PEOPLE: Liza Cowan Feed

"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


The Future Is Female - the button

The future is female liza cowan design liza cowan archives liza cowan photo
the future is female, 1974

 

Labyris Books was the first feminist bookstore in NYC. It was owned by Jane Lurie and Marizel Rios, fresh from their experiences at the takeover of the 5th Street Women's building. The slogan of the store was "the future is female" and in 1974 they asked me, Liza Cowan, to make this button for them. At the time, I was running a feminist button business, White Mare Buttons. It's hard to believe that I still have a bunch of these left...but I do. They are great, don't you think? And the slogan is just as fresh today as it was in 1974.

  Flier for Labyris Books new york city from The New Women's Survival Catalog 1973 liza cowan ephemera collections

I have a limited quantity of mint-condition, vintage buttons available  at my online store. 
www.smallequals.com

All sales help support the DYKE, A Quarterly Annotated Online Archive. 


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. 


Issue #6, Summer 1978. Lesbians & Animals, Editorial

dyke a quarterly. Lesbians & Animals, editorial by Liiza and Penny. Summer 1978

DYKE A Quarterly #6. Lesbians & Animals, editorial. Summer 1978

 

DOMESTICATION

We love animals. We believe that women traditionally have had, and still have, a special relationship with animals. The relationships between women and animas can be satisfying, healthy, consciousness-raising, productive and life sustaining. We are interested in exploring the biological  emotional and behavioral connections between women and other species. 

Between us we have to geldings (castrated male horses) nine castrated male cats, tow spayed female cats, and one spayed bitch. We love our animas and think they are as important as our lovers and friends. We think that relationships with animals are as mutually viable as our involvements with women. Some people, some Lesbians included, feel the domestic animal is, because of domestication, oppressed; they feel that, “human/animal relationships are power relationships with the human having total say over the course and directions of that relationship as well as over the very life of the other creature.”* A comparison is often made between the relationships of animas and people to those between husband and wife or slave and slave-owner. It is said that people use animals a a substitute for human relationships, to fill out their otherwise emotionally empty lives. 

Certainly it is true that some people, women included, abuse animals. However, we think that animal and pet liberationists make no distinction in their arguments between abuse and care or between coercion and cooperation. Many children are abused, too, but the solutions is not tat no one have children. 

The solution to animal abuse is for people to understand and respect animal’s needs and natures. Animal liberationists make too fuzzy a distinction between domestic and wild animals. To be against domestication itself is, at this point, meaningless. From the beginning of human history animal domestication, the interdependence between people and animals, has shaped our cultures, our architecture, our art, in short, the development of our world. 

Whether we approve of it or not, through human history we have been dependent on animal power and animal products. Fields have been cleared for food production by people and animals working together. Horses, camels, elephants, oxen and dogs, among others, have provided overland transportation. Animals have been eaten, and their hair and hides used to make clothing, shelter, tools and musical instruments. 

Until the Industrial Revolutions, animal labor and human labor were among the main sources of energy in the world. For centuries, war technology was based on animals: horses, camels and elephants. Cats protect people from diseases carried by rodents, and protect food from rodents. In the fourteenth century the bubonic plague killed twenty five million people. This plague was possible because men, associating cats with witches and the devil, killed almost the entire cat population of Europe. This the disease, carried by rodents, spread unchecked.

Life without domestic animals is unthinkable. Nowadays modern technology is dependent on machines and computers. But is this a state to be desired? Agribusiness and centralized food processing has lowered the nutritional value of food in this country and elsewhere. It has also made food into a corporate business, and made small farming untenable. Also, by so extensively removing horses and oxen from the land, we lose one of the best fertilizers that Mother Nature can provide: manure. 

Domestic animals have developed to what they are now because of human intervention. They have been bred by humans to work as animals and companions. These domestic breeds no longer exist in a wild state. Animal liberationists claim that by domesticating animals we are perverting them from their natural, wild state. But there is no wild state of, for example, a Golden Retriever, just as there is not wild, i.e. more true, more natural state of a Yankee farmer. Domestic animals have co-evolved with humans. 

PETS

We think that it is natural and healthy for people to enjoy and want the companionship of animals. It is a further exploration of nature. We know that our lives, and many people’s lives, are enriched by pets. Having close relationships with animals is not an imitation of human relationships. Some people prefer to have relationships with animals instead of people and we consider this an honorable choice. To include animals in one’s daily life can be a mutually gratifying and healthy experience. Recently therapists have been working with domestic animals and mentally disturbed and retarded children with beneficial results for both. 

ABUSE

Cruelty to animals is a worldwide problem. We are going to discuss here the abuse we have seen done by Lesbians. The abuse we have witnessed came not from cruelty, not from neurosis, but from ignorance and irresponsibility. We have seen many Lesbians who are reluctant to discipline and train their dogs. Dog psychology is different from women’s psychology. By not understanding their dog’s nature, some women accord them the same rights they feel women should have: complete freedom of choice, total mobility, not enforced discipline or reproductive freedom. This is s distortion of a dog’s nature. Anthropomorphizing is exactly what Walt Disney does. 

There are too many homeless dogs and cats in the world, and too many animals with hereditary defects, such as diplasia, caused by unthoughtful breeding, so spaying and castrating is a must. 

Unfortunately many women think this is unfair to the animal, which it is not. 

A dog needs to be told what she can and cannot do. In the wild, with wolves for example, one wolf is dominant and in the pack there is a dominance chain. In domestication, the human must be dominant. Women, on the other hand, are not pack animals. Adult women do not need a pack leader. The confusion, and therefor the abuse, stems from women believing that a dog’s needs, and therefore the dog’s rights, should be the same as women’s rights. This is not the case. If a human is not the dog’s leader, then the dog, by her nature, will have to become the leader, a task she is not equipped to handle. Some women feel it is oppressive to discipline their dogs, but cute puppy behavior, if undisciplined, soon becomes obnoxious and destructive dog behavior. 

Is it a dog’s right to chew furniture? Is hist a dog’s right to shit in the house? Is it a dog’s right to run deep and kill sheep? Is it a dog’s right to knock down the neighbor’s garbage and shit on the neighbor’s lawn? Without training, discipline and care, a dog will do all these things and more. The result usually is that the dog will become habituated to obnoxious behavior and will have to be locked up all the time, passed from home to home, or even destroyed. 

Liza and Penny

 

 

End of original article. DAQ.

 

We designed and layed out each issue very carefully. This was before the era of the personal computer, so our production was very very laborious and time consuming. We started with thumbnail sketches, laying out the whole magazine in teensy squares on a grid on paper. Here's the page for Issue #6. You can see the layout for the editorial. 

Dyke A Quarterly thumbnail mockup for issue #6 1978


What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear: Amazons

Before there was DYKE, A Quarterly, there was COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. It started off as the publication of a local women's group in New York City, Community of Women, COW. Although Community of Women was not strictly a Lesbian group, COWRIE quickly became a Lesbian magazine, independant of COW, taken in this direction by the editors, Liza Cowan and Carol Hardin. 

It was here that Liza Cowan's series, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear originated. Vol. 1 #4 was the Amazon issue, with cover of Amazons and inside, the essay on Lesbian Clothing. Here it is, the original text and graphics: 

 

COWRIE LESBIANFEMINIST VOL 1 #4 FRONT COVER ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. Vol 1 #4, December 1973. Cover design ©Liza Cowan

 

 Look at Greek vase paintings in a book or at a museum, you can always spot an Amazon by the way she looks. Greek patriarchal women are very femme, they wear loose, flowing chitons and are very nice to the men who share their space on the vases. The Amazons wear bold, striking pants, tunics and weapons, and are busy killing the men.

 I spent a lot of time last week tracking down Amazon clothes. The Metropolitan Museum Clothing Institute had nothing. No hints, no leads. A curator at the American Museum of Natural History told me that Amazons never really existed. Katherine Springer of the Greek and Roman department at the Metropolitan Museum was helpful. She told me about a book called Amazons In Greek Art by Deitrich Von Bothmer, which I got at the library and had to spend an hour just figuring out how to read it.  I called her back to ask a question, which she answered, and handed the phone over to her boss, none other than Deitrich Von. B. He told me he wouldn’t do my homework for me, that I obviously wasn’t an expert at anything, etc. etc. So here I am, back where I started, with a few feminist sources and some pictures of Amazons painted by Greek men.

 It is incredible the way our heritage is denied us. I never studied about Amazons in school. My twelfth grade Ancient History textbook never even mentions them. In order to write about Amazon clothes I first have to bust my ass trying to find information about Amazons themselves, information which isn’t readily available, and what is available is mystified, obscured and held by men who don’t want to part with their precious knowledge. Information Imperialism! (There is one excellent book, Mothers and Amazons, by Helen Dinar) We should have learned about our Amazon foremothers before we learned about George Washington. We are never taught about women. Every book that mentions Amazons (excluding Dinar) says they were a mythological race of women. The concise English Dictionary calls them “ A fabulous race of women warriors, masculine women” Men cannot stand the idea that women preferred to live without them.

 The Amazons were a strong, powerful group (or groups) of women identified women who lived according to their own determination, without men. They were forced to fight for survival against a growing patriarchy. Their existence has been documented as early as 1760 BC, when Queen Euripyle captured the Amorite capital in Babylon. They lived in many different places, migrating frequently, conquering new lands. There were Amazons all around the Mediterranean area, in southern Russia, north of the Black Sea, in Asia Minor and in northern Africa. There were two major groups, the Libyan (Libya being the place we now refer to as Morocco) and the Thermodontines. The only pictures of Amazons are those on Greek Vases (and some sculptures,) usually depicting the great war between the Athenians and the Thermodontine Amazons, whose territory extended from the Saramatian Planes to the Aegean Sea (which is roughly southern Russia, the Balkan countries, Greece and Asia Minor. This is the story of that war:

 

COWRIE MAGAZINE VOL 1 #4 WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR ©LIZA COWAN 1973
COWRIE, Lesbian/Feminist. Vol 1 #4, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, ©Liza Cowan

 

In the 13th century BC, a group of Greek men (Heracles and Theseus, according to one version) sailed to Themiscyra, the Thermodon capital on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, to steal the belt of Hippolyte, the Queen. It was a gold and crystal sword belt, one of the Scythian insignia. It symbolized virginity, which meant unmarried rather than unfucked. It was more than the belt they were trying to steal. Patriarchy was trying to conquer and dominate Matriarchal authority. Stealing the belt was a symbol of this intended domination. If Amazons surrendered their virginity, they surrendered their independence, as every Lesbian/feminist knows.

 At any rate, the Greek men fell upon the undefended city and its Queen, while the other Queen was away defending the borders with her army.

 Amazons always had two Queens, one to administer and one to lead the armies. The men stole the belt, killed the remaining townswomen, and abducted Antiope, Hippolyte’s sister. When Oriethia heard the news, she came rushing back, but the men had already left, so she led her army to invade Athens.

They besieged the Acropolis, but were not victorious. Antiope (and maybe Hippolyte) fought alongside the Greek men, and the war ended with a compromise. Oriethia died of grief and shame. Few of the remaining Amazons every reached home again. They were discouraged and almost totally defeated.

 This war is the one that is usually portrayed on the Greek vases. Some others show the Amazons, led by Penthesilea, fighting the Greeks in the Trojan War. The earliest vase paintings were done in the 7th Century BC, most were done in the 5th Century BC, eight hundred years after the Thermodontine-Athenian War. But clothing styles didn’t change as rapidly as they do now, so there’s a good chance that the Amazon clothes depicted on the vases are accurate.

 There is no one Amazon clothing style. The clothes change with place of origin, but there was much migration and communication between locations. The most striking clothes are those that come from Asia Minor, around modern Turkey, near the Amazon capital, Themiscyra. They wore an outfit that looked like a body suit covered by a tunic. The front and back pieces were oblong, sewn together on the shoulders and down the sides, with openings left for the arms. There was a single seam in the arms sewn on the undersides. These coats were usually made of leather, and sometimes wool. They wore tight fitting knit hose with bold geometric designs, checkerboards, stripes, circles, stars and zigzags. 

COWRIE LESBIAN FEMINIST VOL 1 #4 WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR P.2 ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/feminist. Vol 1 #4, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Text and image ©Liza Cowan

 

Some sources say that the Amazons were tattooed on their arms and legs, but this is unlikely. The shirts and tunics had tight sleeves, close fitting at the wrists, and were also boldly patterned with geometric designs. They frequently wore long soft red leather boots. The toes of the boots were often curled up, indicating a northern origin. Shoes like this are usually worn in snowy, rocky climates.

 They wore a variety of hats and helmets. One popular hat was from Phrygia (150 miles due east of Lesbos.) This was a tall conical cap, knitted in one piece or made of felt. It had a broad flap which hung over the nape of the neck and two other flaps which came to the shoulders and could be tied.

 In battle the Amazons carried crescent or double crescent shaped shields, emblems of the Moon Goddess, and they frequently wore the crescent emblem on their helmets. They carried bows and arrows, darts, javelins, nets and, of course, the Labyris, double-edged axe, symbol of the matriarchy. They wore armor made of red leather, and sometimes were greaves, armor for the shin area. Some pictures show them wearing no trousers, though I doubt that any self-respecting Amazon would ride into battle without her pants. She would be too vulnerable.  Some pictures show them wearing earrings. Their hair is shown tied back, or is hidden by the helmets.

There are no pictures of Amazons alone with each other, having fun, making love, eating, sleeping, building houses, training horses, playing with the children, or doing anything else but fighting. After all, men were not allowed to hang out with the Amazons so the only way they would have been able to see them was in combat. There are no remnants of Amazon art or artifacts (that I have found, anyway.) Probably everything was destroyed.

 Amazons were our great, great, great grandmothers. The patriarchy almost defeated them, but not quite. Here we are, the North American Amazons. Long live the Amazons.

 

Bibliography

Mothers and Amazons – Helen Dinar (available in paperback) The best book about Amazons so far.

 Amazons In Greek Art – Deitrich von Bothmer. Complete collections of Amazon pictures.

 Les Guerilleres,  Monique Wittig (paperback) not specifically about Amazons but gives, I think, a sense of an Amazon Community. 

COWRIE LESBIAN FEMINIST VOL. 1 #4  WHAT THE WELL DRESSED DYKE WILL WEAR P3 ©LIZA COWAN
COWRIE, Lesbian/Feminist Vol. 1 #4, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Amazons. Text and illustration ©Liza Cowan

Archives. Just Do It!

 

Women_s history in The Digital World Screen Shot
Women's History In The Digital World at Bryn Mawr. Screen Shot.
At DYKE, A Quarterly (as if it were a place, haha) we always thought about preserving the magazine for the future. One of our goals was to make DAQ long lasting and to become a historical artifact and future resource. We used good paper and ink on purpose. The one thing we forgot about was keeping enough of the original print copies. You give away one, then another without thinking about it much for a few decades and then suddenly, you have only a copy or two and you're not sure if there are any copies at all, anywhere. Poof, suddenly the history trajectory looks quite different. 

But then along come digital technologies and we have a new way to collect and literally share/transmit our stories and images. Wow. 

A few weeks ago the editors of DYKE, Penny House and Liza Cowan, went to the wonderful conference at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, USA, Women's History In The Digital World. The conference was produced by Jennifer Redmond and the rest of the amazing crew at The Albert M. Greenfied digital Center for the History of Women's Eductation LINK, a part of the college.

Liza did a powerpoint slide show and talked  about our process of archiving, digitizing and presenting the archive online. The other presenters in our node were Margo Hobbs Thompson and Michelle Moravec.  We networked through twitter, by the way. 

DYKE A Quarterly image from powerpoint Archiving Dyke A  quarterly
Slide from talk: DYKE goes to the MOMA and The Schlesinger Library

We had a fabulous time, meeting so many amazing women,  and sitting in  presentations which were fascinating and sometimes way over our heads, tech-wise - which is good, we think. It's always good to know what you don't know, and to connect with resources for learning it. And how wonderful it was to be in rooms full of smart, articulate, kind and generous women, many of whom were presenting materials from various archives, libraries and institutions around the country, as well as sharing so much great information - technical, anectdotal and historical.

Presenter Michell Moravac, was moved to tweet a day or two after the conference,  "Was #WHDigWrld  the 1st @Birksconference of Digital Women's History?" Michelle's  link
HERE is a link to the conference.  Several of the presentations are available with a link to the visulal portion of the presentation as prepared by the presenters. How convenient, educational and fun, right?

The DYKE, A Quarterly power point is HERE. And if you are interested in digitizing YOUR collections...DO IT.
 
We discovered that compared to so many institutions and archives, the DAQ digital archive is put together with tins cans and string. But it doesn't matter. It still works. So, for a start in digizing, if you haven't already done so, CHECK HERE Digital Scholarship in The Humanites,   from the blog Exploring the Digital Humanities.
 

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.




Well Dressed Dyke...Liza Cowan interveiw

 

DapperQ » Blog Archive » Interview with Liza Cowan of Dyke, A Quarterly
screenshot from interview in dapperQ. Transcription below.

 

dapperQ: transgressing men's fashion  is a website/blog about what in the old days we'd have called Dyke fashion. These days there are a whole slew of new words and attitudes applied to clothing and self presentation, most of them having to do with newish ways that people are using gender rather than sex to describe who women are and the ways they go about their business. 

I, Liza, am not a big fan of these new descriptors. My apporach is more traditionally radical feminist, or LesbianFeminist. Women are women, - men are men, and the rest is culture. I've encountered as much opposition as support on this issue. 

Queer "newspeak" describes Lesbians as "boi" "masculine of center" and "transmasculine." I've seen this all over the place, from fashion blogs to Harvard professors. It rankles me. In the following interview, I got to explain why.

Thanks to dapperQ and editor Anita Dolce Vita for reaching out to me for an interview and then for publishing the words I wrote even though they often critique the very words dapperQ uses to describe itself and its readers. Kudos, mes amies.

LINK TO dapperQ

LINK TO INTEVIEW WITH LIZA COWAN

From dapperQ:

DYKE, A Quarterly, a magazine of lesbian culture and analysis that included articles such as “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” was created by Liza Cowan and Penny House in 1975 and ran for six issues. We recently read Qwear’s interview with Cowan and were floored that dapperQ had not yet published a post about DYKE, considering DYKE’s goal of expanding the definition of what it meant to be a “woman,” including in areas of dress and behavior. After taking a look at some issues of DYKE, as well as reading some of DYKE’s fan and hate mail, we decided to have a chat with Cowan to learn more about her venture.

dapperQ: You once said of DYKE, “Our readers, for the most part, found our interest in clothing superficial, classist and apolitical.” dapperQ has received some similar criticism. Can you expand upon why it was and still is important to explore this topic within the context of sexual orientation and gender identity?

Cowan: Many of the readers of DYKE, A Quarterly, which was published in the 1970’s, did not think of fashion as a system of codes to be deciphered, or as a text that could be read. They imagined that clothing didn’t matter, and that, even worse than not mattering, an interest in fashion was only for the upper classes and only for women who had nothing better to do in their lives than to go shopping.  Very few people at that time were interpreting the meanings of fashion. Fashion Studies did not enter the academic curriculum in the US until the 1980’s when the field of Cultural Studies was first introduced.  These days you can get a PhD in fashion studies. I don’t mean fashion design, but the study of the meaning and history of clothing.

Fashion is political. What we wear signifies who we are in terms of our socio-economic class, age, culture, ethnicity, historical time, geographical location, sex, and gender.  If we are native to a culture, that is, if we were brought up in that culture, we know how to read and to obey the rules of fashion, but we don’t usually know how to analyze or articulate them. Lesbians are among those folks who live in multiple worlds simultaneously, and often have to navigate two or more sets of codes. Isn’t that fascinating and important? I think so.

Rather than follow or even break rules willy-nilly, I think we can do a much better job of making personal and collective statements if we understand what is expected of us and why. We can learn to read the codes. Then we can choose to obey, bend or break the rules with more purpose, imagination and clarity.

dapperQ:  In your interview with Qwear, you mentioned that many of your readers may have identified as genderqueer or transmasculine today, but that, while our language has expanded, the fashion aesthetic is similar. At dapperQ, we recognize the rich diversity of our community and understand that how we identify impacts how we perceive, interact, and experience the world. Keeping the vast array of unique experiences in mind, we consciously made the decision to bridge what our founder calls the “transgenderational gap” by focusing on some common ground: fashion. Do you feel that DYKE would have included a wider audience had this new language been available to you back then?

Cowan: Cowrie Magazine – and later DYKE A Quarterly (the two magazines I edited, for which I wrote “What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear “) were written by for and about Lesbians.  It is true that I told Qwear that I supposed that many of us were genderqueer in those days, but what I meant – and I apologize for the linguistic slippage – was that in those days many Lesbians crisscrossed traditional boundaries of “male” and “female” fashion and grooming codes. I did not mean that my readers thought of themselves as anything but women. I did not say that “our language has expanded” because, in fact, I don’t think it has, unless “expanded” means being more confusing and more constricting.

Gender, in my linguistic universe, is a set of behaviors and expectations that are given, forced, inscribed onto female and male bodies. One of my favorite theorists, Lierre Keith, puts it this way: “Gender is not a binary; it’s a hierarchy- global in its reach, sadistic in its practice, murderous in its conclusion, just like race, just like class.”

I don’t like or use the terminology that is so popular these days: transmasculine, genderqueer, masculine-of-center, boi, etc. These are all words and phrases that obscure the fact that women and men are trained by patriarchy to live in constricting, life-denying, soul -sucking, yet totally made-up categorical boxes. It obscures the fact that men, as a class under patriarchy, created these conditions, and that men, as a class under patriarchy, benefit from that pervasive world-view.

Far from expanding our world view, the language of transmasculine etc. has, in my opinion, shrunk it. One of the goals of feminism, certainly of Lesbian Feminism, is to make the category of woman bigger, not smaller. Phrases like transmasculine or masculine of center suggest that woman, as a category, is not large enough, or expansive enough, or elastic enough, to encompass a full range of behaviors, aesthetics, expressions and attitudes.

On the contrary, I believe that whatever a woman does is womanly. If she wears a suit and tie and sports a mustache – she is womanly. If she wields a blowtorch, she is womanly. If she drives a 16 wheeler, she is womanly. If she runs a government, she is womanly.  She may not be “feminine” according to the socially constructed, restrictive gender rules of our contemporary dominant culture, but she’s womanly. To call a woman who identifies as a woman transmasculine or boi or masculine of center is to deny scope and breadth and depth to the category of woman. These words serve to claim as “masculine” the behaviors, occupations, attitudes, fashions and grooming styles that are not only liberating to women, but that women can enjoy, do enjoy, and should be able to enjoy as women.

The traditional Lesbian category of Butch is different from transmasculine or masculine. The traditional Butch Lesbian knows full well that she is female. Her way of expressing her Butch womanliness has an honorable history of its own.

DYKE A Quarterly would not have invited a “larger” audience even if other folks were using “new” language. Our intended audience was always women-identified-women: Lesbians and Dykes (terms we used interchangeably). These days, we have altered our scope somewhat by allowing male scholars to access our archival materials.

dapperQ:  In your 1970s article, “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” you stated, “I am confident that there will begin to evolve a true Dyke fashion, just as Dyke music and theater is already beginning to appear.” Today, there exists many blogs about queer, lesbian, dyke, butch, and trans style. In what ways do you think that our fashion has changed? Remained the same? Progressed?

Cowan: When I was writing “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear” back in the mid-70’s, I was confident that when women wore “men’s” clothing we were doing so not to look like men, not to be read as masculine,  but to look like Dykes.  We did it to honor our Lesbian foremothers who had dressed in “men’s” clothing. We did it so we would recognize each other. We did it to defy the constricting rules of femininity, and we did it to break free from the confining and degrading nature of “feminine” garments.  I don’t think that young Lesbians are dressing much differently these days than we did in the ‘70s.  They are just giving it different descriptors, different names. Also it seems to me that on the whole, young Lesbians are less fascinated by, and less interested in honoring their Lesbian foremothers than we were in the 1970’s. I hope I’m wrong. I hope the young Dykes of today are reading their history, because it’s fascinating and important. Then again, the Dykes of the 70’s are now the foremothers of today’s younger generations,  and there seems to be some new interest in what we did and who we were, which pleases me.

I don’t see anything particularly interesting or unusually imaginative happening in Lesbian fashions. Alas, we have not evolved our own unique style.  I’m not really surprised. Sad, maybe, but not surprised. “Men’s” suits?  By now I find them a bit trite as an idea, though they may be charming to view, and I certainly understand the impulse.  “Ladies” garments?  Also not terribly inspiring as Lesbo wear, although I do love to wear a string of fake pearls to political demonstrations.  I can’t believe that Lesbians wear high heels. In my day you wore shoes you could run away in.  At my age – 63- I’m more driven by comfort than by style, but I do wish there were more imaginative ranges of style for everyone, including straight folks.

 

dapperQ:   In 1976, you created a slideshow of images documenting lesbian fashion that is now at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in NYC. Can you tell us more about these images?

Cowan: I made the slide show “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear” for the Lesbian History Exploration in 1976. That was a wonderful gathering  of Lesbians held outside Los Angeles featuring presentations by a variety of women including Tee Corrine, Judy Grahan, Jan Oxenburg, Elizabeth Kennedy and Madeline Davis, Alix Dobkin, Elsa Gidlow, Phranc, Margie Adam, Alice Bloch, and other scholars, artists, and activists.

The slideshow is now at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, NY. I will go there later this year to digitize my collections, which are housed there, including the slide show, so stay tuned for it to show up online.

I prepared for the slideshow by taking photos of images in books of Lesbians from a particular section of Lesbian History…women like Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Clifford Barney, Sylvia Beach, Alice B. Toklas, Romaine Brooks, Janet Flanner, Renee Vivien and more. I can’t really remember now because I haven’t seen the slides since the 1980’s. I relied heavily on photos taken by the legendary Lesbian photographer Berenice Abbott.

Then I took photos of contemporary Lesbians, mainly in NYC, where I was living at the time. 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. DYKE Schlep is, as it sounds, our everyday clothing: jeans and t-shirts, pea coats, work boots, sneakers and Frye boots. Pretty much an upcycled workman/folkie look.  DYKE Finery included the outfits we wore to mostly evening events: jeans, suspenders, blazers, ties sometimes, Frye boots, wing tip shoes sometimes. And there was a section on hair. We tended to wear our hair short, sometimes the very bold shaved their heads. I did once, just to see what it was like, and so I could document it for the slide show.  The difference between Schlepp and Finery was not huge, as I recall. I also included categories of Lesbian accessories, like Feminist/Lesbian political buttons 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 slide show was about the evolution of style 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.

dapperQ:   DYKE, A Quarterly is currently archived at the Museum Of Modern Art Library in NYC. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the archives and how they can support it?

Cowan: One evening in 2010, Penny House, co-editor of DYKE A Quarterly, went out to dinner with her friend Milan Hughston, Chief Of the Library and Museum Archives at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Their conversation got around to DYKE, and Hughston expressed an eagerness to have the magazine be part of the collections at MOMA. Penny and I discussed this at length, since our original intention was to have the magazine seen only by women.  We decided that since the collection was historical, not contemporary, we owed it to scholars to make the materials available for research. And, because I am an artist, I actually jumped up and down at the idea of being included in any collection at MOMA. Seriously, what an honor.

Fortunately we had managed to keep a lot of the collateral materials from the magazine: some letters, including hate mail – mostly about class and fashion – layout sheets, notes, doodles, ads, fliers and whatnot. We had to have them all appraised for museum acquisition.

Meanwhile,The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College,  asked to have our collection. Ultimately, after discussions with both MOMA and Schlesinger, we decided that MOMA would get copies of the magazine, which is what they wanted, and The Schlesinger would get copies and the rest of the materials. In addition, copies of the magazine are available at the Labadie Collections at the University of Michigan  and at The Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Scholars can make appointments at any of these Libraries to do research. If anyone wants to support an archive, my suggestion is to give money or time to The Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, NY, which is seriously underfunded, or to other Gay/Lesbian archives around the US and around the world.

DYKE A Quarterly archive is also available online at www.dykeaquarterly.com, which is a work in progress.

 

 

 


Letters Between Barbara Grier and Liza Cowan

 

DYKE a quarterly letter between barbara grier and liza cowanLetter. Barbara Grier and Liza Cowan. 1975/6

December 24, 1975

Dear Barbara,

Thanks for sending Tangents. I've xeroxed 2 copies for my White Mare files. We here at 3 Maple Farm liked the book "Beebo Brinker" the best of al the Beebo books. And we named our 4 wheel drive Ford Beebo Bronco.

Alix and I would love to share a flier for your mailing - her for her new album "Living With Lesbians" and for "Lavender Jane Loves Women" and me for DYKE. Is this OK & how light is light enough. What pound paper?

Happy New Year,

Liza Cowan

1/2/76

Dear Liza....Honey, will you forgive me if I cannot tell form this note from you what I even said to you and I cannot find a copy of the letter...I am back up to 300 or more letters each week and with 80 miles a day trip and the ful time job...I am kinda out of it...also, have been working out the 300 contracts (memorandum of agreement) that must be completed by the writers whose work is being reprinted in the three LADDER anthologies that DIANA PRESS will be publishing soon..and theworld is a JUMBLE. ..Please either QUOTE back to me my statements OR return my letter WITH THIS NOTE TOO PLEASE...and I'll quickly shoot a reply to you...I don't know a damned thing about weitht of paper but I will send you a sample...as soon as your letter gets back to me I'll have my samples for you...they are on the way from Reno...I ran out here of the one that is perfect for a sample (right weight and size)...But yes, OF COURSE you can share a flier...with Alix....whose music I have of course...anyone else whose wok is pertinent...(that is the only requirement)

 

It was as the publisher of Naiad Press, that she had asked me to contribue an adversising mailer for a packet she would be sending out. I don't remember the context of the mailing. But we did meet up later that year in Los Angeles at The Lesbian History Exploration.

Read more about Barbara Grier :

obitituary by Tracy Baim from Windy City Times

Victoria Brownsworth: In Remeberance Of Barbara Grier in Lambda Literary Review.

Obituary, NY Times

 wikipedia

 Tangents Covers

DYKE A Quarterly flier 1976
Leaflet for DYKE A Quarterly 1976




 

tangents magazine 1966
Tangents Magazine 1966. Cover by Rolf Berlinsen

Barbara had two articles in this issue, as Gene Damon. Reader At Large and Together-Toward a Common Goal

 

Beebo62Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon. Original cover. 1962. 

 

Beebo Brinker Naiad
Beebo Brinker, Naiad edition. 1983

 

Elana dykewomon riverfinger womon naiad press 1992
Elana Dykewomon, Riverfinger women, Naiad Press

NAIADPr press event 2012
Naiad Press Event, 2012.  source

 


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.