SIDE TRIPS Feed

DYKE GOES TO THE MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NY

A few images from DYKE, A Quarterly will be featured in an upcoming show at The Museum Of The City Of NY called Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in 20th Century NY.  The show opens October 7th 2016.

We've been working for months with curator Stephen Vider, figuring out what pieces would work best, how to title them, what sizes, who owns the rights and etc. We are not sure yet which images, or how many images,  will be in the exhibit but we do know for sure that our iconic flier, DYKE IS OUT! ARE YOU? will not only be feature in the exhibit, but will be available as a poster in the Museum gift shop, along with postcards and magnets with that image. 

DYKE IS OUT poster and magnet for the museum of the city of ny gift shop design liza cowan dyke a quarterly

 

And there will be a book, which will include at least some of our pages. 

You can read more about the exhibit here

You can buy the magnet and the poster at the Museum gift shop. The magnet is also available online   here.  All sales help to fund the DAQ online annotated archive.

 We will keep you updated. 


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.
 

Side Trip: What The Well Dressed Dyke Won't Wear

Gender. What the Hell is it? I snapped these 4 images from a catalog that came in the mail today. It's not just the shoes, but the way that models persistently stand with their toes pointed inward, signifying that they are like girl-children, and not steady on their feet.

Just stop that! Gender is a politically and socially imposed system of oppression.

 

women's show and foot placement as markers of gender
Collage of images from a women's clothing catalog. Gender is a politically constructed system of hierarchy and oppression.




Side Trip: Lesbiana, Une Revolution Parallele, a film by Myriam Fougere

 

Poster for Lesbiana Une Revolution Parallele, a film by Myriam fougere

This is a year for great films about Dyke Culture in bloom. Here is a trailer for Myriam Fougere's film Lesbiana-Une Revolutions Parallele, A Parallel Revolution. I've seen it, loved it, and I hope you get a chance to see it too. Bring it to your town or gathering perhaps?

 

Lesbaina, Une Revolution Paralelle, trailer

From a press relase by Miram Fougere:

“A Parallel Revolution”, is a unique documentary telling the story of the lesbian movement from 1975 to 1990 through interviews with lesbians in Canada and the US who contributed to the making of this incredible revolution. 

This documentary gives voice to lesbians who wanted to change the world, who questioned everything, including gender roles, social norms and structures, racism and the oppression of women. Who created women-only spaces, wrote, composed music, made art and staged “happenings”. We need to remember the radical spirit of these women who took control of their lives so others could too. 

In 2010 I filmed ten interviews in Montréal and more than twenty interviews in the US with provocative lesbian writers and activists, visiting women's lands in Vermont, Alabama and Arizona."

The womyn interviewed include: 

in Montréal: Diane Heffernan, Gloria Escomel, Laura Yaros, Line Chamberland, Lise Moisan, Lise Weil, Louise Turcotte, Nicole Brossard, Suzanne Boisvert, et Verena Stefan.

In the US: Alix Dobkin, Carol V. Moore, Carolyne Gage, Crow, Evelyne Thorton-Beck, Emily Greene, Glo, Imani, Irene Weiss, Jade Deforest, Jackie Anderson, Julia Penelope, Lee Evans, Lin Daniels, Marilyn Frye, Nadine Zenobi, Noel Furie, Ruth Silver, Selma Miriam, Sonia Johnson, Sudie Rakusin, and Vera Martin.

You can find information and updates about the film on facebook 

Check out more films here


Side Trip: The Fifth Street Women's Building Takeover: A Feminist Urban Action, January 1971

By Liza Cowan.

Recently I had the pleasure of watching a new documentary, Left On Pearl, about a women's takeover of a Harvard University building in March of 1971. Seeing the film reminded me that I had written a paper about a similar action that had taken place in New York City just a few months earlier than the action in Boston.

In 1992 I wrote the paper about the Fifth Street Women's Building Takeover for a Sociology course on Urban Social Movements, taught by professor Diane Davis at The Graduate Faculty at The New School For Social Research in NYC.

I had participated somewhat in the 5th Street Women's Building takeover. I was at the original meeting at Washington Square Church, and had popped in and out a few times during the next week. I was a reporter/producer at the WBAI-FM at the time, and it's possible I filed a story. I can't remember. But I did keep in touch with some of the women who were the organizers and was able to interview them for my paper. Thanks again to Reeni Goldin, Fran Goldin and Jane Lurie. 

Here, twenty years after I wrote the paper, and forty years after the action, is my report.

 

 

5the street womens bldg open house flier January 1971
muheres, women. Flier for Open House at the Fifth Street Women's Building. Click to enlarge. From the Reeni Goldin Collections.

 The Fifth Street Women’s Building:

A Feminist Urban Action Jan 1-13th 1971

by Liza Cowan, written in 1992

 

“Our hands

Our feet

Our minds

Our bodies

Are tools for change”

Chant by the women at the Fifth Street Women’s Building [i]

 

Part One – The Takeover

A Feminist/Urban Movement

On January 1st, 1971, two hundred women took over an abandoned building at 330 East Fifth Street in Manhattan. In what had formerly been a school annex and then a welfare office, the women worked to create a women’s center, offering child care, a food co-op, book and clothes exchange and a feminist school. On January 14th, twelve days after the takeover, the building was closed by the police, and twenty four women were arrested. Soon thereafter, the building was torn down to make a parking lot for the 9th Precinct police building across the street.

 Urban social movement theorist Manuel Castells writes that  “When …mobilizations result in the transformation of the urban structure, we call them urban social movements…[a] theory of urban change must account both for the spatial and social effects resulting from the actions of the dominant interest as well as from the grassroots alternatives to this domination.[ii] He states that urban movements

 “seem to share some basic characteristics in spite of the diversity:

1)   They consider themselves urban

2)    They are locally –based and territorially-defined

3)   They tend to mobilize around three major goals…: collective consumption, cultural identity, and political self-management.”[iii]

     The takeover of the building at 330 East Fifth Street Women’s Building (hereafter referred to as The Fifth Street Women’s Building, or Fifth Street) seems to fit the criteria for an urban social movement as defined by Castells. 1) It was urban. 2) It was organized by women who lived either in the neighborhood or close by, and intended for their own use and the use of their peers, i.e. other women. 3) Their goals included collective consumption issues such as child care. They were building cultural networks as women, and coming out as Lesbians. A major goal was political self-management in the form of “control of our own lives.” [iv]

     Other urban movements had been controlled, organized and operated by women, such as the Glasgow, Scotland Rent Strike of 1915[v], the 1902 meat boycotts lead by New York City housewives, [vi] or the 1904 New York City rent strikes, led by young working class women.[vii]  The difference in the Fifth Street Mobilization is that it was led and run only by women, as feminists, specifically for the needs of women, as defined by the participants of the takeover.

     One consequence of this, as will be shown throughout this paper, is that the longer lasting effects of the action on the women who participated, had more specifically to do with their activism about and for women and Lesbians than it had to do with their continued work as neighborhood or community organizers. The focus, at least in the reminiscences of the action, became less on the takeover of the building and the creation of a Women’s Center in and of themselves, and more on their symbolic meaning of empowerment for women. Castells' “rule” number two for urban social movements (that they be territorially defined) became less important, as “territory” became “networks.”

     Although the mobilization itself lasted only twelve days, and although the women’s center they envisioned did not happen for long in that spot or in that form, the goals and ideals that brought the women there, and the ideas and inspiration that came from the activities and discussions during those days, transformed into other feminist and Lesbian projects lasting over the next decade.

 Background, New York City

 John Lindsay was the mayor  of New York in 1971. The federal Model Cities program, begun in 1966 was still in effect. According to Susan and Norman Fainstein, Model Cities

 “required coordinated planning of social services, intensive redevelopment of selected model neighborhoods, and participation of target area residents in policymaking.  As was the case in the Poverty Program, most of the Model Cities agencies did not pursue militant strategies and made little attempt to mobilize their communities.” [viii]

     There were a number of tenants rights groups and oppositionist groups organized around the city, some opposing Urban Renewal plans for razing low income housing, some opposing the proposed construction of highways that would cut through low income neighborhoods. There were squatting actions happening in different neighborhoods.[ix]

     One particularly effective and long lasting group was The Cooper Square Development Committee (Cooper Square), in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 1959 the New York City Slum Clearance Committee had proposed to clear a twelve block area and build 2,900 units of middle income housing. This would have dispossessed “2,400 apartments, 450 furnished room occupants, 4,000 beds used by homeless men and over 500 businesses.”[x]  Cooper Square Development Committee formed to fight this proposal.

     In 1960 Cooper  Square recruited a professional planner to come up with an alternative plan. Eleven years later, in 1971, they had proved successful in stopping the city from redevelopment, but only a small portion of the Cooper Square plan had actually gone through. They were successful, however, in community organizing.

 “(Cooper Square) followed a coalition strategy and obtained the support of the diverse groups inhabiting the area. It avoided any identification with any single element in the community. It served as a local source of information concerning tenants rights and eligibility requirements for welfare and medical benefits and it became involved in rent strikes and demonstrations for park and recreational facilities.” [xi]

     Cooper Square was also involved in squatting actions. As we shall see, several members of Cooper Square were among the organizers of the Fifth Street Women’s Building takeover.

 The Action and The Days That Followed.

     Late in 1970, several women were at The Women’s Center in Manhattan talking about their interest in housing issues and squatting.  They “started talking about doing an action in a city-owned building for a women’s center, because the Lower East Side needed a Women’s Center.”[xii]  They talked to friends, and a group of five women formed to plan the action. Reeni Goldin, one of the original organizers of the Fifth Street action, had been working at Cooper Square, and had participated in a number of squatting actions. Her mother, Fran Goldin, had been one of the founders of Cooper Square and was still active there and at The Metropolitan Council on Housing. She was also involved in the Fifth Street takeover, but not as one of the organizers.

     Another organizer, Susan Sherman, was also somewhat involved in Cooper Square, as was Kady Van Duers, who was peripherally involved in the Fifth Street Action.  The other organizers were June Arnold, a writer, Sarah Davidson, and Buffy Yasmin. Jane Lurie, a filmmaker, joined them a day or so before the action, after reading in the underground newspaper, Rat, about an organizing meeting.[xiii]

     The organizers were mainly young, in their early twenties, except June Arnold who was in her mid forties.  Some of the women were Jewish.  All were all white, except for Buffy Yasin, who was Native American but not claiming it at the time as she had not been raised as such.  The women were from a mixture of class backgrounds. Some were college educated, some were not.[xiv]

     For Reeni Goldin, the action was important because, “it brought together so many different issues – vacant buildings going for no use, the waste of city buildings when people needed housing.”  These concerns were joined with issues specifically about women and women’s needs, and the city’s responsibilities in providing for those needs.

     “The city was totally ignoring women’s needs. Health care sucked. The majority of people on Welfare were women. The city wasn’t doing its job educating women, providing jobs, providing health care and providing daycare so that women could work. The housing situation was awful. There wasn’t affordable housing for women in trouble. Well, here we could bring all that together. We could get a building to use that the city was using for nothing and fulfill those needs of the women. We’d also be pointing out that the city doesn’t! It was a great organizing tool and a great way to bring women together and do something for all of us and for other women…The housing thing was just a tool at that point to talk about women’s stuff.”[xv]

     The group got a list of vacant buildings owned by the city, and rode around on bicycles looking at them. They decided on the building on Fifth Street, which was right down the street from the Cooper Square office. “It was a half a block deep, five tenements wide and four storeys high.”[xvi] A week or so before the proposed night of the takeover the organizers began to prepare the building.

     “We’d gotten into the building, and winos and junkies were living in there. We told them that they really ought to leave because we were locking the buildings up. Then we locked and chained all the doors and gates. We had brought padlocks. The building was trashed. It had no plumbing, no electricity and no fixtures. The junkies and winos had taken all the fixtures because they were copper. It was freezing. We brought in rolls of plastic and staple guns and covered all the windows so there was some kind of warmth. And we had that huge heater. A kerosene heater in the shape of a bullet, it sat on the floor and was a yellow cylinder. It was called ‘Mister Heater.’ We painted over the ‘M’ with and ‘S’ and it became ‘Sister Heater.’ Different women of the group brought in stuff that we knew we’d need, like plastic and staple guns, extension cords and light bulbs.”

5the street womens bldg flier January 1971...women have been working on a planEarly flier from the 5th St. Women's Building. The Plan. Flier from Reeni Goldin collections.

     To gather women for the take over, “we put out leaflets and just sort of advertised around that there was going to be a women’s action at the church and to bring your sleeping bags and canteens, but they didn’t know why.” On New Year’s Eve a group of women gathered at the Washington Square Church, a church that was regularly used for many types of political events. Reeni Goldin remembers that there were close to two hundred women there. A report from The Village Voice states that there were “more than 75.”[xvii] The New York Times reported 20. [xviii]

     When they arrived the women were given leaflets telling the goals of the action and ways to behave during it.

 “Women have been working on a plan to take over a building on the lower east side for women.  Women not only need housing      we need space to work together.    We can use space for a health project    feminist art and media project   child care    feminist school     etc.”[xix]

     The women were cautioned not to bring non-prescription drugs, to know the names of other women in their small affinity groups and not to resist arrest. The police were referred to as “pigs,” which was common among many activists in those days. “Don’t talk to the pigs in the street, for personal and political security specific women have been designated to deal with the pigs.” In the same flier the participants were cautioned not to call the police “pigs.” And to clean up the church before they left. [xx]

     They counted off into groups of ten and went through the snowy streets till they reached the site. Jane Lurie had brought her Bolex camera and was prepared to film the event but was discouraged by a woman from her consciousness raising group who cautioned her that it would be a bad idea to film an illegal event.  She later regretted missing the beautiful scene of “perfect snow falling on women carrying lit candles.”[xxi] The women marched until they reached the site. They went around the back way to avoid having to walk directly in front of the precinct house.

     “We climbed in, stepping gingerly over a layer of broken glass while our eyes adjusted to the dimness…In the huge second floor room, painted in institutional drab and surrounded on three sides by banks of windows with gaping holes once filled with glass, bare overhead bulbs dangled on long wires….Collecting their equipment into neat mounds, the women set to work. Some grabbed brooms, sweeping up the glass and debris. Others stapled large sheets of plastic over the windows to keep out the drafts and to hold back the snow.”[xxii]

     Fran Goldin, whose job that night was to “look like a lady and look out for the cops,”[xxiii] had a conversation at the precinct house with Police Captain Howe, who warned the women against hurting themselves. “You have a gas heater there. Do the women know how to use it? ‘Yeah’ (Fran Goldin) answered…and we have a nurse on the premises.”[xxiv]

     The New York Times reported that “Ira Duchan head of the city’s Real Estate Department said…that he had not yet decided what to do about the women, who refused to give their names. He said their ‘cold bold trespass’ was secondary to the danger of fire involved.”[xxv] No arrests were made that night

     Over the next twelve days women worked to create the Women’s Center. “During the first couple of nights there were maybe 200 women there. Then after a week there were maybe twenty during the day, but at night there tended to be more. Women would come home from work and join us.” Minda Bickman reported in The Village Voice:

     “When I returned the next afternoon, several dozen women were on the second floor, and as the afternoon wore on the would be joined by dozens more. They were sitting cross legged in a circle, discussing their plans.”[xxvi]

     The plans included using the building for a health clinic, a food co-op, a child care center, an inter-arts center, a clothing and book exchange and a temporary halfway house for homeless women.

      The building was in operation as soon as it was taken over. “We saw the building as a school. A feminist school. Everything that had to be done there was a learning experience. How does a boiler work? What is a fuse? How many amps do we have? What about holes in the floor?”[xxvii]

      Reeni Goldin remembered, “I got my friend David to teach us all plumbing on the furnace, which was a functional furnace, it just didn’t  have any pipes coming from it. By looking at it he could show us what was going on and how it worked and everything and estimate how much it would take to get the thing functional.

5the street womens bldg flier we have taken this building for all of us. January 1971Mujeres/Women. We have taken over this building. 1971. Flier from Reeni Goldin collections.

      “There were karate classes. We had a book exchange and a food co-op. Women used to go to Hunts Point and to a health food wholesaler to buy food in bulk.”[xxviii] There was a children’s theater workshop. Space for childcare was being made ready.[xxix]

     The women entered into negotiations with the city to keep the building. At first the city sent Ronnie Eldridge, a woman who was special assistant to the Mayor. The Fifth Street women did not like working with Eldridge. “I don’t know why Ronnie Eldridge stopped talking to us, but we really couldn’t stand her,” said Reeni Goldin. “Then they send Jeffrey Stokes from the Mayor’s East Side Urban Task Force. He was much hipper.”[xxx]

     The city proposed that the building be partially used as a temporary shelter for welfare women with no place to live. “In the course of negotiations we realized that we would be turned into the welfare cops. They wanted us to monitor the welfare women. Like, how many pairs of socks they had. We said we wouldn’t do it. A day or two later they busted us.

     “There weren’t very many women there when the cops came. I wasn’t there. I was at Cooper Square, which was right down the block. Someone came and got me and I made some telephone calls to get other women there. They locked the place so women couldn’t get in or out and then they ushered women out except for three who refused to leave.

     “Within fifteen minutes there were around seventy five women there. It got to be a melee and women started fighting with the cops. The cops were blown away. They couldn’t believe that the women were fighting with them. There were women there who had grown up on the Lower East Side and were kind of tough. One woman who was experienced in self defense had five cops holding her down.

     “ One woman who was middle aged, middle class, white and married saw a cop fighting with a woman, and she smashed the cop on the back of his head with her fist. He stumbled forward and his hat fell off. He looked back and saw this demure lady with frosted hair. He arrested her. In court he claimed that she hit him with a soda bottle. She said, ‘Your Honor, would I really have picked up a soda bottle off the street to strike this officer?’ Like, she had gloves on and her husband was there. And the cop said, “It must have been her pocketbook.’ She said, ‘What could I possibly have in my pocketbook that would have made this officer fall down and lose his hat?’ They let her go because they couldn’t believe she would have done that. She had been arrested not only for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct but for assaulting a policeman.”[xxxi]

     In all, twenty four women were arrested. They were taken to the precinct, across the street, to have their photographs taken so they could later be identified in court. They had learned that they had to be photographed, but did not have to face front, so they all turned their backs to the camera. Subsequently, during the trial, ten women were dismissed because they couldn’t be identified. [xxxii]

     The sentences ranged from small fines to suspended sentences. A few days later there was a large demonstration to protest the eviction. Soon thereafter the Fifth Street Building was torn down to make a parking lot for the 9th Precinct House.

 Part Two: Examining The Evidence

 Solidarity with the People

    When the women took over the building, they produced a series of  fliers and press releases. These told of their intentions and their progress. With the exception of the first flier, the one that was handed out the night of the takeover, all the fliers were written both in Spanish and in English. The fact that Spanish was used in the fliers indicates an awareness that English was not the only language spoken by women in the building and the community they were trying to reach. Although all five of the original organizers were white and English speaking, several Latina women became prominent during the occupation of the building. Reeni Goldin specifically remembers Anna Sanches, Marizel Rios and one woman she remembers by first name only, Raquel. [xxxiii]

     Two earlier fliers use almost identical text. One, announcing an open house on Sunday at 4 PM for women, has the text enclosed in a drawing of a house. The open house announcement is written in the path leading to the house. The house, with its sloping roof, and path to the door, looks more like a barn than any urban building. The opening paragraphs of the fliers make it clear that the building is for women only.

 

“WOMEN

This building has been taken over by women for the use of women. We are now in the process of setting up a health clinic, food co-op, child care center and arts workshops. This building will stay open 24 hours a day to serve the needs of women.

 SISTERS

THE BUILDING IS OURS

IT BELONGS TO ALL OF US

USE IT!”

 

     The fliers produced during the actions and just after the arrest emphasize the solidarity of the women’s movement with women in other – not specifically feminist – urban movements.

“With this actions the women’s movement joins in solidarity with our sisters who are squatting throughout the city in their attempts to get decent housing. This building will serve the needs of the immediate community as well as the needs of the community of women as a whole.”[xxxiv]

After the shut-down of the building and the arrest of the women, the fliers and press releases emphasize not only that the building was being made over by and for women but also the criminal nature of the government of the City Of New York towards women. In a flier addressed to “Women,” to announce a demonstration on January 16th, Mayor John Lindsay was accused of sending “his pigs to arrest and brutalize the women working in The Center.” The gesture of solidarity towards squatters shown in the earlier flier shifts from “women squatters” to “people” engaged in an urban struggle.

“We have been arrested and harassed for making a safety hazard into useful space. We know that the City of New York is the criminal. City government is not providing for the needs of the people and when the people try to provide for themselves they are arrested and beaten. This is not an isolated instance. We express solidarity with all people who are squatting throughout the City in an attempt to provide basic human necessities for themselves and their families.”[xxxv]

5the street womens bldg women our community center has been taken from us demonstrate jan 16th 1971

Press Release. Our community Center has been stolen 1971. Reeni Goldin collections.

     A somewhat modified version of this paragraph was included in a press release sent just after the shut down. “…and when people try to provide for themselves thy are sometimes brutally beaten.” (note the addition of “sometimes.”) It also accused the city of “attempted murder against women and children of the community.”

      The press release emphasized the work that the women had done to improve the conditions of the building “that the city had vandalized” including having had “professional electricians, plumbers and oil burner technicians” to make repairs, cleaning up lead paint chips, and closing the empty elevator air shaft. All of this work ensured that the building no longer posed the health and safety hazard to the community that it had posed before the women took over.

     The police and Department of Real Estate had used the issue of the building’s hazardous condition to remove the women and shut down the building. The New York Times stated that , “a spokesman  of the city’s Department of Real Estate said the building’s lack of heat, electricity and sanitary constituted a health hazard to the occupants."[xxxvi] At the initial occupation, the police chief had even been skeptical that the women knew how to use the kerosene heater they had brought in. It is doubtful that the police and other city official would have been as “concerned” about these issues had a group of men, or a group including men, taken over the building. They would have used other reasons to evict them.

     In fact, the building trades skills that women had traditionally been denied access to were considered the primary curriculum of the new feminist school. As a feminist identified group, they understood that “…the men of the Department of Real Estate”[xxxvii] were dealing with them in a gendered way. It was women’s presumed lack of building, electrical, plumbing and related skills that was used to evict them. The city stepped in, as male, to “protect” them, as female, i.e. helpless and unskilled. A male voice echoes through the sound track of the Fifth Street Women’s Building film. Taped during the demonstration, a man from the police or the Department of Real Estate says over and over, “We’re your friends, we’re here to help you,” as Marizel Rios, who had the tape recorder slung around her neck at the time, “was being tossed around.”[xxxviii]

 

Feminist Identity

     While the documents produced during the takeover and arrest manifested an awareness of both urban and feminist movements, The Fifth Street Women’s Building Film, which came out later that year, emphasized a feminist/women's movement.

There's more...click below to continue with the saga. 

Continue reading "Side Trip: The Fifth Street Women's Building Takeover: A Feminist Urban Action, January 1971" »


SIDE TRIP: What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, Liza's interview in the blog Dyke Duds

A few weeks ago I approached the blog, Dyke Duds, (which has since changed its name to Qwear ) to interview me about What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, the series of essays I wrote for Cowrie Magazine and DYKE, A Quarterly. I thought that the young readers of that blog would be interested in what I had written decades earlier. I hope they were. 

Sonia Oram, the editor of Dyke Duds/Qwear, edited my original answers so the version that appeared in Dyke Duds was a bit shorter. She has space considerations that I do not, so I've decided to run my orginal answers.

Big thanks to Sonia for being interested in what this old Dyke had to say about clothing way back when.

 

What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, Cowrie Magazine, Liza cowan, morgan Zale, lesbian fashion 1973Cowrie Magazine, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. Photo © Barbara Jabaily 1973. Clothing by Morgan Zale and Laura.

Q: What topics in fashion did you cover in DYKE A Quarterly?

 A: My column was called What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, and it started in another, smaller, Lesbian magazine I published called Cowrie, which ran from 1973 to 1974. I had just come out the year before, at age 20, 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. Now you can get a PhD in fashion theory. In those days, it was considered trivial. I knew it wasn’t and that clothing carried a message. I wanted to decipher it. My inspiration was James Laver, the only historian I knew of who was interested in the meaning of clothing in terms of social status.

 In the seven part series, I covered general observations, history of Lesbian clothing - including ancient amazons- 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.

 In addition to writing about Dyke clothing for my magazines, I produced a slide show, also called What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. I made this for the Lesbian History Exploration, a conference that  took place in California in 1975. I spent a couple of months taking my camera to Lesbian events, photographing what the women were wearing.  I also used photos from biographies of famous Lesbians like Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, and others of that era, to show the evolution of that genre of Lesbian Style.  The slide show is at the Lesbian Herstory Archive in NYC.

My main theory 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 Dykes and other 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. It had nothing to do with wanting to look like men. 

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 shoes to corsets, our clothing has confined and constricted us. Lesbians didn’t want to look like men…we wanted to be free, to catch the eye of other women and to mark ourselves as off- limits to men. That’s what I believe to this day.

[I highly suggest reading Esther Newton's classic 1984 essay, "The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and The New Woman" from the journal Signs, Vol. 9 No. 4, The Lesbian Issue. HERE]

Clothing, in addition to being necessary, 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. Always the meaning.

In the first article I mused over why I wanted to look Dykey.

“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.”

 In the second article, I wrote about Morgan Zale and her partner Laura, who designed and made clothes for Lesbians in New York City. 

The third article was about ancient Amazon clothing, not just because Lesbians of my generation were obsessed with Amazons as role models, but to find inspiration for contemporary clothing possibilities.

The fourth article was more general history. For this article I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Costume Institute to talk to head curator, Stella Blum, although the article is not an actual interview.  This was before Diana Vreeland made the Costume Institute the hugely popular hit-generating department it became.

Quoting Stella Blum,

“ ‘It took the vicissitudes of World War 1, which forced women into the male world and in turn permitted them activities and freedoms previously denied them, to reduce their costumes to functional simplicity and put a male cast to their appearance. Towards equality with men and to resemble them, in the 1920’s women flattened their bosoms and hips and cut their hair.’ ”

This is me, Liza:

“We know that men, the patriarchal rulers, take what is best for themselves, at least materially, including clothes. So, to dress in “men’s” clothes is not to imitate men (who wants to be a man!) but to wear what is least oppressive. When World War II was over, and women were no longer needed to support the country, the fashion market was flooded with incredible gowns, full draperies and lush fabrics. During the war, materials were severely rationed. This is usually the reason given for the simpler clothes during the war, and for the return of the luxurious post-war fashions. But I know the real reason to ensure that, once again, women would be forced to resume their roles in the all-consuming patriarchal culture.” 

The seventh article was about hair, including a short history of hair styles.  Hair, like everything else, has social meaning.

 “ Melba Tolliver, a black newscaster for ABC-TV, was not allowed to wear her hair in an afro. The network deemed it too militant. It was too threatening. It’s easier to get a job with long hair, or very neatly coiffed short hair worn with appropriate makeup and clothing. It is much safer to pass as a straight woman than to look like a Dyke.

 

DYKE A QUARTERLY No 1 p 22Evolution of a haircut. From DYKE A Quarterly No. 1. Photos by photobooth.

Q: How have you seen these styles evolved and can you draw parallels between the 1970’s Dyke world and the styles you see on Dyke Duds today?

A: Today we have an intellectual phenomenon termed “transmasculinity,” which I think is bullsh*t, and is thoughtlessly applied to Lesbian style. It has muddled the thinking of many an otherwise intelligent woman, and I grieve. 

Whatever clothing a woman wears is feminine, womanly. If I wear something, it is woman’s clothing, because it is mine and I’m a woman, even if it is a suit and tie. A man wearing a dress is wearing man’s clothing, because it is his. I do not think that any item of clothing itself is masculine or feminine, or male or female, except as a symbol of power or powerlessness. So while a style may co-opt, or translate, or borrow even, the article of clothing itself has no sex or gender. The meaning resides in the viewer as well as the wearer.  I will never be transmasculine or anything masculine. As a woman, everything I do is womanly.

The styles I see on Dyke Duds are not that hugely different from what we’d see on Lesbians in the 70’s…perhaps a bit more preppy.  Looking over your posts, it seems the women and clothing you feature would slip into any of our events pretty successfully without looking like time travelers. Is it just that the 70’s are fashionable again?

The Dykes I wrote about in the 70’s consciously tried not to overplay their clothing. I used to get mad at women for refusing to dress up for events, because I believed that we owed it to ourselves to show up looking great for each other. What you’d see mostly were jeans, t-shirts or button-down shirts. T-shirts with screen printing by dykes for events or venues were popular.

Frye boots, work boots,  converse sneakers were in fashion. Sensible shoes. Shoes you could run away in. There were always lots and lots of bandanas, tied around the neck or the head mostly. In my slide show I divided the Lesbian look into two sections, “Dyke Schlep” and “Dyke finery.” They weren’t that terribly different, frankly. Blazers and vests were popular. For a while, it was out of fashion to wear a bra, no matter how big your breasts were, so vests were a good and stylish way to cover up.

 

Dyke a quarterly ad which shoe fits you circa 1976Controversial ad for DYKE A Quarterly, circa 1976, in which shoes become a symbol of the reader's interest in Lesbian Feminist analysis. We thought it was funny. Some of our readers were not amused.

 The other accessories that you’d always see were buttons - political buttons. I had a business making them, so I was always aware of them, but they were very popular for decorating clothing and bags. I think of them as little billboards.

 Q: Where did you shop for clothes?

A: I really don’t know where other Lesbians went shopping. I mainly went to thrift stores and to army-navy stores, which was where you could get jeans and work clothes. There weren’t the zillion brands of jeans available now. You could get Wranglers, Levi’s and Carharts. That’s all I remember. Some jeans were made for women, with zippers on the side. I loved wool sailor pants, the kind with lots of buttons. You could find those used, along with pea coats, at army navy stores. I bet they don’t even have army navy stores any more. It’s also where you’d get denim work shirts and bandanas and sensible shoes.

I’d sometimes cruise Bloomingdales looking for clothes, but mainly because that’s where I’d shopped as a kid, and was familiar with it.  I’d sometimes shop in the men’s department, which was kind of scandalous, but amusing. Sometimes I’d get cast offs from my father or brothers. My very favorite suede vest was a gift from my dad’s closet. I got some ties from him too. He was puzzled, but generous. 

 

DYKE A Quarterly original shot for publicity flier 1975From the contact sheet of the photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT flier. 

Q: Can you tell me more about the fashion magazine image?

 A: The photo shoot you refer to was for our very first publicity flier. My partner, 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 moved to England and became one of the world’s first supermodels in the 60’s, and other friends whose parents were photographers, fashion editors, or were featured in magazines like Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, and the like.

 

We thought it would be hysterically funny to do a photo shoot of Dykes as a fashion image. You know, 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. Her name was Michelle, but I don’t know her last name. I’m hoping that one day she will contact us and let us know who she is.

 So Penny and I gathered a couple of women to join us in the shoot. The now-famous singer, Alix Dobkin, was my girlfriend, so of course she came. And Penny’s tall model-esqe friend Val came too. And the photographer’s girlfriend, Deborah Glick, who is now a New York State Assemblymember, was in the shoot as well.

 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 60’s folkies, as were bandanas. Laborers outfits, appropriated by middle class kids, up trended again by a  subcategory of Dykes who had grown up as beats and folkies.

Penny, Alix and I are all wearing 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. I have no idea where they came from. Alix and I were wearing workmen’s  boots and shoes, another leftie/folkie appropriation - that was quite popular. Debbie and Penny seem to be wearing Frye boots, which were all the rage.

I don’t know about Penny’s white scarf. It is typically her style, but was not something you’d see all the time. And we all had short hair. I was bald, but you can’t see that.

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.

To juxtapose this on the seamless paper and studio lighting?? Hysterical, right? We thought so, anyway.

We picked this image from dozens – some of which are viewable on the DYKE A Quarterly website here. Using Letraset press-on letters, I designed our flier, and we sent it out. On the back was the copy describing our project. We had maybe 100 printed at a print shop, and sent them out. Very few exist anymore. If you own an original it is highly collectible. I don’t even have an extra copy to donate to the DYKE A Quarterly collection at the library of The Museum Of Modern Art in NYC.

 


DYKE at The Museum Of Modern Art Library, New York City

 

Milan Hughson, chief of the LIbrary, Museum Of Modern Art, NYC, Dyke a quarterly 2012
Milan Hughston, Chief Of The Library, MOMA NYC, with DYKE A Quarterly. Photo: Liza Cowan


DYKE A Quarterly is archived at the Museum Of Modern Art Library in NYC. Today I went to see it in situ. My host was Milan Hughston, Chief of the LIbrary & Museum Archives. I assure you, it was very exciting.

And for total referencing- and infinite regression of referencing- you can visit their TUMBLR where they documented the visit. 


Side Trip: Alice Austen in LIFE Magazine, 1951

Just a few months before she died, Alice Austen made her second appearance in LIFE Magazine.

Alice Austen Day Life MagazineAlice Austen Day. Life Magazine, October 29, 1951

"Alice Austen, America's first great woman photographer, had been rescued from the poorhouse and oblivion by the sale of her superb collections of pictures (LIFE, Sept. 24). But until this month the 85-year-old artist had never had a public showing of her work. On Oct. 7, however, the Staten Island Historical Society, custodian of her photographs, celebrated "Alice Austen Day". More than 300 of Miss Austen's old and new friends crowded into the museum to look at her pictures and say hello to her once more. Miss Austen herself was an hour late. Worn out by a television appearance two days earlier, she at first refused to come. But her friends convinced her that she would enjoy herself, and enjoy herself she did. There were speeches and orchids and gifts and refreshments, but above all, there were friends. Some, like Mrs. Charles Barton had posed for her in the old days on Staten Island. Others, like Coapes Brinley of the Staten Island Historical Society, helped win recognition for her work. Miss Gertrude Tate, her closest friend, had lived with her for 27 years at the Austen home until the two ladies lost their money and the home was sold.

The old lady in the wheelchair knew how to get the most out of every moment, although she mostly wept when Mrs. Barton bent over to kiss her hand. As the newspaper and magazine cameras recorded the afternoon, Photographer Alice Austen said proudly, "I'd be taking those pictures myself if I were 100 years younger." When the pictures and the refreshments were over, she went back to the private nursing home where she now lives, a little tired by the festivities but glad that she had lived to see Alice Austen Day."

Alice Austen and trude in LIFE MAG 1951Alice and Trude, now Mrs. Charles Barton, donned corset covers and petticoats and posed for this wicked picture taken 60 years ago on Staten Island. Alice Austen, LIFE Magazine 1951


Alice Austen, Deeply Moved Mrs. Barton, LIFE Magazine 1951Deeply Moved, Alice Austen bites her lips as old friend Mrs. Barton impulsively kisses her hand. Mrs. Barton now lives in New Jersey but visits Alice often.


Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate, 1951, LIFE MagazineHIGHLY PLEASED, Alice Austen beams up at Gertrude Tate, who lived in Austen home, took trips to Europe with her, nursed her during arthritis attacks.

For more on Alice Austen see HERE  and also visit the Alice Austen House Museum Website