That's Ms. hippie chick to you

Women of the counterculture say that the real revolution wasn't in the streets, but in the bedroom.


Susan Kuchinskas
November 18, 1997 12:29AM (UTC)

The Summer of Love was over, and for some, it was good riddance to
something that kept people's attention off the real problem -- ending the war
in Vietnam. The movement had kicked off 1967 with the nationwide
mobilization against the war and ushered in the fall with Stop the Draft
Week in Oakland. By winter, movement leaders were committed to
using whatever means necessary to stop the fighting.

To hear the male activists tell it today, the anti-war movement also brought
about women's liberation. But the women tell a very different story.
They say that as radical politics tore up the streets, sexual politics heated up the kitchen.

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Jahanara Romney remembers sitting in her converted school bus in front of
the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Washington, D.C., that winter
while a posse of Native American protesters, led by Russell Means, was barricaded inside.

The Romneys had come to D.C. in a convoy with their communal family, the
Hog Farm, to take part in the demonstration. Every able-bodied Hog Farm man
was inside the B.L.M. Romney held her newborn baby in her arms. Beside her
lay her husband, Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy, immobilized
in a full-body cast after back surgery. When word went down that the
police were going to tear gas, Romney had to get them out of there. But she
didn't know how to drive the bus.

When the Hog Farm went on the road, it was the men who tinkered with the
aging engines. The line was, "If you can't repair 'em, you can't drive
'em."

"I had to go in through the barricades, convince Russell Means that I had a
life-threatening emergency, so he'd let me in to find a member of our
family who was in there, and get him to come out and start up the bus and drive it two blocks down the road," recalls Romney, now co-director of a children's performing arts camp in Northern California.

"I said, 'This is never happening to me again.' I decided to make this my
personal revolution." Romney and some of the other women got books and taught
themselves to fix the buses. Then, they taught themselves to drive them.

Things got dicey when the hippie chicks became discontented with the freedoms assigned to them by their male counterparts. They wanted the kinds of freedoms that looked
like male privilege. The men loved the sexual equality part. After all, the more
women who felt free to have sex, the more sex there was for men.

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"In the '50s, it was, 'Nice girls don't screw,'" says Trina Robbins, a
San Francisco writer and illustrator. "In the '60s, it was 'Nice girls
don't say no.' If you said no, it meant you were frigid and, if the guy
wasn't white, it meant you were prejudiced."

"The ideal chick just had a good time. Whatever he did, she went along with
it. If he moved in, you took care of him, but you got nothing in return. If
he wanted to dump you, it was, 'Well, babe, the road calls.'"

And while women were expected to comfort their men in bed, the favor was
frequently not returned.

"One of the myths [about the '60s] was that people were doing it all
the time," says Margo Adler author of "Heretic's Heart"
(Beacon Press, 1997), a book that recounts '60s sexual experiences that were less than transcendental. "They weren't -- and when they did, they definitely weren't doing it
well."

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Adler, who was a Berkeley student from 1964 to 1968, and an anti-war
activist, is now New York bureau chief for National Public Radio. She
writes, "In the Berkeley of the mid-sixties there was an extraordinary
amount of experimentation with sex and drugs, but that doesn't mean that
love filled the streets. There was as much sadness, tension and anger as
there was love. Many of us were simply too young to love well."

There was a similar ineptness about dealing with gender roles. Although
women were comrades in theory, in fact they usually were expected to handle
all the homemaking, just like their mothers. It was the women who cooked
the brown rice, tended the garden, made the candles, took care of the kids.

For two or three years, the Hog Farm lived in the hills outside Los
Angeles. Romney says, "We had a dart board with an arrow in the center.
Each day we'd spin it to see who would be in charge. We called it
'Dancemaster of the Day.' We all thought it was very far out."

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"But it was only the men's names on the board. So another woman and I got
together, and -- this is telling -- our big deal was that we made a separate
one for Dancemistress. But it was for being in charge of the lesser chores,
cooking, taking phone messages. It wasn't for quite a while that we decided
we were going to have one wheel."

As a seamstress of such hip and outrageous clothes as jackets made from
American flags, Trina Robbins was "the ideal hippie chick." Yet she found she
had to stop designing clothing, a traditionally feminine occupation, in order to get respect as a cartoonist. But when she entered the field, she got a rude awakening.

"I found myself in a field that was all guys and me," Robbins says, "and I
discovered I wasn't welcome. As long as I made clothes everything was cool,
but when I tried to do what they the men were doing, suddenly I was persona non
grata."

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Robbins was shut out of a major cartoon art show in New York, and
couldn't penetrate the underground cartoonists' network.

"They'd call each other up and say, 'I'm doing a comic, do you want to be
in it?' But they wouldn't call me. At parties, they'd still introduce me as
a seamstress. I finally had to stop making clothes, so I could insist they
call me a cartoonist."

Robbins retaliated by publishing the first all-women's comic book, "It Ain't
Me, Babe," then helping to found the Wimmen's Comix Collective.

Adler, too, was determined to emphasize her intellectual and political roles
instead of her sex, becoming "a left-wing nun in the Summer of Love." Today, she
believes that the women's liberation movement was not a part of, but rather
a reaction to, the radical politics of the '60s.

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"A lot of the women's movement came specifically from how women were
treated in Students for a Democratic Society," she insists.

As a reporter for the Boston Globe and a freelance journalist covering
counterculture for magazines such as Harper's, Sara Davidson says she
saw herself as "a spy between the lines." Now an author and television
producer in Santa Monica, Davidson agrees that "there was tremendous
hostility to women in the movement. [At political rallies], if a woman got
up to the microphone, people would yell, 'Take her off the stage and fuck
her.'"

Davidson's 1977 book, "Loose Change," was reissued by University of
California Press this year. It's a personal chronicle of the impact of the
anti-war movement and the counterculture on Davidson and two of her friends
who arrived at UC-Berkeley in 1960.

"The notion of women's freedom was the last frontier," Davidson says. "It
was resisted from top to bottom in society, by the straight world and just
as vigorously and adamantly by the counterculture."

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She believes, however, that it was the idealism and utopian goals of the
counterculture that allowed the women's movement to flower.

"It was out of that spirit," she says, "that women began looking at their
own lives. The ideal was a society where every human being would have
value, worth and equality, where every human being would have a voice. So
it was a natural outgrowth of that to ask, 'Well, what about women?'"

Despite the fight, none of these women has the least regret for their
participation in the counterculture.

"It wasn't that we didn't have a lot of fun," Davidson reminds us, "because
we did. There was a lot of dancing and playing and frolicking in the
woods -- they were wonderful, heady and giddy days. A good time was had by
most."

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Susan Kuchinskas

Susan Kuchinskas is senior reporter for Adweek IQ and a correspondent for Reuters Advertising and Marketing Desk.

MORE FROM Susan Kuchinskas

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Gender Roles

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