Women Talking To Women:
Second-wave Feminist Underground Press in the Pacific Northwest
On March 18, 1970 one hundred women came together to seize the New York City offices of the Ladies Home Journal, a male-owned and controlled "women's magazine". With 6.9 million paying customers and a readership estimated at four times that, the journal was a powerful cultural institution whose content reinforced traditional femininity and did not reflect the transformation of women's role in society that was taking place at this time. It didn't even represent the editorial views of the majority of its female staff. After an eleven hour sit-in covered by every major news agency in the country, the magazine agreed to pay the protesters $10,000 to write and edit their own "liberated" supplement. (Brownmiller 82-91) Full of information on how to get involved in the Women's Liberation Movement, and featuring articles such as "Your Daughter's Education", "How Appearance Divides Women", "Should This Marriage Be Saved" and "Housewives Bill of Rights," this magazine, probably for the first time, exposed millions of American women to feminist ideas as articulated by feminists themselves. (Hole 256)
by a group called Media Women that was largely comprised of female journalists
who wrote for mainstream media outlets and had first hand knowledge of unequal
gender parity in the field of journalism, this action involved participants
many distinct women's groups, such as New York National Organization of Women (NOW), New York Radical Feminists, Older Women's Liberation (OWL) and Redstocking. Several historians have noted they had major political disagreements with each other previous to, during and after the sit-in took place. (Brownmiller 90-4; Echols 195-7; Echols 195-7) The thing that united them was the desire for women's control of the media.
unmediated communication between women on their own terms, outside of male control,
was a common goal shared by every faction of Second-wave feminism. A history
of this activity is largely a history of the movement itself.
in 1963, Betty Friedan's classic book, the Feminine Mystique, analyzed women
and the mass media from Friedan's experience as a female writer whose work was
censored by male editors when she deviated from the formulaic article reinforcing
women's traditional role. She explained that:
By the time I started writing for women's magazines, in the fifties, it was simply taken for granted by editors, and accepted as an immutable fact of life by writers, that women were not interested in politics, life outside the United States, national issues, art, science, ideas, adventure, education or even their own communities, except where they could be sold through their emotions as women and mothers. (60)
book recognized femininity as a social construct that changes with history and
identified popular culture in general and the media in particular as a site
of struggle for
feminists. It also marked the beginning of the Second-wave feminism or Women's Movement, as it was called in the 1970's.
this movement grew, the struggle for women's control of the media intensified.
A 1967 manifesto from Chicago stated:
We condemn the mass media for perpetuating the stereotype of women as always in auxiliary position to men, being no more than mothers, wives or sexual objects. We specifically condemn the advertising concerns for creating the myths about women solely to profit from them as consumers. Furthermore, we call for a boycott of the thriving women's magazines. (Chicago Women 229)
In a 1970 TV Guide article about the treatment of women in the media, radical feminist Shulamith Firestone is quoted as saying:
News departments don't consider women news. News equals the male government, the male war machine, the male world. There are fantastic women, women of great achievement in this country of whom people have never heard because the networks (and papers) don't cover them. (qtd. in Efron: 8)
An influential paper written by Beverly Jones and Judith Butler in 1968 took it a step further by declaring a political imperative for women to write and read each other's work:
Women must share their experiences with each other until they understand, identify and explicitly state the many psychological techniques of domination in and out of the home. These should be published and distributed widely until they are common knowledge. (230)
Taken to its logical conclusion this statement challenged women to make their own media.
the late 60's, groups of women involved in the Women's Liberation Movement started
to write, publish and distribute their own periodicals, building networks of
communication that made it possible to talk to each other directly, bypassing
sexist media altogether. In 1971 there were over 100 women's magazines being
published. (Hole 271) By the mid-70's there were over 500 women's periodicals.
1978 there were enough women publishing their own writing to warrant a 300-page
book about the subject. After reading hundreds of magazines, the authors noted,
"women's newspapers are as diverse as the women's movement itself"
and asserted that:
As a body of writing, all of the women's newspapers taken together represent the most accurate reflection of the women's movement available. (Chesman 84)
of the few studies focused on women's media noted the particular relevance this
has to women's history, asserting that the information and viewpoints documented
in these magazines are crucial to a comprehensive understanding of the Women's
Movement. (Allen 10)
the introduction to their fascinating anthology of literature from the Women's
Liberation movement, Dear Sisters, Rosalyn Boxandall and Linda Gordon come to
the same conclusion, pointing out that the general public is largely ignorant
of this history because it has been so poorly documented. In their own words,
"you can count on your fingers the scholarly studies and well-researched
journalism about the American Women's movement". (2)
Second-wave feminism through the lens of women's periodicals is virtually the
only way to get a sense of what happened in some cases. This is especially true
for aspects of the movement that didn't make it into the history books because
they happened outside recognized centers of activity like New York or Chicago.
have noted that the Pacific Northwest in general and Seattle in particular was
active in the early days of the Women's Liberation movement. (Hole 119-20; Winslow
225-48) However, contemporary scholars have not extensively documented this.
In order to get a sense of what happened we must closely examine Northwest women's
periodicals as historical documents. What was the scope and function of each
publication? What do they reveal about the feminist movement at this specific
time and place? What was important to these women about the work they were doing?
Looking at Lilith (1968-69), Ain't I A Woman (1970-71), Pandora (1971-79) and
the Matrix (1979-81) illuminates these questions and gives insight into local
Founded in 1968 by the Women's Majority Union, Lilith (Seattle), along with Notes From the First Year (NYC) and No More Fun and Games (Boston), is considered one of the first radical feminist publications from the Second-wave. (Hole 278) In 1970 "the Lilith Manifesto" was included in Robin Morgan's influential anthology of women's liberation literature, Sisterhood is Powerful. The anarchist-feminist vision of the Women's Majority Union is clearly articulated in the manifesto's concluding statement:
This revolution has got to go for broke: power to no one, and to everyone: to each the power over his/her own life, and no others. (278)
Although not representative of the entire Women's Movement in Seattle at this time, this was probably the most widely read example of feminism from the Northwest by women in other parts of the world.
came out "whenever there was sufficient material available" and issued
a warning to readers that "the name of the organization is subject to change",
claiming they were also known as "the Order of the Lead Balloon".
This playful, free-spirited attitude is exhibited throughout the magazine.
piece on Valerie Solanis' "S.C.U.M. Manifesto" (Society for Cutting
Up Men) discusses the dismissal of her ideas in terms of how threatening they
are to the prevailing social order. The writer sees her extremism as echoing
the awakening consciousness of women everywhere. A comment underneath a paragraph
naming Solanis as a hero for her attempted assassination of Andy Warhol reads:
To continue to be one thing in front of men and another to ourselves makes us collaborators in our own oppression. We want to see more of the truth about women from women, no matter what it looks like. (Kritchman 4)
One of the most interesting Lilith articles is a paper on birth control that seems to have been written by and for black women in Rochester, New York. Arguing against the view of some black liberationists who saw the pill as a tool of genocide they claim that all women have the right to choose for themselves whether or not to use birth control. The inclusion of this article reflects a willingness to discuss sexism in terms of racial and class specificity.
I A Woman and Pandora
Ain't I A Woman was the monthly newsletter for a group called Women's liberation-Seattle (WL-S) who had their roots in the University of Washington (UW) student movement. In a memoir focusing on the early days of the movement in Seattle, WL-S member Barbara Winslow comments that the radical student left at UW was unusually supportive of feminism. (236) The audience of Ain't I A Woman seems to have been women in the left or women who are already involved in activism, maybe even women who are already members of WL-S. The political analysis is from a socialist perspective with a particular emphasis on Marx. Early issues of the magazine reveal a focus on the family as an agent of oppression.
was a bi-weekly newspaper that strived to promote solidarity and facilitate
communication between Seattle area women's groups. In 1972 Pandora had 300 subscribers
and 200 street copies. (Carden 65) In their own words: "Pandora is a woman's
paper about the efforts women are making to gain full first class status for
women". They go on to describe themselves as "housewives, clerks,
administrators, soldiers, scientists, and hippies" and reveal they are
mostly UW students. Accurate reporting and information sharing on issues surrounding
women's struggle for equality were stated goals.
Pandora and Ain't I a Woman are great resources for examining the struggle to
legalize abortion in Washington State. They show that guaranteed access to free
abortion for all women was an issue of primary importance from the beginning.
Pandora included regular articles on hearings and protests, finally reporting
that abortion became legal in Washington State in December 1970. (Bondurst 3)
In Ain't I a Woman, women are told where to pick up informational pamphlets
to distribute in the community. In Pandora there is a report about members of
WL-S getting thrown out of Southcenter and Northgate Mall for flyer-ing parked
cars with pro-abortion literature and coverage of their subsequent work with
the ACLU on free speech issues.
and Ain't I A Woman also both cover the relationship between the radical left
and women's liberation in Seattle extensively.
The Matrix was Olympia's locally produced, collectively organized, monthly lesbian-feminist magazine from 1979-81. Although it was centered on the needs and interests of a particular group with a specific identity, this did not limit its editorial view. Almost all of the women in the collective identified as white, and only one was Jewish, yet several issues were devoted to extensive coverage of racism and there were many articles addressing anti-Semitism. One of the explicit purposes of the collective was to "expose and analyze conditions of oppression in our society. When asked what is important to her about the work they were doing one member of the collective said:
Matrix reflects a feminist analysis that goes beyond our particular oppression and encompasses issues of concern to everyone who believes society must change. (Nancy 32)
The Matrix included national and international news as well as local, with a particular focus on imperialism and people's resistance movements in Iran, Cuba, Central America, Puerto Rico and Ireland. It also featured reports back from feminist conferences up and down the west coast as well as travelogues from Europe and articles about direct actions in other cities.
Matrix was not only a source of news and information; it was also a place where
theory and practice came together. When there was an increase in sexual assault
and gang rape, the Matrix was used as a resource for organizing a community
response. The magazine also featured reports back from monthly Lesbian-community
meetings. These seem to have been organized loosely around the Consciousness-Raising
(CR) model but were not limited to personal reflection, often focusing on developing
theory and in-depth analysis with a practical application. The reports encouraged
ongoing dialogue on issues brought up in the meeting and discussion often continued
in subsequent issues, transforming the magazine itself. For example, after a
community meeting on racism the Matrix produced a theme issue on racism that
was discussed in the next few issues with the result being more consistent coverage
of racism from then on. Later issues of the magazine included regular reports
on Native-American issues and prison rights and reform, possibly as a result.
the exception of Lilith, which didn't come out on a regular schedule, all of
the publications mentioned served the practical function of networking between
the many different groups organizing around women's issues at this time. A quick
glance at Pandora or the Matrix reveals a decentralized, active feminist community
working on several different fronts. Meeting times are listed for a diverse
selection of organizations, including, but not limited to: the Black Panther
Party, the Anna Louise Strong Brigade, Radical Women Seattle, Thurston County
Women's Jail Support, Olympia Feminist Artist group, Northwest Indian Women's
Caucus, the Gay Liberation Front, NOW, Feminists In Self-Defense Training (FIST)
and an all female Marxist study group. Local women's centers are publicized,
some of which were based in feminist communal houses, indicating a developing
feminist counter-culture or lifestyle. Many UW group organized around specific
issues and populations within the university. Several women's liberation groups
are mentioned, including a handful from Seattle area community colleges and
high schools. Many groups were based on specific issues such as abortion reform,
childcare, women's health, rape relief, and to a lesser extent, race and class.
CR groups are also listed.
addition to coordinating local groups and organizing strategies for change,
the periodicals created network of communications between feminists in the Northwest
and the rest of the world that battled regional isolation and encouraged international
analysis. Each magazine included listings of feminist books and magazines with
contact information, reports from traveling women and contributions from feminists
in other parts of the world. Inclusion of the address of Know, Inc., a women's
news-wire, in an issue of Pandora indicates early involvement with national
women's press services. A 1971 report on Pandora's readership reflected international
connections, claiming it was "sent as far west as Hong Kong, as far north
as Alaska, as far south as California and as far east as Spain." (Readers
Poll 2) The first issue of Lilith includes articles from New York, revealing
connections between the seminal east coast scene and northwest radical feminism
from the beginning. The Matrix featured reports back from feminist conferences
up and down the west coast as well as travelogues from Europe and articles about
direct actions in other cities. A comment by a member of the Matrix collective
articulates the inspiration and solidarity between women that was made possible
through these communication networks:
Getting reactions/criticisms from women in other parts of the country as well as receiving other publications has helped me feel the sense of linking arms with other women as we move forward towards our vision of the future. (Nancy 32)
The graphic style of all of the magazines was somewhat messy, creating an aesthetic that made it impossible to view them without thinking about the process that went into creating them. Whether or not this was intentional, it was an element of most women's periodicals from this time period. Contrasted with the mainstream "women's magazines", the underground papers demystified the professional glossy aesthetic and made production visible. This allowed the viewer to imagine herself making a magazine, creating an impetus for participation. When a publication did have a more professional look, such as the Matrix, women who wanted to learn graphic design and typesetting were invited to stop by the office for skill share workshops.
periodical openly solicited contributions, encouraged involvement and advocated
criticism and dialogue. In an early issue of Pandora the editors acknowledge
an inadvertent uniformity of opinion and requested articles and feedback from
feminists with dissenting views and different experiences. Reader's polls were
common. One of the explicit purposes of the Matrix was "to encourage women
to write and develop their writing skills" as well as "to encourage
development of feminist theory. (Statement of Purpose)
A close examination of northwest underground feminist press from the Second-wave reveals they had much broader agendas and functions than mainstream "women's magazines". They were used as a place to make announcements, dialogue, strategize, construct theory and share information. Most included essays, poetry, news, reviews, interviews and letters. Some included art, arts/entertainment news, photographs and fiction. All were interactive, encouraging women to participate. The underground women's magazines did not limit women to their prescribed roles as passive feminine objects. They provided a place where they could carve out a space for themselves in accordance to what was important to them from their specific place in the world and talk directly to each other without male mediation.
late 1970, Pandora offered this feminist critique of a post sit-in issue of
the Ladies Home Journal:
The last issue of Ladies Home Journal had a feature on the 75 most important women in the United States. Surprisingly enough, they were not the wives of the 75 most important men, but rather persons in their own right. Hannah Arendt, Mary Wells, Margaret Mead and Shirley Chisholm were among them. There were many who have accomplished things but are not well known. Of course, the article was surrounded by features on diets, beauty, cooking, and clothes, but then change comes slowly…perhaps the takeover by militant women's liberationists last spring did some good. (Pandora's Web 5)
Change does come slowly, but Second-wave American feminists were not waiting for change to happen to them. By becoming producers of their own independent media instead of remaining passive consumers of sexism, they were creating the world they wanted to live in, as defined by themselves, on their own terms. The Women's Movement cannot be understood without delving into the rich history inscribed in these documents and should not be divorced from the context of their creation, meaning or function.
How much has the situation of women's media changed since 1970? The above quote could easily describe a mainstream "women's magazine" today. But in the early 21st century, the need for an alternative is not solely about gender. As media consolidation increases, the need for independent media grows.
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