play Joan Baez, Judy Collins and other folkies. A year later I was doing the show alone. I played The Marvelletes, Carole King, Dionne Warwicke, Alice Coltrane, Dusty Springfield, Joy of Cooking, Billie Holliday, Carol Hall, Mary Welles, Denise LaSalle, Laura Nyro. The closest I could find to feminist lyrics was in songs like Natural Woman and Respect as sung by Aretha Franklin and Mama Didn’t Lie sung by Jan Bradley. “The greatest passion in this man’s world is making eyes at every young girl. To have one is how they get their kicks, but not me, because I know their tricks.” Another one was the Honeycones; The Day That I lost You, “you know, men are full of schemes, they’re masters of getting control of our minds and making us dependent on them.” Too bad that in this song she “found identity with someone else”. One of my favorite songs to play on the radio was I Hate Men from the Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate. At this time the only song I’d heard written by a feminist was Tired Of Fuckers Fucking Over Me by Bev Grant, which I could not play over and over on the radio. It was during these years that I first became conscious of the sexism in the lyrics of rock songs.

Mountain Moving Day, the new haven women's liberation rock band, the chicago women's liberation rock band, rounder recordsMountain Moving Day, Rounder Records, Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, 1972

Mountain Moving Day

In 1972 the Chicago Women’s Liberation rock Band and the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band released their joint album, Mountain Moving Day. Each group recorded one side of the album. In the pamphlet enclosed in the record they say, “We didn’t want to write the female counterpart of songs like Under My thumb, Back Street Girl, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, where men say to us, “you’re beneath contempt and we will celebrate your degradation.” As performers  we didn’t want to get off by trashing the people we played for, and we didn’t want to have a star backed up by a squad of secondary musicians. But what did we want, anyway? We knew that we wanted t make music that would embody the radical, feminist, humanitarian vision we shared. And the lyrics were the obvious place to begin. The field was wide open. Most of the rock songs that woman have sung till now were about the pain men cause u – the pain that’s supposed to define us a women. We didn’t want to deny that tradition (women struggled hard for the right to sing even that much) but we wanted to sing about how the pain doesn’t have to be there – how we fight and struggle and love to make it all change…”

 For some reason, I never heard this record until last week. As soon as I heard it I fell for it. It is full of turn-of-the-decade sisterhood energy, and, although I didn’t hear it at the time, it clearly brings back all the feelings I had when I realized how thrilling it was to be a woman on the verge of changing my life and my consciousness. In So Fine by the NHWLRB, Judy Miller says, “Now I want to say something about how we got to feel so fine. We haven’t always been this strong, and we’re not as strong now as we

Re gonna be. I takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of pain, too. We used to think that women really were inferior. We used to think we were only good for: pleasing me, having babies, doing housework, having shit jobs, doing volunteer work, and –you know- sex! We didn’t know that women could get together and” play rock music, fix our cars, give abortions, love our sisters, stay single, choose our own lifesyle and – you know – say No!” the WWLRB is really powerful in its lyrics and the way they are spoken and sung. From Secretary by Sherry Jenkins: “Get up/Downtown? Think Ill talk to Alice she may understand? No Trust/Big Bust/ Wonder if the new girls lives along/ men’s eyes/fantasize/Jodi wants to tell the boss to get off/Elevators/See you later’s / Tell all the girls, noon in the lunchroom/ And maybe we’ll all wear pants tomorrow.” The whole album is beautiful, strong, moving and funny. It is excellently engineered by Susan Jenks. The musicians and the arrangements are also excellent. The album was produced and distributed by Rounder Records, which is, or was then, mostly men. It is, to me, the musical equivalent to the book, Sisterhood Is Powerful.

 

 

 


DYKE A Quarterly, no. 3. 1976. 22-25. Coming Out On Celluloid by Janet Meyers

 

Dyke No 3 p 23
Dyke a quarterly no 3, pp 23-25, coming out on celluloid, janet meyersDYKE A Quarterly, No 3, pp 22-25, Coming Out On Celluloid by Janet Meyers. Photobooth still from the film Getting Ready by Janet Meyers.


For the past three years I have been making a movie which I am just now finishing. When I first conceived the idea and started writing the script in 1973 I was straight, although I had stopped related to men long before. Now the film is finished and I am have have been for two years a Dyke.

The long process of working on the difficult project has taken place a the same time as vast changes in consciousness and perspective that go along with becoming a Dyke and getting involved in the Lesbian community. These two processes, working on the film and coming out, have been very much interrelated. At time in an exciting and illuminating way, and times with great conflict and anxiety.

Quotation janet meyers

Working on one project over such a long period while my whole personal and political vision was radically altered created a dynamic which as helped me to see some things about Lesbian culture as a spectator and as a creator.

I started out in my first year of graduate film school with the idea that I wanted to make a film about menstruation. I wanted it to be a kind of rite of passage for an experience which men's society treats as both divinely ordained and unmentionable. As I continued thinking about it I came to feel that the best way to do this would be to place the experience in the context of the life of an adolescent girl.

In the past, when I was straight, m films had often surprised me by revealing feelings that I was not aware of having. I would find myself watching the little movies I had made and being shocked at how angry or isolated the women in them were. when I finished writing the script for this film I understood that I had written about the atmosphere of female adolescence of which menstruation is certainly a part, but that mostly the script had come to describe the growth of a relationship between two fourteen year old girls. the self-censorship, the longing and the healing potential of feelings between young girls and the massive and subtle acculturation which minimizes the value of these feelings and separates us from  each other while we're young became the substance of the movie I began to make. Looking at the script I saw the emotional and political implications of the experiences I was describing and the ways in which my own life was still controlled by the same conditioning process I was trying to portray. Without further drama I gradually began identifying as and speaking about myself as a Lesbian.

The integrations of this identification into my work was far from complete. during the months long process of raising the money from grants, scholarships, interested Lesbians, my parents, my own savings, and during the six weeks of shooting, I went through all kinds of difficulties directly related to Lesbian oppression and quite in addition to the regular pressures and agonies everyone goes through during shooting.

The whole ugly process of writing proposals asking for money from various foundations was complicated by the necessity to change the language and tone in descriptions of of what was, after all, a film about friendship. My earlier experiences with foundations had shown me that they feel that intimacy and connections between women, however chaste, as a sustaining ideal is a threatening and inappropriate theme for support. In subtle ways the version I was presenting to the authorities began to creep into my own understanding of what I was doing. The emphasis began changing from the process of two girls moving towards each other back to that of a single girl going through some characteristically adolescent experiences. fortunately I realized what has happening, so that during the actual shooting I went back to my original plan and I tried to avoid situations that would put me in the position of having to explain or justify what I was doing to prob ably hostile people.  for instance, I asked the young girls who acted in the film not ot bring th script home to their parents, who I felt might be upset about some of the specific scenes and general tone. They all felt that was a good idea even seemed relieved, and we continued to proceed in that fashion whenever necessary.

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