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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Back cover DYKE A Quarterly photo ©Irene Young

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

lizacowan.com

Credits

Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Liza Cowan


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

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

 

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

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

This section was written by Liza Cowan.

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

How do you define Separatism?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

What is your relationship with your family?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 How is Separatism expressed in your Lesbian work?

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

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

 

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

 

 


DYKE A Quarterly No. 6. p.32: Connecting the dots between Patriarchy and Climate Change

 

Dykes lead the way connecting the dots between Patriarchy and Climate Change. Earth Changes we sometimes called them. Here is a redone and ever so slightly annotated pull quote from Separatist Symposim, response by Liza Cowan.

Published in 1978.


CONNECTING THE DOTS globe butterfly dyke a quarterlyThere is no energy crisis. We have a patriarchy crisis. Graphic and text Liza Cowan 2012, exerpted from DYKE A Quarterly No. 6, 1978


"Men have decided that there is a terrible shortage of energy, that it is a crisis. 

There is no shortage of energy.  The sun can give us an abundance of never-ending energy and there are probably at least twenty-five other simple, organic solutions to the 'energy problem' that women would probably utilize in about fifteen seconds.

 Rather than explore these possibilities, men prefer to fight each other for the money, power and domination that comes with scrambling for oil, threatening our health and lives with nuclear power plants, spilling wastes into the waters and throwing junk into outer space. It is clearly an S&M power game that they would prefer to play to the end of their days."    

 Dyke, A Quarterly No. 6, Summer 1978, Separatist Symposium p. 32

 

The original page:

dyke a quarterly 1978 No. 6, p. 32. separatist symposium, liza CowanDYKE A Quarterly. No. 6, 1978 Separatist Symposium, Liza Cowan's response



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.

 

 

 


SIDE TRIP: 1970's Lesbian Separatism, Fashion, and the Women of the Left Bank. Margo Hobbs Thompson

 

1970s Lesbian Separatism, Fashion, and the Women of the Left Bank

by Margo Hobbs Thompson, Muhlenberg College

presented at a seminar at The Modernist Studies Association Conference, 2011

Images here supplied by Liza Cowan, not part of original presentation.

 

Caroline Evans and Minna Thornton propose that fashion spreads break the male gaze’s circuit to allow feminine gazes to linger pleasurably on pictures of women: “Fashion…generates images of women for women, a system of representations that one might suppose to be cut to the measure of female desire” (10; emphasis in original). Liza Cowan analyzed the evolution of lesbian fashion in a series of articles titled “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear” that ran from June 1973 to early 1976 in the lesbian feminist magazines she edited, Cowrie and Dyke. Cowan bucked the tendency among radical feminists at the time to disparage fashion as inevitably an instrument of female oppression, to explore rather its subversive, seductive potential. Fashion spreads, according to several feminist scholars, invite the feminine gaze and also establish “a paradigmatically lesbian viewing position” (Lewis and Rolley, 181). In this paper, I want to sketch my preliminary observations about the interlocking issues of the gaze, fashion, and the representation of sexuality.

Cowan returned repeatedly to the French, British, and American women of the Paris Left Bank before World War II as exemplifying a liberated style to which her readers could aspire. Romaine Brooks’s portrait of Una Troubridge, lover of Radclyffe Hall who authored the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, illustrated an article on lesbian designers that also cited bookstore owner Sylvia Beach and Natalie Barney, as well-known for her a literary salon as for her own writing. Barney had her portrait painted by Brooks in 1920; in it, her talisman is a horse statuette that alludes to her persona, “l’Amazone” in reference to her repuration as a horsewoman, her striking riding habit, and her identification with the mythical Amazons who like Barney rejected traditional gender roles (Crane 154-5). The centerfold of Cowrie 1, 4 (December 1973) incorporated a quotation from Gertrude Stein’s sensual poem “Lifting Belly”: “Cow come out” played on the title of the magazine. The accompanying illustration from a vintage advertisement depicts a vibrant woman with bobbed hair at the wheel of a car. She is dressed in a cap that rolls up at the brim, a coat with dramatic plaid shawl collar and deep cuffs, and snug gloves: she is the height of fashion and modernity circa the 1920s. The juxtaposition of a fashion plate with the Stein poem is apt: Stein took fashion seriously as a cultural expression, an opinion shared by New Yorker correspondent Janet Flaner (Benstock, 110). The following issue (Cowrie 1, 5, February 1974) featured Suzanne Valadon’s The Blue Room (1923) in a double-page spread. It is a painting of a heavy-set, dark-haired woman wearing a camisole and striped trouser bottoms, reclining on a day bed. Valadon’s model is endowed with a life of the mind as the artist represents her with a stack of books at her feet, an abstracted gaze, and a cigarette that suggests thoughtful absorption. There is a tension between mind and body, masculine and feminine in this painting, whose subject is at once odalisque and intellectual.

ValadonSuzanne_BlueRoomSuzanne Valadon.The Blue Room

These references posited for Cowrie’s readers a lesbian history, a self-sufficient women’s community, and a style by which lesbians could recognize each other. Cowan shared her interest in the Left Bank circle with other lesbian feminists, who in the abundance of lesbian periodicals that flourished in the 1970s profiled, pictured, cited, or reviewed Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Brooks, Barney, Troubridge and Hall, Renée Vivien, and Djuna Barnes. Talented and stylish women, living in a self-sustaining society of their own, their fascination for Cowan and her lesbian separatist peers is no surprise. I am interested here in drawing out the implications of this perceived connection: there are provocative similarities in their fashion choices, and these encoded a position with regard to sexuality.

What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,  Cowrie Vol 1 no 3Cowrie Magazine, 1973. What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear

In the Brooks portrait of Una, Lady Troubridge that illustrates Cowrie 1, 3, she wears a charcoal jacket, striped trousers, and a crisp white shirt tied with a black scarf at the neck. Troubridge is very slender and gamine with indistinguishable breasts and narrow hips, and the cut of her jacket accentuates her lean limbs and torso. She sports a short haircut that smoothly covers her ears, with sleek bangs. Her accessories are minimal: pearl earrings, a monocle, and two dachshunds. She fixes the viewer with a fierce gaze and unsmiling rouged lips. This portrait and the reclining woman in Valadon’s Blue Room reflect Cowan’s preference for women who reject feminine fashion. It is a selective view of the Left Bank: as Shari Benstock writes, not all the lesbians in Paris wore trousers and cropped their hair. Colette, for example, did not regularly dress that way, although her lover Missy occasionally did, and she imagined a community of women from which the masculine would be excluded (58-9). Cowan favored Troubridge’s look and Colette’s separatist vision of a women’s world.

In their 2003 analysis of the modern woman, art historians Whitney Chadwick and Tirza True Latimer observed that “the lesbian expatriate crystallized much of what it meant for a woman, in 1920s and 1930s Paris, to be modern: uprooted, mobile, urban, enterprising, culturally ambitious, professionally competent, sexually active, intellectually (and often financially) independent, à la mode—and, finally, visible” (14). Troubridge’s mannish style as represented in the portrait signified these qualities, and had a parallel in straight women’s fashion in the 1920s: la mode garçonne. La garçonne was the title of a popular novel about a woman who has sexual adventures, and demands sexual equality with men as her right. La mode garçonne represented liberation and modernity. (Chadwick and Latimer, 7) Coco Chanel was a proponent of the style, adapting clothing from the (male) British aristocracy and laborers alike (Benstock, 111). Thus a woman in masculine clothing read as modern, heterosexually forward, or lesbian depending upon the context and her audience. The inclusion of sexuality was crucial to Troubridge and her peers: it differentiated them from their 19th century predecessors involved in romantic friendships. Natalie Barney was one who made no secret of her serial romantic entanglements (Crane, 153, 155-6), and sexuality was a crucial aspect of the new generation’s sense of themselves as modern.

What the well dressed dyke will wear, Cowrie magazine vol one no 2, p 11, moregan and laura  . Photo by Barbara Jabaily, text by liza cowan, clothing by Morgan ZaleWhat The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear Cowrie Magazine.

The most chic straight women adopted male clothing again in the 1970s. Yves St.-Laurent designed a tuxedo for women, called “le smoking,” in 1966. Bianca Jagger wore it in 1972, and Helmut Newton memorably photographed it in 1975 for Vogue. Newton’s image of a woman wearing St.-Laurent’s suit, smoking, in an empty street at night attended by another woman nude but for a pillbox hat with veil, heightens the sexual charge already there in “le smoking.” Other fashionable women of the day, like actress Charlotte Rampling, were photographed wearing clothes purchased from men’s departments or boutiques. Surprisingly for someone so current with popular culture and fashion, Cowan did not make reference to these iterations of contemporary men’s fashion-derived styles. Instead, she referenced historical models who had donned the look of la garçonne and in the process claimed for themselves a sexual identity that was as modern as it was untraditional. Cowrie’s editor promised that by aligning herself with a hidden history of glamorous, sexy, independent lesbians, the reader could discover and represent her authentic self.

The authentic lesbian identity that the historical fashions Cowrie featured did not exclude sexual desire. Contemporary lesbian identities did, when they were aligned with feminist politics. Since 1971, the woman-identified woman had been the model lesbian whose sexuality was downplayed to serve a political purpose: it made straight women activists more comfortable allying themselves with lesbians. Poet Adrienne Rich reformulated woman-identification as a lesbian continuum in 1980, on which any woman could locate herself even if she never acted on same-sex desire. To Cowan’s generation of lesbian feminists, butch-femme role-playing was suspect: butches were taken to be “male-identified” while femmes were gullible narcissists consumed by “the beauty ideal” (Scott, 293). Furthermore, the lesbian butch was a working class identity: it was not only gender politics but class estrangement that made the butch unappealing to a privileged cohort of lesbian feminists (Case, 286). Yet Teresa de Lauretis writes in her theorization of lesbian desire and sexuality that it is difference above all that allows desire to move between subject and object; too much alikeness breeds an absence of desire and, implicitly, lesbian bed death. She observes that the most common sign of lesbian desire “is some form of what is coded as masculinity” because masculinity almost inevitably suggests desire for the female body (de Lauretis, 243). The fetish of masculinity is “the lure of the mannish lesbian,” de Lauretis writes: it resists the loss of the female body, and the prohibition of access to it (243).

By reviving the look of the Left Bank lesbians, Cowan brought sex back to her readers: The man-tailored suits worn by some lesbians in pre-war Paris presented a style that foregrounded the difference so crucial to the expression of desire even as it negotiated butchness. Associating her sense of style with theirs, Cowan promoted her preference for clothes that were both comfortable and expressed creative individuality; she described a suit she had made by a lesbian designer that was made of velour and had a flying horse appliquéd across the back. While eye-catching, it was not designed to attract male attention like the high heels and skirts that Cowan believed literally fogged a woman’s mind and made her uncoordinated (Cowan 1975-6, 21). Garments such as this one were “liberating, physically and psychologically, and…beautiful” (Cowan 1974, 22). The lesbian style, or “dyke fashion” as Cowan preferred, was a sign by which lesbians recognized each other (Cowan 1974, 22).

Style is the preeminent subcultural marker. Referring to fashion, style aligns its wearers with a particular group, distances them from a mainstream trend, and conveys shared values. (Freitas et al., 85) With her articles in Cowrie and Dyke describing the well-dressed dyke, Cowan defined a style that suited her ideal audience. With reference to the Left Bank lesbians, she attributed a history and continuity to that subculture. And with guidelines and exhortations to her readers, whom she imagined to be much like herself, Cowan invited them to participate in a lesbian separatist subculture.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Benstock, Shari. Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Case, Sue-Ellen. “Toward a Butch-Femme Aesthetic.” In Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre. Ed. Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

Chadwick, Whitney and Tirza True Latimer, eds. The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Cowan, Liza. “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear.” Cowrie 1, 5 (February 1974): 21-2.

_______. “What the Well-Dressed Dyke Will Wear.” Dyke 1, 1 (Winter 1975-1976): 20-5.

Crane, Sheila. “Mapping the Amazon’s Salon.” In Gender and Landscape: Renegotiatinig Morality and Space. Eds. L. Dowler, J. Carubia, and B. Szczygiel. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

Evans, Caroline and Minna Thornton. Women and Fashion: A New Look. London and New York: Quartet Books, 1989.

Freitas, Anthony, Susan Kaiser, and Tania Hammidi. “Communities, Commodities, Cultural Space, and Style.” Journal of Homosexuality 31, 1 /2 (1996): 83-107.

Lauretis, Teresa de. The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Lewis, Reina and Katrina Rolley. “Ad(dressing) the Dyke: Lesbian Looks and Lesbians Looking.” In Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures. Eds. Peter Horne and Reina Lewis. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Scott, Linda M. Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

 


SIDE TRIP: MAGGIE JOCHILD "Chasing the Second Wave in San Fran" from Aunt Lute

Aunt lute, A Multicultural Women's press, is publishing stories and memoirs of second wave feminists. Fascinating. Do check them out. Here's a snip from activist poet Maggie Jochild....read it then click through to the full piece at aunt lute

Maggie Jochild – “Chasing the Second Wave in San Fran”

As 1978 began, I was living in a lesbian-separatist land collective outside Durango, Colorado. I was 22 and voraciously reading the output of wimmin’s presses. When the two collective members I was closest to announced they wanted to leave, head for a city, I threw in my lot with them: I wanted to be where the action was. And where uncoupled dykes could be found.

We settled on the Bay Area for two main reasons: We had read there was a group that was arranging for the fostering of lesbian teenaged runaways by older dykes, and we wanted to offer our reconfigured household for that effort. We also read somewhere (Lesbian Connection, maybe) that a group of wimmin, presumably dykes, were kidnapping and castrating repeat rapists, then dumping them on the steps of S.F. General. We hoped to plug into that activity. We each had deeply personal reasons for doing so.


Maggie Jochild_ _Chasing the Second Wave in San Francisco_ - Aunt Lute
Screen shot of aunt lute, Chasing The Second Wave In San Fran by Maggie Jochild.


 


DYKE A Quarterly, no. 3. 1976. pp 6-12 Letters

Letters To The Editor

Dyke No 3 p 5

Dyke a quarterly no 3 1976 pp 6,7 letters to editor

Dyke a quarterly no 3 pp 8,9 letters to editor

Dyke a quarterly no 3 pp 10,11 letters to editor, illustration by Tee Corinne

 Illustration by Tee Corinne

Dyke No 3 p 12

 

DYKE NO 2: Letter Salad

Dear Liza and Penny,

I hope you print this so other lesbians who feel the way I do will know someone agrees with them.

I am really angry about a lot of what is in your magazine. One thing is that it costs $3.00!!! I can't believe you really care about most lesbians reading it if you charge so much.

Another thing I can't believe is that the Red Dykes from Detroit wrote how fucking classist you are and how oppressive and you didn't even respond!!! How can you not respond to a letter like that?? Its obvious that you don't have to worry about jobs or money, and that you don't care about Lesbians who do! And you won't even admit that money separates us us from each other as lesbians and that we have to learn to deal with it. I wouldn't expect you to write articles about jobs, etc, if its not in your experience, but the least you could do is get articles from other lesbians about these things, so that those of us who have to deal with daily survival would have something to relate to in your magazine.

The other main thing that made me real angry was the shitty review you, Liza, did of Linda Shear's tape. I experience Linda's music as very powerful and beautiful, both musically and what she's saying. I can't believe how much you put her down in that review - saying something good about everything else except the music itself. Her songs are not at all difficult for me to listen to, and I think it's really destructive to all Lesbians to say the things you say. I am not saying that you should pretend to like something if you don't - but the way you say what you think is really insulting and putting her down. It is also infuriating to me that you don't at least say that linda is a separatist and her songs are about that vision, instead of saying her ideas are interesting! That means nothing!! If you cared about Linda or the rest of us Lesbians, you could have said what you had to say in much more positive and accurate ways. (Not that I can understand at all why you don't like her music in the 1st place.)

It's very clear to me from your magazine that you are upper class snobs who don't care what effect you have on other lesbians and are not really serious about putting out a good lesbian magazine.

Melanie

North Hampton

Dyke a quarterly no 3 1976 experpt from letter

Dear Melanie,

Yes, $3 is a lot of money, but to produce a 86 page magazine that has been typeset and printed is expensive. The printers and typesetters are Lesbians. The contributors are all paid, except us, plus for every magazine that is sold by a bookstore, the store gets a full 40%, which in this case is $1.20. Since we're a quarterly, we wanted to make each issue quite long and of high quality so that it would last a long time. The cost of a subscription is $8.00, which is $2.00 per issue, which is quite reasonable, we thought. For every copy we sell individually through the male (mail) system, we must pat 34¢, now raised to 50¢. About one quarter of the time, the Post Office "loses" the magazine and we have to send another.

We're not breaking even let along making any profit from the magazine. However, since many women felt the price was too high we are lowering it and reducing the number of pages per issue. Please see Criticism, Feedback and Changes for more on price.

As for not answering Red Dykes' letter as well as some of the other letters, we agree that it was the wrong decision to make. We are now answering letters of criticism in print. Please see Criticism, Feedback and Changes for more explanation of this.

Where did you get the idea that we don't "admit that money separates us from each other as lesbians and that we have to learn to deal with it." We do "admit" it, we never said otherwise and we certainly never meant to imply otherwise. I'm sorry if you did. The CLIT papers 1 and 2 did contain a certain amount of discussion about class and money and we did print them.

We have, including this issue, only produces three issues so far, so of course we have not covered every topic of interest to every Lesbian. Obviously we can write only our of our experience. We can and actively do seek articles written by other Dykes. And now that we have put out a few issues, we have been getting a lot more in the mail. We started DYKE with the idea that the general themem would be Lesbian experience, and we hoped and still hope that logs of Lesbians would write about anything they were interested in from a Lesbian perspective. We are now switching to theme issues in an effort to make it easier for Lesbians of all different classes, races, ages etc. to write. Again pleas read Criticism, Feeedback and Changes for more details.

Almost all the women who have written for DYKE have to work for a living. Does having a job really preclude you from relating to the articles that have been printed? And if so, which ones? You say in your letter that we are "upper class snobs who don't care what effect you have on other Lesbians, and are not really serious about putting out a good lesbian magazine." What a lot of assumptions in one sentence. If we didn't care what effect we had on other Lesbians, we wouldn't bother putting out a magazine, a medium that can't survive without readers and participants. And you can you possibly think we are not serious about making a constructive magazine? Whatever you think of the content, it should be obvious that many women worked very  hard and very seriously to put out these magazines.

Does the fact that Liza and I don't have straight jobs disqualify us from participating in Lesbian culture. Should we not use our money to put out a Lesbian magazine? Should we not write from our own experiences? Does the fact that we don't have to earn our living off the magazine mean that we are less serious about putting out a good magazine. How many feminist and Lesbian magazines or newspapers suppor the women who are producing them? I am not asking rhetorical questions. I really don't understand what you mena. You seem to be saying that because we have some money that everything generated from that is of no value and has evil intent. Do you really believe this?

As for Liza's review of Linda Shear. Please see her answer to Helen's letter. I think we all have a lot to learn about giving and receiving criticism that is both hones and supportive. I also feel that the tone of a piece is as important as the content. We are trying to be conscious and responsible about this. Destructive tones are a problem of many Lesbians and, as you say, destructive for all Lesbians. As an example of destructive tones of criticism, reread the Red Dykes letter which you mention.

I have tried to answer what I perceive you are saying in you letter. Criticism is hard because we all operate on so many different levels. Making negative assumptions about each other isn't going to help. We all have to overcome the conditioning that teaches us to mistrust each other.

Penny 

 

Dear DYKE magazine,

Reading your ads and things I realize that you want nothing to do with the man. I can understand that, the man tells us where and when we can work, eat, sleep and just about everything else. We can oppose the man and not buy his goods, take his jobs, live in his houses. On the outside like that you know its hard unless one has a source of money the man doesn't try to take away. You know the man (or 'lord' these words are interchangeable) gives and the man/lord takes away. Unfortunately the man owns the home I rent for me and my dog, and man owns the company that sends me my chick for the forty hours a week I spend in the office/factory/store/field etc. Anyway I can't seem to get away from the man. But - and this brings me to my point- you want money for your mag. But the only money I got is from the man so I don't know what to do for you. I have a solution: here are some dyke dollars.

So please send me your magazine.

In sisterhood

Jacqueline

Washington,DC

 

Dear Jacqueline,

I know that we did not intentionally try ot imply that any Lesbian could possibly exist without relating to men in any way. Our money comes from men most of the time. The source is certainly men. Anyway, we are sending you one issue of DYKE in exchange for you beautiful Dyke dollar. And remember - we pay for all work that we print, that includes graphics, so keep it coming.

P & L

Dyke a quarterly no 3, 1976, p. 6DYKE A Quarterly, No. 3, 1976. p. 6. Dyke Dollar by Jacqueline. "This is good tender for all Dyke debts public and otherwise."

 

Hi,

I was absolutely fascinated by the copy of DYKE you recently sent me. When  can scrape up the price I'll be sending in my subscription. I wish I were fortunate enough to live in a more advanced place so that I might benefit from the experiences and associations of others like myself. As it is, I'm rather isolated - my only contact being my whole light and life and love. Who also happens to be married. I'm expanding my mind and ever growing (I hope.) She's working on it too, after a fashion I guess. Not fast enough for me, but maybe we'll get there one day. I read everything I can lay my hands on anymore regarding feminism and Lesbianism and etc- an pass it on to her partially digested- Hopefully that won't be necessary soon, but since she doesn't care to read a great deal, I guess it's up to me to garner new ideas.

Being alone and isolated, and weak, I remain under the control of the present system, getting by as much as possible and where necessary and keeping to ourselves the rest of the time. The economic hold over me (at least) is powerful. I'm not strong enough to fight it yet. Magazines such as yours inspire and encourage me, and I need all the help I can get. Please don't give up!! You are reaching people who need you!! I'm not a person who writes to magazines as a rule, but I guess I'm groping for someone who might understand what life is like for me. Sorry for crying on your shoulders.

I realize the magazine and your other business must use up your time quite effectively. I hope you can clear up two things for me, though. If you aren't able to, I understand

First, I'm not sure what you mean by your usage of the term "DYKE." In trying to scope out the philosophy behind your magazine I can't imagine you mean the 'macho butch' type image. Does it apply to all lesbians, or Lesbian separatists, or who?

And second, I'm beginning to comprehend the necessity of separatism. As each day goes by and I run up against the frustrations and heartbreaks I feel more and more ready to separate myself. But aren't men a requirement at least in the propagation of the race? We can't do that by ourselves yet, can we? Maybe it's a sophomoric question, but unless I ask, where do I get an answer?

This is too long already. In eager anticipation of a repy, at at least issue #2. I'll sight off.

Keep your presses rolling! I wish you love.

an emerging infant sister,

Susan,

Wyoming

Dyke a quarterly letter dont give up
Dear Susan,

Your situation sounds unfortunate. I hope that you will be able to find more satisfactory conditions for yourself. As to your questions: We use the word "DYKE" to mean strong Lesbian. This does not mean 'macho' or 'butch' although straight people might think that we are macho or butch. "Dyke" is a word that has been used to insult and intimidate Lesbians for a long time. Its origins are obscure, but contemporary Lesbians are reclaiming the word to use with pride about oourselves. We chose it as a title for our magazine because it is simple, direct, powerful and easy to remember. Our full title is DYKE, A Quarterly because a spiritualist told Penny that we should use the letter "Q" to help us financially.

About propagation: Some women say that Parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, is possible and, in fact, does happen sometimes. You can read more about that in The Lesbian Reader published by Amazon Press. Even without parthenogenesis though, it is not necessary to build a lifestyle around a few minutes of impregnation. As dairy farmers know, it is not necessary to have a bull for every cow. It is not even necessary to have the bull at all, anymore. Just call the artificial inseminator. Also, many Lesbians choose not to have children at all, while others come out after they have children.

I hope this answers your questions satisfactorily. I am glad that you like DYKE so much. It is very gratifying to hear that.

Liza

MOTHER LETTERS

Dear Penny,

Whew! I just read your "Letters From My Mother." They are word for word what my female parent's (cant stomach the word 'mother' suddenly) reaction would be if I came out to her. I've tried to fantacize her reaction many times - your article saved me much fantasy time - not to mention months and years of shit if I actually did come out to her. I"m surprized to find another parent who plays exactly the same games mine does - Reading your article made mine's games crystal clear - more clearly than I've been able to on my own....

(exerpt only)

Thanks, 

Polly & Georgine

New York

 


ELANA DYKEWOMON: LETTER TO DYKE A Quarterly archive.

Elana Dykewomon letter to DYKE  A Quarterly Online Archive 2
I asked Elana Dykewomon if she would write a few words about DYKE A Quarterly, and a bit about her life today. Elana was an occaisional contributor to DYKE A Quarterly and a huge presence in the cultural landscape of 1970's Lesbian Feminism in the USA.

Elana's novel Riverfinger Woman was required reading as soon as it was published in 1974. At the time she was using her given name, Nachman, which she later updated to Dykewomon.

Elana writes:

 

December 29, 2010

Historically, it was only five minutes ago, but a lot has happened in those five minutes. So much of our energy did, in fact, change the world -- yet there's so much left to do. That's not news. Every generation of idealists needs to make peace with their youthful zeal and continuing impulse to hope, and posting the actual artifacts of the time helps.

I'm still... working. Though many things have slowed me, the worst was recovering from the infighting of the late 70s (a period I refer to as the "great dyke wars"). But I am long since recovered -- after all, I edited Sinister Wisdom for seven years, worked on senior/disability access for the SF Dyke March until last year, am on several boards, give writing workshops for lesbians locally and keep participating ("participating," I've decided, is the key to staying/feeling alive).

Dyke magazine was an important part of the dialogue of the 70s -- and looking at it again I remember how engaged we were with each other in print, how our publications were, in fact, "underground" -- invisible and incoherent outside of lesbian communities. We felt each other deeply and took our positions seriously. In the first issue of Sinister Wisdom for which I was editor, we published a poem of Adrienne Rich's that had words to the effect of: no matter how I disagreed with you, I always read you.



What I often observe in women writing about the 70s now is a casual dismissal of what we did (we were all stoned, white, middle class...too wrapped up in ourselves to have an impact). That this parrots the "above ground" portrayals of lesbian radicalisms and feminisms seems to go unnoticed. We were serious, we produced theory, action and culture that changed a lot of lives, that changed the perceptions of possibility for women. And we never took each other out in the woods and shot each other (which male radical movements often do...). Even when we had guns -- and some of us did (now most of us espouse a radical pacifism).

I have an essay about lesbian utopian visions in the current issue of Trivia online: http://www.triviavoices.net/current/dykewomon.php  ("Walking on the Moon").
And I have a website that gets updated a couple times a year: www.dykewomon.org

I have a lot of hope that lesbian life, energy, vision goes on -- it's for every generation to write their own chapter. And I'll keep reading...

Thanks!

Wishing you peace and inspiration,

Elana

 

Elana Dykewomon Risk

 Some of Elana Dykewomon's books. Click smaller image to enlarge.

More books

 


DYKE A Quarterly, No 1, 1975, Introduction


DYKE A QUARTERLY ISSUE 1. P.3 INTRODUCTION DYKE A Quarterly, Issue 1, p. 4, introduction

 

DYKE A QUARTERLY #1 -p  5 introuduction DYKE A Quarterly, Issue 1, p. 5, Introduction

  

Text (edited) below in grey. For full text see above. You can click to enlarge it.
 
DYKE A Quarterly, Issue 1, p 4 + 5 intro spread WHO WE ARE

We are Penny House and Liza Cowan. We are Dyke separatists, Born and bred. We are 26 years old and Jewish. We have known each other since we were four years old. We went to school and camp together, hung out together. Lived together, and fought intensely twice. Once over a boy when we were fourteen and didn’t know what was happening, and once just a few months before  Penny came out...(snip)

  During the past five years Liza produced feminist then Lesbian radio shows at WBAI-FM including a show called "Dyke Salad”  a live five hour weekly series. Later she co-edited COWRIE, a Lesbian-feminist magazine. Penny was at this time going to school, producing Lesbian concerts with a woman’s music group, and working with Alix Dobkin. A year ago, Liza and Alix, who are lovers, moved to a farm with Alix’s daughter, Adrian... (snip)

We both love to read and have always loved to read magazines. We talk about both the form and content extensively. Between us we read: Lesbian Connection, Lavender Woman, Off Our Backs, The Lesbian Tide, Big Mama Rag, Majority Report, Sister, Country Woman, The Circle (from New Zeland) Long Time Coming (Montreal) Moonstorm, The Monthly Extract, New York Radical Feminist Newsletter, Womanspirit, and Albatross.

 From the patriarchal press we read: Organic Gardening, Publisher’s Weekly, Vogue, People, New York, The New Yorker, Interview, Rona Barrett Hollywood, Rona Barrett Gossip, Newsweek, Mainstream, The New York Times, The New York Post, National Geographic, Horse and Horseman, Yankee Pedlar, The New York Horse, House & Garden and TV Guide. It seemed natural for us to create a Lesbian magazine.

WHAT IS DYKE 

 We want to publish a magazine that fulfills our need for analysis, communication and news of Lesbian culture. We believe that “Lesbian culture” presumes a separatist analysis. If Lesbian culture is intermixed with straight culture, it is no longer Lesbian; it is heterosexual or heterosocial because energy and time are going to men. Lesbian community – Lesbian culture- means Lesbian only DYKE is a magazine for Dykes only! We will speak freely among ourselves. We are not interested in telling the straight world what we are doing. In fact, he hope they never even see the magazine. It is none of their business. If they chance to see it, we hope they will think it is mindless gobbledegook. We are already thinking in ways that are incomprehensible to them.

 INSIDE DYKE

Dyke will carry feature articles on theoretical politics, live events, place, current and past history, media, fashions, music, home economics, literature, animal lore, health, applied sciences and gossip. DYKE will be covering Lesbian culture and straight culture. Straight culture is present in our lives and in our minds. It is violent and perverted. We recognize and analyze it and in this way prevent it from retarding our growth. We believe separatism demands constant vigilance and analysis. DYKE magazine will reflect this." (snip)

 

To see more about Lesbian and Feminist periodicals of the time check here and here. and here

 

For an insightful analysis of 1970's Lesbian Feminism, see Urvashi Vaid's most excellent essay, Ending Patriarchy: Political Legacies of the 1970's, published in Trivia, Issue 11, October 2010. Vaid presented this talk on October 9th, 2010 at the CUNY Conference in New York City, In Amerika They Call Us Dykes, Lesbian Lives In the 1970's