This is the best book I’ve read on the Second Wave. Brownmiller sews the disparate pieces of the movement into a cohesive quilt, tucks you inside nice and cozy, then tells you her first-hand experiences of the revolution of Women’s Liberation, from the heady days of the late 1960s through the powerful and tumultuous 1970s, petering out in the dismal 1980s. I’m semi-obsessed with this era, hoovering up all the classics written during that time (Sexual Politics, Dialectic of Sex, SCUM Manifesto, etc.), getting blown away by the insight and revolutionary ideas inside. Brownmiller sets the stage for the arrival of each of those works, but gives you much more, an insider’s look at the very beginning of the movement, the warring factions, the price of fame, the juxtaposition of other historical elements. None of this happened in a vacuum, with Kent State, RFK, MLK, Chicago conventions all burning around it. I’d read about most of the Women’s Liberation events before, but Brownmiller’s exposition weaves things together from many sources in a convenient one-stop shop for anyone curious about this incredible and important revolution. The insider viewpoint on the Ladies’ Home Journal takeover is worth the price of the book alone.
So many pages marked for re-read and note taking! This is a trove of sign-posts for future reading and research.
- 1965 memo by Mary King and Casey Hayden, “A Kind of Memo,” aimed at exposing sexism in the leftist movement, one of the first documents of the women’s movement.
- Anne Forer’s naming of “consciousness raising” because in her leftist upbringing, it was said that the workers didn’t know they were oppressed and so the leftists had to raise their consciousness. The phrase was popularized by Kathie Sarachild (Amatniek).
- Brownmiller’s uncharitable description of Valerie Solanas as an “unstable hanger-on in Andy Warhol’s circle… the SCUM Manifesto was the fulmination of a sadly disturbed woman who had somehow arrived at the truth that men held all of society’s power.”
- The myth of bra-burning at the Miss America protest; the group didn’t have a permit to burn things so just tossed girdles, high heels, bras, falsies, eyelash curlers, tweezers, etc. into a trash can. (Kate Millet was there cheering them on, two years away from publishing Sexual Politics)
- Proliferation of newspapers run by women – the takeover of Rat in NYC by women (and the fantastic screed “Goodbye to All That” by Robin Morgan, And Ain’t I a Woman? and Lilith in Seattle, Everywoman in LA, Tooth and Nail then It Ain’t Me Babe in Berkeley (started by Laura X who founded the Women’s Herstory Archives), Up from Under and Aphra in NYC, KNOW, Inc. in Pittsburgh, her-self (Ann Arbor), Sojourner (Boston), Big Mama Rag (Denver), Plexus (San Francisco), The Feminist Voice (Chicago), Women’s Press (Eugene), off our backs (DC… and was still around until 2008 when their website clunked off).
- It was pure fluke that Joyce Ravitz joined the infiltrators at the abortion hearing in NYC in 1969, she had been on her way to another demonstration when she ran into the Redstockings and was convinced to join. Ravitz gave an impassioned speech and more women jumped up in the room to support her.
- Again and again Brownmiller asserts that the original revolutionary founders felt slighted when their cause became more mainstream and popular. “The phenomenon of pushing a new issue forward and watching the vision play out pragmatically was a dilemma for them, and would remain one for many of the early leaders.”