Feb. 25, 1977 Volume 8 No. 7
A look at
[cover by Cathy Gubin]
that I have occasionally brought up when the talk at a
But of course, that's not all
the story, and my first reaction was, on reflection,
superficial, as discussion with women and exposure to
feminist literature pointed out to me.
But more on this later. What has made the incident of relevance to Bugle readers is a conflux of trends in American publishing and sexual consciousness and renewed attention by prosecutors to proving Mark Twain wrong.
That is, they seem hell-bent on proving not that Congress is the only truly native American criminal class, but that publishers are. Disseminators of information, whether print or visual, no matter what their role, are publishers. This means Harry Reems of Deep Throat, Larry Flynt of HUSTLER, Al Goldstein (and indirectly, former Kaleidoscope editor John Kois, now an editor of National Screw) publisher of the once hard-core Screw magazine.
Following these precedents, the Bugle itself is in jeopardy, as an issue of censorship closer to readers and producers of this paper has arisen. That involves the present necessity to run ads ("Doc Johnson's RAINBOW OF SEXUAL ENJOYMENT," or implements like vibrators and dildos, flavored lubricants, and "unusual and explicit case histories and sexual memoirs") despite the possibility that they are either sexist or somehow obscene.
Obscenity would not seem to be an issue, in a purely legal sense, to Bugle readers, but it is at the heart of a dispute that led [Editorial Coordinator] Dave Schreiner to recognize the financial necessity of such ads -- at least temporarily -- while asking for feedback in an editorial about the condition of the Bugle. And negative feedback he got, from a member of a religious order, among others, who is not to be discounted as a thinking consumer of the Bugle.
The second ad, illustrated by a nubile female in panties and a top that might be seen on an average summer day, raises a more complex issue for an alternative-press publication. It's not particularly sexy, but it might seem sexist, and we profess to be against that. So what to do?
To go further, has sexism -- simply, discrimination by sex, no matter what the sex -- really been explored as an issue, with clear-cut guidelines drawn, so that potential offenders may know what to avoid?
I don't think so, with the result that I -- for one -- accumulate material to decide what sexism really is.
I say this as a former staff member of an underground newspaper where the question of sexism caused monumental fights among the staff.
Yet this initial burst of feminism -- and gay awareness -- leading though it did to local action groups and publications, from NOW to Amazon, from the Women's Crisis Line to twenty-four: an alternate fashion magazine -- seems not to have engaged the public on the level fully expected to be reached by today.
I am thinking not only of the minimal changes in role expectations in the bowling alleys, as evidenced in the difficulty in effecting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, but at other levels, also. It's puzzling, but there is a lack of evidence on the pages of the Bugle -- I have in mind staff-written material as well as unsolicited material from the community -- that anything much has changed in our readers' lives.
Legal aspects of sex discrimination have been explored, and courtroom and administrative progress noted. But what about the actual lives of people, of man-woman relationships? Are women freely calling men up for dates and paying half the tab at Century Hall or the Crown Room?
I mean, past the statistics and percentages of women working, and the bare-bones sketches of men functioning in non-sexist day-care situations, there must be some flesh. Illusions, disappointment challenges -- and crashing betrayals of ideals -- are not shared. Something beyond "The Politics of Housework," insightful as it was at the time. And maybe involving the loneliness of independence.
I mention this as a perceived vacuum in the Bugle readership, not because they are responsible for producing the material, but because if there's anything going on out there it should somehow make its ferment felt. But coming from Kaleidoscope, by way of a long detour through the waterfront (an exception: "Women on the Docks" was suggested by the emergence of women as longshoremen when I was in a position to contact former editor judy Jacobi about it) I find a definite lack of input, generally.
A glance at the Bugle's masthead is perfectly symptomatic of the situation -- feminine influence is rarely found, though competent when it exists. But in a society of equals you wouldn't have to be Superwoman to make a largely male staff pay attention.
But this issue of the Bugle is different. Doug Freshner's "Confessions," for example, at least puts a scratch on the surface of a problem -- male sexism -- and the existence of sexism under the guise of non-sexism. But since he is a humorist, Freshner perhaps runs the risk of being superficial. It's certainly my prerogative, even my duty -- in a journal reflecting a spectrum of opinion existing somewhere on the left -- to expand some on his perceptions.
Frankly, he embodies the problem of writing about one's sex life in a personal vein -- either one is open to charges of boasting or one is reduced to disclaimers which amount to public self-pity over the difficulty of getting laid. It's a tendency that even creeps into columns by some female record reviewers on board.
Thus, there may be a tendency to write articles saying, "I was a sexist and I screwed hundreds of women without recognizing them as people. Now I'm not a sexist and I screw hundreds of women and treat them like people." Whether Freshner has done this I leave to the reader. But I declare my experiences more realistically, in the hopes that the readership will take my observations on sex, censorship and sexism, as arising from a different stance. As I told a woman friend recently, partially in jest, "I couldn't get laid when I was a sexist, and I can't get laid now that I'm no longer a sexist."
I went on to observe that my views probably didn't make much difference to the average woman: "If they see you in a bar and they think you're cute, you can get laid."
"That's probably true -- at least for one night," she said. "As long as they keep their mouths shut, I don't care what they think,"' she concluded.
I have known her to pick up a youth at Summerfest (she is in her late 20s) and take him to her apartment to "fuck his brains out" for a night and then dump him. Yet she sometimes is suffused with sadness over an inability to form a more permanent liaison with a man more nearly her contemporary. One failure involved a school psychologist she decided to stop seeing when he brought a blue vinyl skirt out of his closet for her to wear.
"Frankly, I felt he was fucking the skirt, not me," she said. Another time, lamenting in Rieder's [bar] over a man, a traditionalist from a foreign country, who avoids going to bed with her after an initial enthusiasm, she asks: "What's wrong with me?"
Well, nothing, but the point is she's capable of treating men like sex objects. The lesson, though, might seem to be that the shoe doesn't fit any better when it's on the other foot.
This fluctuation in sex-role expectations -- this same woman and another professional woman on a spree of sorts spontaneously went home with a strange man they picked up for a threesome, after scaring off the woman he lived with -- is a sign of the shifting ground we stand on.
Yet it's not written about much locally, though Ms. and even coy Cosmopolitan (not to mention the Village Voice, a closer analogy to the Bugle) are exploring these cultural currents with some diligence.
So this Bugle -- with related articles on women's liberation by Marcia Drouin and Marty Racine, Freshner's piece, and Peter Spielmann's discussion of Music Editor Gary Peterson's research into into sex roles in the alternative press -- can be a welcome beginning. Feedback, whether in the form of letters or other articles or just discussion by the staff and the community -- leading to further examination of lifestyles in the late '70s -- can ideally result.
Unfortunately, feedback touching these areas has so far generally been limited to claims of sexism or an implied need for self-censorship on the grounds of suitability for "classroom discussions and projects with my students (I teach in senior high school)," as one reader said.
The teacher, a member of a religious order, went on to generally praise the level of writing, but he is now fearful of his fellow "religious" picking up his copy and finding the ads ("Debbie's Dirty Desires," "The 8-Way Orgy") and concluding the publication is trash. He speculates that many high school and college-age people might be equally apprehensive about their parents finding the Bugle in their home.
Well, let's not wrestle for the moment with the question of whether the Bugle is intended to be the new Scholastic, or if we're not fulfilling a role of stimulating discussion if we're not occasionally controversial or downright offensive.
Instead, consider the problem of censorship on the grounds of sexism rather than taste. This is not to imply that this is a burning issue yet -- everything I've said about the Bugle staff's composition and Peterson's analysis of alternative press publications in general would support this lack of fire.
But it is my opinion -- I speak for nobody else -- that this relative peace has been partly achieved at the expense of a blandness, an over-cautiousness in the areas of nudity and sexual explicitness that is only changing with the growing randiness of the classified ads -- themselves an indication of where peoples' needs or wants are -- and the financial straits that mean Swinger's Clubs and Old Doc Johnson may have to prop us up.
Is sexual material and sheer tastelessness -- in the case of HUSTLER -- to be automatically equated with sexism? I suggest that there are two routes, mutually exclusive. One is that all such material, in effect, dehumanizes sex, and therefore women (the assumption is always that men somehow profit from dehumanized sexuality). The other is that we are all sexual beings, both capable of responding to eroticism, whether crude porno or great art, in varying degrees, and the only way to put sex or pornography in perspective is to let every idea or representation compete in the marketplace.
Let a thousand nudes of thought contend, as Mao never said. Let's have all the male nudity or books with men in humiliating roles that women will support with their dollars. But the notion that a picture of a naked woman exploits women is an idea entirely in the eye of the beholder, and one that I haven't been able to fathom.
For example, I know one woman who lets her husband read Playboy only if he keeps it at his office.
And another, a former Wauwatosa girl with a Catholic upbringing who turned into an uninhibited and voluptuous woman, who was no hater of sex, but became enraged at female nudes in men's mags, and took part in expeditions to trash billboards with bags of paint if they depicted women. She also despised my photo over the copy desk of Jane Fonda at the old K'scope office.
True, some of this rage has left the community, and sex more than ever is used to sell products, unfortunately. But that's a different case, one of stereotyping, perhaps, and not amenable to solution by banishing idealized human forms. From sexy actors peddling cars to Farah Fawcett-Major's nipples, we're going to have to live with commercial eroticism and try to ensure that both sexes get their share.
A woman friend, asked about this question, theorizes that the opposition to the Penthouse syndrome is a feeling of inferiority in the face of "idealized pulchritude," though she finds the women's shapes "interesting" and not a threat. "After all, who is perfect -- and we don't campaign to cover up faces, do we?"
So we reached an accommodation -- I looked at centerfolds without guilt, and didn't take her Playgirl's male nudes as an implied criticism of my less-than-classic physique. In fact, they served to remind me of my duty to myself to try and shape up. And neither of us -- we lived together for about four years -- could figure out how a photograph exploits women. An ad for a chicken dinner might exploit the chicken if it gave up its life for the photograph, and poorly-paid working conditions would exploit a model. But once created, a photograph has an existence of its own, iconographically, and doesn't exploit women any more than pictures of food exploit the desire to share a good meal.
A manufacturer may degrade a woman as a dumb-bunny, let's say, but he should be punished in the marketplace his ad is attempting to influence, or with letters of protest. Or critical articles -- anything to increase the flow of information, not stifle it.
Such a flow is certainly to be found in other publications, like the Village Voice. We find there Ross Wetzsteon perceptively approaching the related topic: "Do Men Want To Be Sex Objects?"
Wetzsteon is a product of another generation, when "the most popular sex manual was called Sex Without Guilt but, given the repressive atmosphere of the '40s and '50s, what most of us actually felt was guilt without sex." The emergence of women into greater sexual independence shook him up perhaps more than your average hippie or radical student of a few years ago.
He starts by writing. "Of course men want to be treated like sex objects. Of course they don't. It's great. It's depersonalizing. It can also be terrifying." His enlightenment about being a sex object came with a reading of Gael Green's novel, Blue Skies, No Candy.
Wetzsteon quotes a passage:
I am curious about cocks. They
are often smaller than imagined.
Eager runty stubs. Sharp, thin-hooded
tumescences. Thin and curved,
listing to the right or left . . . But many
are handsome, straight and sincere,
rosy and smooth, with that neat little
ring, naked and brave without its
foreskin. And a few are enormous,
terrifying rape-fantasy rods demanding
admiration, exciting vestigial anxieties
of submission. Cocks that want to be
licked, tongued, bitten, surrounded,
Threatening, Wetzsteon calls it, "this kind of stuff whatever else it may be. Do women actually evaluate our parts with such careful precision? Are we ruthlessly compared every time we lower our
shorts. . . ?"
He comes to terms with his perception that "the horrible thing about being treated as a collection of parts is that parts are easily replaceable," and concludes, with some ambivalence, that men don't want to be sex objects either.
But I wonder if it's that simple. I think my generation, people in their '30s and on down, accepted female sexuality a lot easier. Those of us who hung around with other movement types soon gave up the affluent, middle-class male notion of using power trips for dating. Poverty was the great equalizer here.
As I said at the beginning, I did have the distinction -- like Wetzsteon's moment of truth contained on the pages of Green's book -- of being a sex object.
That was in the supermarket where I was groped. The situation found me walking down the aisle in the National store near Brady St. on a hot day in the early '70s. Two -- I'll still call them girls, for they seemed high school age and girlishly giggly, though dressed in standard hippie garb, jeaned and braless
-- approached me.
"I think he's cute," said one.
"Let's grope him," said the other.
I just smiled, not expecting anything, of course, and -- quick-witted that I am -- responded lamely: "I'll be waiting."
sex in the supermarket
And with that, one walked up and grabbed me in the groin and felt me up -- quick, but unmistakable. She walked away, leaving me astonished but, well, flattered. After all, I was around 30 years old.
Now before you protest, I've heard the argument: I wouldn't like it if it were a repulsive old woman. I wouldn't like it if it happened all the time. I wouldn't like it if the other party did it out of habit or a feeling men existed as her preserve, to amuse her even if she had no intention of following through. I wouldn't like it if it became unpleasantly physical, or showed no concern for my mood -- maybe if instead of flirting playfully I was desolated from a funeral of my own lover. All correct. But the fact that I liked it then showed the complexity of humans in the manifestations of sex. And the main reason it gave me a shot is my own confidence that I could convert an original sexual attraction as an object I held to an appreciation of the other facets of my personality. And if I understand the implicit message of much of the recent women's literature, from Memoirs of An Ex-Prom Queen to Fear of Flying, it is that a lot of women have grown up without that core of personhood that men take for granted.
Perhaps it is the lack of such a core that makes them seem to be operating in such vacuums, acting strange and tormented and other-directed until they produce a book detailing their own inadequacies as if they had no choice but to live in men's shadows. Well, it's a legitimate subject, often producing fine art -- Joan Didion's reportage and fiction, Sue Kaufman's Diary of a Mad Housewife -- but the troubled pseudo-biographies leave me wondering what comes after this cathartic cultural and familial probing.
I hope it's not repressive measures in the counter-culture, directed at innocuous ads. As one man said at a recent party attended by Bugle people: "I mean, they're only inanimate objects. How can they offend anyone?" He meant, of course, Doc Johnson's aids for the handicapped, and other paraphernalia.
Yet that's one negative residue perhaps left by a praiseworthy women's sensibility: mistaking sex for sexism. And if it seems that in return for editorial freedom to choose ads that I have to put up with the possibility of being groped in the supermarket, I'll deal with that on a case-by-case basis. Just like the woman who balked at encoring that particular "Blue Skirt Waltz," I'll learn that sometimes I'm going to be treated like an object. And it feels better to be a sex object than a non-entity at least.
After all, if someone complains about Bugle ads, I generally ask where the person works and how many ads that person's employer is taking out to keep the Bugle afloat. Or what else they see being done to ensure survival for adults who labor here for practically nothing.
But the more vexing thing is that this mode of censorship doesn't stop there. There is a conspiracy awash across the land that could return to engulf the Bugle and sweep away the First Amendment rights we are now upholding.
It's certainly not fear of sexism that fuels such prosecutions as the one that just got publisher Larry Flynt 7 to 25 years in jail and $11,000 in fines for "engaging in organized crime and-pandering obscenity" in Cincinnati. Or Deep Throat co-star Harry Reems, who was convicted last spring for conspiracy to transport obscene material across interstate lines, in Memphis, Tennessee, though he had never seen Memphis before his trial, four years after his performance for $100. Or that resulted in the arrest of Al Goldstein, Screw's publisher, for selling the magazine in Kansas -- not on the newsstands, for it is not available there -- but to postal inspectors through the mail in an outright setup to haul him into court in a conservative community he had never been to. Is Kansas determining what New Yorkers can read? How can this be? Well, the 1973 Miller ruling of the US Supreme Court modified the earlier Roth decision to allow communities to ignore national opinion and substitute their own view of what constitutes obscenity. Now, obscenity is difficult enough to define (I don't believe it exists, legally, and that the First Amendment protects an adult's right to make or possess anything in the publishing media) but at least scholars can agree the situation now looming is chaotic.
One, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, protested in Newsweek: "Bringing prosecutions in cities which do not contain the main readership of the magazine has to stop. If a local prosecutor doesn't like a magazine or film, he can set himself up as a national censor. Nationally distributed films and publications cannot adjust their content to the standards of each community."
And neither can the Bugle. This seems farfetched to UWM professor of mass communications Jay Sykes, long active here in the American Civil Liberties Union. "The odds are against it," he said of the chances of prosecutions spreading here. But the prosecution doesn't have to originate here. How about Sheboygan, where sex is illegal, or somewhere in the Deep South or in a prison town where inmates receive copies?
No wonder Flynt's prosecutor, Simon Leis Jr., was quick to hail his work's outcome: "This will be a trend-setting verdict nationally."
Of course not immediately. Flynt and Goldstein will be stamped out first. But as Nat Hentoff, writing as always with great acumen on First Amendment abuses in the Village Voice noted, it's not so much that Carnal Knowledge, threatened with prosecution in Georgia, is in immediate danger. It's that the Deep Throat type of films keep the nation safe for Carnal Knowledge. And Screw keeps the nation safe for the Bugle. Sykes envisions Flynt winning on appeal. But what of the enormous legal fees needed to fight such harassment? How short a time has it been since Kaleidoscope went to the Supreme Court on a patently political obscenity prosecution -- in the words of Justice William 0. Douglas -- and Tropic of Cancer was equally savaged by a local prosecutor out to make a name? How sanguine can we afford to be?
So if HUSTLER and Screw are not to your taste, I suggest that eternal vigilance is still the price of your ultimate liberty to read what you want. It is those publishers' right to try to convince you of the merits of their ideas, and yours to have them try, though they be the "vilest of pornographers." And though I submit these mags are not necessarily sexist, sexism is another idea that deserves to live or die on its own merit, not at the whim of a prosecutor who may be a sexist, though no publisher or civil libertarian, to his very heart.
And if wretchedness of taste makes support of those two magazines bothersome, you are not alone. But as Flynt has proclaimed, taste is exactly the issue. "If I'm guilty of anything, it's bad taste. I don't think people ought to be put in jail for having bad taste."
Now I presume that Bugle readers are not generally against a free press, though I suspect some would draw lines where I wouldn't. And the arguments for and against censorship can't be given justice here. The First Amendment envisioned the broadest circulation of ideas, however distasteful to some, as necessary for an informed public in a democracy. And prosecution for political reasons is all too easily abetted by moral and religious climates that stifle the ability to decide questions of morality for oneself.
Thus, the very existence of published material of a sexually graphic nature is a political statement and a statement about morality. Flynt says in HUSTLER:
We're being charged with undermining the moral fabric of American
society. We're being charged with obscenity. And obscenity is nothing more than a moral "buzz" word masking the real reasons we are being harassed. We are sexual pioneers and with few exceptions we encourage people to explore their sex drives, no matter how kinky or perverse they might seem to be. Upon expressing long-buried sexual desires, we often discover, to our relief, that they are shared by many others and are not so dreadful after all. On the other hand, if as human beings we are saddled with antisocial sexual drives, ignoring them will not make them go away. Only the exploration and understanding of these drives can result in a better society. There is nothing obscene in the candid photos we show in HUSTLER. They transmit a type of visual information that is sexual. We think people are entitled to know about sex and to see women and men, and most importantly themselves, for the sexual creatures they are.
In the same statement, Flynt links the government that kept the war in Vietnam out of proper focus with the government that today is trying to legislate morality. And of a ghastly photo spread, not of sexual activity, but of "The Real Obscenity: War," he writes:
. . . Looking at open pussy makes
you feel good; looking at the body
of a decapitated soldier makes you
feel sick. Yet these war photos are
legal while HUSTLER photos
resulted in indictments . . . on
charges of obscenity. But, I ask you,
who has been indicted for the
obscenity of the Vietnam War?
Flynt excoriates most of the press for its early complicity in the coverage of the war, from the phony Gulf of Tonkin incident on:
. . . They believed they were not
censoring; they were simply protecting
Americans from needless brutality. In
true doublethink, while boasting of the
immediacy and impact of the visual
image television newsmen somehow
managed to overlook the importance
of showing this country the full ugliness
of the Vietnam War: women and children
blasted into eternity, Viet Cong guts
spilling onto dusty streets, American
sons splattered against walls . . . Not
exactly the stuff John Wayne movies are
made of. If Americans had really known
the bloody consequences, they might not
have been so quick to send their sons to
fight . . .
Today the government and establishment media are as active in covering up our true foreign policies, from Chile to Egypt, and our domestic information machinery, despite some cosmetic changes in the Woodward and Bernstein heyday, obscures the consequences of of nuclear development, misuse of our regulatory agencies, and our poisoning by industrial chemicals.
Who is to say they'll stop with Flynt and Goldstein and Reems when Ohio went to such lengths as to conclude that five "persons" -- Flynt's wife, brother, production manager and the Corporation itself as a legal person -- took part in organized crime, defined as "five or more people in an illegal activity for profit." And convicted only Flynt.
The ultimate confirmation that all this bodes the worst for a free press was found in the Channel 10 TV show, "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report," a day or two after Flynt got out after being initially denied bail.
Appearing on the show with Flynt and his attorney, Herald Fahringer, were sex information specialist Dr. Mary Calderone, and a chortling Larry Parrish, prosecutor in the Reems case.
Parrish called it a "fair sentence," and "heartening." Of course, Ohio was not his jurisdiction, but he regarded warmly the "innovative use of the (organized crime) laws" there. Libertarians who hear cries of a wolf conspiracy in this article may take note that Parrish acknowledged having "conferred with the Ohio prosecution" in the case.
Flynt's defense of himself on the program was straightforward. Again, he was guilty only of bad taste, and he had been proud to live in a country "where previously such ideas were protected." The magazine was satirical, he added, being "to publishing what Mary Hartman is to television." And he observed that the ultimate test of the public's attitude, or community standards, towards outrageous ideas should be "their economic support"
And his lawyer, Fahringer, predicted "chaos for another three years" as the impact of the recent decisions spread: "No publisher can accommodate every backward community in the nation." Of course, he reaffirmed his belief under the Constitution of citizens "to read and see what we please," without limitations.
It had to boil down to the real merits of pornography, of course, and Dr. Calderone mentioned some of the relevant data, such as that pornography had never been shown to be harmful. On the contrary, those who grew up to be sex criminals had, in their formative period, "much less access to such information."
But today, "there is a real explosion of knowledge about sexuality," and a recognition by the World Health Organization that it is a "crucial center of human life," though many communities and individuals might not share that knowledge. The resulting attempts to narrowly limit community standards, she said, would produce "utter confusion."
She also pointed out that the board of her group, a well-known sex information council called SIECUS, has established the importance to some humans, because of their particular developmental or perhaps lack of development, for explicit visual material displaying the body: "It's a real need."
At this point the unaware reader should know what we're talking about in the case of Hustler. To be blunt, apart from its editorial content, it is appalling -- and I like some pornography. It does for the vagina and rectum what a dentist's point of view does for the mouth -- also an attractive area when seen that way by the right photographer. When the "Beaver Hunt" -- a regular feature that features moderately attractive amateurs from around the country unattractively photographed as grossly as their individual inhibitions will let them -- isn't the focus, huge, glossy full-color layouts attempt to answer the question: "Who said pink isn't a man's color?" They don't mean baby-pink cheeks.
In fact, it is so unerotic that I am reminded of how Ulysses got off the hook some 40 years ago: by being "emetic," as the judge said. A possible defense here?
But there's worse. The cartoons and "humor" photographs, as in Madison Avenue parodies, are centered on excrement and gore and dismembered bodies and ghoulishness that makes Gahan Wilson look like "The Family Circus," with fetishes and animal fucking thrown in. Not to mention firsthand stories about the delights of butt fucking, or just being shat upon. Oh, well -- whatever turns you on. But let's not be naive about what we're defending here.
Its medical information seems useful and factual, as do other informational features -- like "How To Approach A Hooker." The Vietnam material aside, that's the redeeming social value, even if you don't buy human sexuality as a social value.
So is it worth defending? Creeping conservatism in this city saw the Parkway's hard-core movies eviscerated, and harmless nudity on bar stages banned, though such shows continue to corrupt audiences elsewhere. But here, only the censors empowered to close such things are exposed to such corruption -- one must indeed hope that vice squad officers and the District Attorney and our judges are holding up under the burden of deciding what we can view -- instead of letting us do it for ourselves.
But civil libertarians like Jay Sykes find nothing to worry about because he and his friends and even acquaintances like myself do not personally feel terribly deprived -- as yet. But liberty is still indivisible -- granted the pornographer as well as the disseminator of ideas in small papers like the Bugle -- and the fight against censorship goes forward or it goes backward. But it never stands still.
Larry Flynt has alerted us to the government's "power to pick out one publisher" and destroy him, though he has "an abiding confidence in the American public's right to read what it wants -- a belief that cost me my freedom."
[These 1977 articles, with minor corrections, are as they appeared in a time when such earnest introspection was still prevalent. Today, it seems some minor changes in sex roles & freedom from sex discrimination have taken root, while even more cultural emphasis on sex, especially for commercial ends, is the norm, with little overt censorship or furor over sexism. The underground press played a large role in the victory over the censors, though the controversy over sexism seems to have faded to being the concern of
only a few extreme feminists of the "All sex is
The same issue
of the Bugle (no longer the
Bugle-American) carried one woman's view
of the changes wrought in her life -- or not --
by Friedan, Steinem, et al. Now in her 50s,
she went from cocktail waitress to full-time
reporter to freelance writer of radio
commercials, video scripts & press releases.
She leads a harried existence as a wife & mother of two writing teenagers [read "b.c."at <http://centennialpress.tripod.com/> & "Lickerish" at <www.tc.umn.edu/~smit1705>] in a small Wisconsin town near Milwaukee, replete with meetings in Chicago & a beagle named Buster that gets sick on the furniture.
hard for me to adjust. When the women's movement began
to move in the early '70s, I felt comfortable with most of
it; not all, but most it seemed to me that both sexes have
benefited from the liberation of the female -- that's hardly
an original thought, but I'm speaking from a strictly
personal standpoint. This isn't the same as
sociological impact studies.
Like many of the early movements, feminism started out radical and extreme, and predictably turned away a lot of potential philosophically in-tune sisters such as myself and a few friends. In addition to sisterhood we happened to like men and sex. I knew many who could not swallow the cup of feminism that was anti-men. Instead, these women went on their individual ways, fighting their isolated battles in their homes and in their jobs, and screwing all the way. (Different schisms within the movement proved to be more anti-male than others. I do not mean to imply all were disdainful of men and/or sex. But these disparities in ideology were a definite shortcoming.)
In the early days I was still forming ideas and views that would realistically apply to me and feminism. I read the deluge of radical rhetoric that permeated the local scene, and it did manage to get me angry about some things that would not have normally occurred to me -- like the word "chick." It still is awfully hard for me to get worked up over that one. Actually, I've been told, it is derived from the Spanish "chica," for young woman, and has nothing to do with baby chickens.
Skin magazines are another thing that didn't and don't offend me. I don't find nudity exploitative (consent eradicates that) and anyway, they give me interesting things to ponder. Like how do those women get their breasts to stand up straight when lying down, or why don't any of those models have veins in their legs? Is it Just those Vaselined camera lenses?
* * *
I need a wife. I think Gloria Steinem first made that statement, and she was right. Everyone does, they're so beneficial. I may never have one, but I do know I require a man who is capable of being self-sufficient without me to depend on for meals and clean underwear. I lived with a man for many years who prior to our cohabitation had the good sense to turn a chauvinist cheek and intellectually accept responsibility for himself on a domestic level. The result was that any courtesy done by either of us, like preparing a meal, waiting on each other, was considered a bonus, a treat, something special and not taken for granted.
* * *
The women's movement has leveled my wallet. (I don't personally know the type of man who is offended if I pay, but I know they exist and I can't fathom such stupidity.) I am not alone. I am a waitress at a popular East Side bar, and I can say without exaggeration that over 80% of the non-married couples I wait on either split the bill, alternate the bill, or the woman pays the entire bill. Women seem to be making up for lost time. I see this financial sharing as a good sign -- it relieves women from feeling indebted, dependent and obligated to like what she's being treated to. (Not to mention giving guys a break for a change.)
Speaking for myself, though, I see
splitting every little thing on a date as a real pain in the
ass. I prefer one or the other paying for all or part
of the evening
-- that makes it more of a generous gift to someone you like, and not a series of checks and balances.
Empathy for men has also emerged for me in relation to that fear of rejection when calling up someone for a date. Recently, I felt like such a fool. I, a grown woman, paced my apartment floor rehearsing a pending telephone conversation in which I was going to ask an almost complete stranger to go out with me. (And if the answer were negative, would I be cool enough to pick up on the innuendo -- was he really sick, busy, going out of town?)
* * *
When it comes to courtesy, I find it appealing, when not excessive, if offered by both sexes and not, as some chivalrous duty to the weaker sex. Human beings just being nice to each other is a pleasant thing to see, and it seems to me men are the more comfortable for it. I think common sense here is the key, that is, using manners if you're in the convenient position. I have seen a woman reject
a door being opened for her when the man was ahead of her. That doesn't seem to make much sense, and if she was trying to make a point she made the wrong one.
I feel real joy at what appears to
be an ending to all that coy female crap I grew up with. Women seem much more publicly physical with their men.
I speak of the woman who can comfortably put a reassuring arm around a man or give him a kiss of affection in public without ulterior motives (buttering him up) or as a reciprocation tactic (now he'll desire me), but just out of warmth, love or affection.
* * *
I know that a vast number of women are still striving for the "Total Woman," husband-gratification, vicarious-fulfillment type of thing. An obsequious wife is a non-threatening, ego-building, handy-dandy thing. But, it seems to me that even some of the most unlikely women are being affect by changing lifestyles and roles -- media saturation has a way of creating a subliminal consciousness. When Mrs. John Doe sees even Edith Bunker fighting for outside fulfillment -- she may still vote against the ERA, and may not see the dichotomy with her growing dissatisfaction over being a human duster and food dispenser in her home. But it is there.
* * *
I haven't talked about the great female guilt syndrome, though the bookstores are glutted with wife and mother guilt books. Since I'm neither a wife nor mother that may explain my lack of it. And I haven't mentioned inequality in the job market, because for the most part I'm not in any kind of market. Anyway, these topics merit more space and thoroughness than the few light-hearted observations I have made here.
For the most part I am very optimistic. Although now adaptive pains have been and will continue be difficult for both sexes, I think the next generation will have their problems. But being an inferior or superior sex will not be one of them -- and besides, we "little ladies" ain't gonna let it happen again.
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