Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 21: Weatherman Comes To Queens, 1969

Chapter 21: Weatherman Comes To Queens, 1969 (iii)

Newsreel’s office in late July 1969 was in a loft on W.31st St. in Manhattan, which looked like a bohemian artist’s loft. On the early weekday afternoon when I first stopped by there, a thin woman in her early 20s, about 5’2” tall, who wore a scarf on her head, jeans and a blue work shirt, was sitting behind the office desk, talking on the telephone. Her conversation on the phone appeared to be about some romantic relationship-difficulty she was currently having.

The woman activist’s name was Florrie; and her face reminded me of a model’s face on the cover of a magazine. Her voice sounded highly educated. But unlike most young Movement women at this time, Florrie still wore lipstick. When she hung up the telephone, Florrie, with a smile, asked if she could help me.

“I’m taking a course at Queens College on `The Family,’ in which the class consists of fifty women and four men. The instructor is a liberal male academic. He’s arguing that the `natural role’ of family breadwinner is the male role. And that U.S. women don’t normally work or need to work. I spoke to Robin Morgan and she said that a woman from Newsreel might be interested in speaking to my class about women’s liberation.”

Florrie pointed to another woman activist in the office, who had long, frizzy brown hair, was wearing slacks and was cleaning some film at a table on the other side of the loft. “Maybe Lynn can help you,” Florrie suggested.

Florrie then called Lynn over to the Newsreel office desk and Lynn agreed to come to my Queens College “Sociology of the Family” class on the date that the male instructor had given me permission to bring in a feminist Movement lecturer. Lynn was a few inches taller than Florrie and appeared physically sturdier. But she was less friendly than Florrie. Although she didn’t appear reluctant to speak in my sociology class, Lynn seemed more wary of me—because I was a man—than Florrie did.

Florrie had grown up in Glen Cove, Long Island before attending Vassar College, in the days when Vassar was an all-women’s institution. After leaving Vassar, she had worked as an operator with the phone company for awhile, and then started working with Newsreel, although she, herself, was not a filmmaker. Prior to moving to her West Village apartment, Florrie had lived in San Francisco for a time. She was romantically involved with a tall Newsreel filmmaker in his late 20s, named Tivo, who—while living in San Francisco—had made a short film about the Black Panther Party, which featured an interview with Huey P. Newton, the imprisoned Black Panther Party leader.

Lynn had graduated from Radcliffe College four years previously and was now 26-years-old. Prior to joining Newsreel as a filmmaker and becoming the Newsreel person who edited its film on the Columbia Student Revolt, Lynn had worked as a film editor at NBC. The high-level of male chauvinism within U.S. mass media institutions in the 1960s had helped turn Lynn into one of the most hard-line radical feminists of the Movement’s women activists.

Wearing white slacks and a halter, on the day she was scheduled to speak, Lynn entered the classroom in Academic Hall at Queens College where my “Sociology of the Family” class was held, about 15 minutes late, and began to speak:

“Women are fed up with male supremacy, male chauvinism, sexism and the sexist division of labor. We no longer intend to be passive sex-objects for the first hip pair of pants that walks by. And we’re tired of being harassed and taunted by lonely men on the street.

“The Parsons model of the typical family no longer describes how women live today. More and more women have to work—or are choosing not to become housewives. And when women work, they only earn 59% of what the average man earns.

“Women are starting to meet together in groups and talk about their lives. And when we talk about our lives to each other we also find that many of us are frigid, despite all this talk about the joys of the `sexual revolution.’ We’ve also discovered that we’ve experienced similar kinds of oppression as a result of male chauvinism and male supremacy. For us to be free, we have to make a Revolution that also ends male chauvinism and sexism.”

After Lynn had spoken like this for about 20 minutes, the male chauvinist liberal academic started to interrupt her and, in a supercilious way, began to challenge her arguments. Lynn, however, more than held her own intellectually in the debate; and, by the end of the class period, the male academic appeared flustered and ill-at-ease—because he was not used to being intellectually overpowered by a woman in an academic debate. About half of the women students in the class—and all of the five middle-aged women students—seemed sympathetic to Lynn’s radical feminist views. The other half of the class and the male professor looked at Lynn as if she were some kind of “lesbian freak,” as she and I left Academic Hall together.

Lynn appeared satisfied with the results of her lecturing, and a bit friendlier towards me than she had been before speaking in my class. But, as we took the Q17 bus down Kissena Blvd. towards the Flushing Main Street subway station, Lynn seemed either too shy or too elitist to converse with me in more than a brief way. Because she was the most militant feminist in the Movement I had yet heard speak, I was quite interested in getting closer to her. Yet after walking with me into the Woolworth’s store that was located next to the subway station, Lynn suddenly turned away from me, as if I didn’t exist. And without saying goodbye to me, she exited from the store after she had purchased some items. But despite her strange lack of personal warmth, Lynn still seemed like an impressive political activist, very politically conscious and intellectual, and quite dedicated to the Movement.