TOPIC: Lesbian History 1970's and 1980's Feed

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 hired 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.

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

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



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

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

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


White Mare Archive to Lesbian Hirstory Exploration

To: Good Taste Productions

From Liza Cowan 3/22/76

Private correspondence

Page 1

Dear Good Tasters,

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

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

Page 2

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

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

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

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

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

[I shaved my head yesterday]

See you soon, love, Liza Cowan

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.

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


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, 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


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 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


 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. 



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


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

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

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

Introduction 1

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

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

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

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


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

Introduction 2

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

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

Mountain Moving Day

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

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

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