When i was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, it didn’t matter that my parents were some of the earliest feminist leaders on the East Coast, that I grew up watching their activism from up close, or that I saw them live (not just profess) equality between the sexes. It didn’t matter that I was a girl hooked on Ms. magazine from the very first year it was out, that I regularly flipped through my mom’s copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, or that I ravenously collected Wonder Woman comic books.
“I never intended this book to be published,” writes Phoebe Gloeckner in the introduction to her new collection, A Child’s Lifeand Other Stories. Perusing these finely drawn, mostly autobiographical comic works, which span twenty years, it’s not difficult to see why its creator might be wary of foisting her stories on a public whose idea of an enjoyable narrative is Titanic. Gloeckner’s unsparing memory and painstakingly detailed pen-and-ink drawings of family dysfunction, childhood cruelty, and queasy sex make for seriously disquieting reading. The book takes us through the years with Gloeckner’s alter ego Minnie, whose childhood is dominated by her overbearing, ogling stepfather and whose adolescence is spent on the streets of San Francisco in a morass of unsavory drugs and even less savory men.
So there we were, ten hooting and hollering women clutching stacks of dollar bills. Well, nine hollerers (you didn’t think I’d call my friends “hooters,” did you?) and one thoughtful, if drunk, young lady. We were at my bachelorette party, and one of the revelers was suffering from a crisis of conscience. “What are your career aspirations?” she asked our friendly tattooed, hardbodied, and completely clean-shaven stripper. “What do you really want to do?” He ignored her question and stuck his g-string-clad package closer to her face.
I didn’t start out in the world a hard-ass, I swear. I was thenice girl, Little Mary Sunshine—turning the other cheek and searching for the good in all people. But you know what finally pushed me over the edge? I’ll sum it up for you in one word: breasts. More specifically, my‑breasts. I am a woman with large breasts—an intelligent woman, horror of horrors. (I mean, brains and‑breasts?
When we heard that Jane Pratt, the former editor of Sassy—the sharp, celebrated teen mag that above all was absolutely unwilling to pull its readers into the spiral of insecurity and product consumption so endemic to all others in the genre—was launching a new grown-up glossy, we, along with other feminist pop culture junkies nationwide, squealed with excitement. Then Jane launched. And we weren’t excited anymore. Here’s why.
Imagine the jolt to my feminist sensibilities when I arrived, ready to serve, at the local Taste of the County dinner event and was presented with a plastic apron that had housewife emblazoned under my name. Shame heaped upon humiliation when I noticed—slack-jawed—that a potted plant, needle and thread, and recipe box (!) illustrated the damnable word. I, if the truth had been sought, have no visible gardening skills, find no personal satisfaction at the sewing machine, and sprint from any connection to the culinary arts.
we’ve taken a lot of shit from people who don’t like our name: readers who wonder why we’ve chosen an epithet to grace our covers, friends and family who took a year or two to be able to say it out loud (although they’re all incredibly supportive now, thank you very much), well-meaning folks who suggest that a simple name change might allow us to rake in the clams, people we meet at cocktail parties who clearly think we’re freaks.
It’s a refrain we’re sick and tired of hearing: Feminism doesn’t speak to young women. Girls just aren’t interested in feminism. Self-proclaimed feminists lament it; non-feminists think it proves that feminism is not only unimportant, but outdated. This simplification of the concerns of girls may make for a good sound bite, but it begs for some serious examination.
When I told people that this issue of Bitch was going to be devoted entirely to sex, the most common response was a sarcastic, “Oh, you mean as opposed to what all the other ones were about?” It’s true that we tend to spill a lot of ink about sex—and so I started to think about why.
Reviewed in this issue: Defending Pornography, by Nadine Strossen; Gender Wars, by Brian Fawcett; Talk Dirty To Me, by Sallie Tisdale; Going All the Way: Teenage Girls' Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy, by Sharon Thompson; and Unnatural Dykes to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechdel