70s’ Sisters

Wade's World Women

            Marble Falls      The sixties get a lot of play in the memory and memoirs bank, deservedly.  A lot was happening around cultural and political changes as the civil rights movement tailed off, the welfare rights movement and anti-poverty efforts ascended, and the Vietnam antiwar protests hit their zenith.  The early 70’s doesn’t get the same level of attention, but might deserve a harder look along this spectrum as well.  ACORN was founded in mid-1970, so I’m somewhat partial, and was joined by the acceleration of environmental action marked by the first Earth Day, and, perhaps more fundamentally, the hard launch of second wave feminism sweeping the country.

Talking to the poet Joan Gelfand on Wade’s World about her memoir of the early years of this period when she was in Berkeley in her book, Outside Voices, is a good reminder of how much was changing so rapidly during these years.  Gelfand’s personal story focuses on her move from New York to Berkely, her initial attempts to find her place as a poet and writer, her continued grief over her father’s early death, and her experiments and adventures in sexuality.  Most poignant though are her reflections and insights on the emerging feminist breakthroughs.  She joined with a collective of other women offering lunch at a local church in a venture called Loaves and Dishes.  She mentioned in our conversation that one of the young women, not fully identified in the book, was Susie Ormand, now somewhat controversially known as a pop financial adviser, who joined them in the enterprise after having been fired from an earlier gig for kissing the customers.  An all-women’s band created songs from some of her poems in that period which gave her confidence in her burgeoning efforts and are still on YouTube.

It all brings back memories of that period.  Women’s roles were changing and for a young man at that time, it meant constant adaptation to meet the righteous demands of women in our work and lives.  We had to throw out the expectations we had absorbed growing up, especially in the South and West, and catch up with the times.  I can remember one of our women organizers telling the story of teaching several of our summer interns in that period how to wash dishes.  It’s embarrassing to think where we started, revolutionary to gauge how far we’ve come, and tragic how much more needs to be done.

I was interested in Gelfand’s stories of Woman’s Space in Berkeley and her sojourn to visit women’s collectives in Oregon and California.  I can remember stories of Women’s Land locations in Arkansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.  Mi companera visited several with our young son even in the early 80’s, so some of these communes endured whee women carved out a separate space to flourish together outside of the patriarchy.  I wonder how many have endured fifty years later?

Gelfand ends her memoir leaving the Berkeley scene and, in her words, rejecting feminist “separatism.”  Her story is a tale of the 70s, but when it comes to core feminists’ issues and continuing struggles for equity, it is not outdated.  The wage gap between men and women has remained stuck over the last two years in the low 80 cents to a dollar.  The choice and abortion divide over a woman’s right to determine the sanctity of her own body has gone backwards from those times.  The level of misogyny on the right is frightening. Gelfand’s memoir remains, sadly, very contemporary.