In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution

Overview

There once was a time when the concept of equal pay for equal work did not exist, when women of all ages were "girls," when abortion was a back-alley procedure, when there was no such thing as a rape crisis center or a shelter for battered women, when "sexual harassment" had not yet been named and defined.  "If conditions are right," Susan Brownmiller says in this stunning memoir, "if the anger of enough people has reached the boiling point, the exploding passion can ...
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In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution

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Overview

There once was a time when the concept of equal pay for equal work did not exist, when women of all ages were "girls," when abortion was a back-alley procedure, when there was no such thing as a rape crisis center or a shelter for battered women, when "sexual harassment" had not yet been named and defined.  "If conditions are right," Susan Brownmiller says in this stunning memoir, "if the anger of enough people has reached the boiling point, the exploding passion can ignite a societal transformation."

In Our Time tells the story of that transformation, as only Brownmiller can.  A leading feminist activist and the author of Against Our Will, the book that changed the nation's perception of rape, she now brings the Women's Liberation movement and its passionate history vividly to life.

Here is the colorful cast of characters on whose shoulders we stand--the feminist icons Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem, and the lesser known women whose contributions to change were equally profound.  And here are the landmark events of the era: the consciousness-raising groups that sprung up in people's living rooms, the mimeographed position papers that first articulated the new thinking, the abortion and rape speak-outs, the daring sit-ins, the underground newspaper collectives, and the inventive lawsuits that all played a role in the most wide-reaching revolution of the twentieth century.

Here as well are Brownmiller's reflections on the feminist utopian vision, and her dramatic accounts, rendered with honesty and humor, of the movement's painful internal schisms as it struggled to give voice to the aspirarations of all women.  Finally, Brownmiller addresses that most relevant question: What is the legacy of feminism today?

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In In Our Time, journalist Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will and Femininity, looks back at her experiences on the front lines of feminism. She recounts the trials, tribulations, and triumphs the women's movement experienced in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s and recalls the heroic women who led the fight, including such prominent leaders as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer, but her focus is on the lesser-known warriors at the feminist front. In this essay, written exclusively for Barnes & Noble.com.


A Feminist Looks Back

I joke that it took me almost as long to write the history of women's liberation as it did to live through it. No surprise. A different set of skills—reflection, analysis, the ability to transform memory into blow-by-blow narrative—applied.

Good memoirs of great social movements are seldom written by leading activists, but not for a lack of material or clever words. A lasting case of burnout is often the problem. Total immersion in a cause can be so overwhelming that the experience may remain too fraught for the measure of distance that is needed to tell the story.

Another stumbling block, except for renegades and recanters, is a natural reluctance to air dirty linen in public, even if the linen has been moldering in the laundry basket for 25 years. Such large numbers of people are taking potshots at feminism these days that I briefly wondered as I began my book if I'd be handing the snipers fresh ammunition.

Would a no-holds-barred account of some tremendously fractious and divisive disputes in the movement's life be disloyal? Would sharp portrayals of certain colorful but difficult personalities undercut the importance of the causes and issues they and I believed in?

No, I told myself. A sanitized history that glided over the movement's more exasperating aspects would be as deceitful as an authorized biography of a CEO. Plus, it wouldn't fool anyone. All movements for social change are driven by difficult people; "well-adjusted," temperate personalities tend to cope with existing conditions without making a fuss. One of my deepest political convictions is that all meaningful societal transformations begin at the bottom with raging utopian visionaries and then percolate to the surface. The point is worth underscoring time and again.

The women's movement took off in the late '60s, gaining courage and savvy from the civil-rights and antiwar struggles. It soared to great heights in the '70s, winning popular acceptance, and began to falter in the '80s, when Reaganomics and a general lassitude ("Enough, already!") set in. My canvas, therefore, had to cover a sprawl of more than two decades, a rise-and-fall arc, and a cast of thousands.

"Must you credit everyone who ever held a banner in a demonstration?" my editor asked one day. She was joshing, sort of. I have nightmares when I think of all the earnest feminist fighters whose names and contributions I have left unrecorded. Maybe this is the place to offer my apology. A telephone directory would have been more comprehensive, but a telephone directory does not tell a coherent, dramatic story.

Ah, coherence! I've always prided myself as a writer in my ability to advance from point A to point Z via a clear path energetically hacked through the woods. Clarity, structure, and organization are my strengths, yet shaping the narrative of feminism nearly did me in.

Everything happened at once during the '70s. All the great issues—abortion rights, equal employment, daycare, lesbian visibility, the campaigns against rape, battery, sexual harassment—exploded in the space of a few short years. I needed chapters that were issue-driven and chapters that were chronology-driven. I needed to explain the influential role of the media, and to expound on some other roiling social forces that put their mark on the era. I needed to put in some occasional reminders, for young folks and for the forgetful, of the way things were before women's liberation. I needed a linear progression. I needed to pummel this crashing, thrashing giant of a movement into some semblance of order to give the poor reader a break.

Of course it helped that I'd come into the women's movement with a strong background in journalism, the best possible training for a sense of perspective, but by no means did I set out to write a dispassionate book. My partisanship is revealed from page one onward, for my first task as narrator was to capture the spirit of the times. History is soulless without passion, and dry without conflict. In Our Time is an insider's story written from the heart.

Susan Brownmiller

From the Publisher
Praise for Susan Brownmiller:

Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape:

"The most rigorous and provocative piece of scholarship that has yet emerged from the feminist movement. . . . May significantly change the terms of the dialogue between and about men and women."
--Time magazine

"Chilling and monumental. . . . Deserves a place next to those rare books which force us to change the way we feel about what we know."
--The New York Times Book Review

"Susan Brownmiller has succeeded in that rarest and most difficult task: She has written a book that not only must be read but also is readable. As a literary experience this book is as excellent as its ideas."
--Chicago Tribune Book World

"Against Our Will is a work of stunning originality which goes far beyond the statistics of rape to challenge some of society's most accepted assumptions. . . . A landmark work, one of the most significant books to emerge in this decade."
--Houston Chronicle

"A monumental work and a thoroughly chilling eye opener."
--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Femininity:

"Illuminating and informative. Miss Brownmiller has turned a treacherous subject into a lively and compelling book . . . essential reading."
--Carol Gilligan, The New York Times Book Review

"She eloquently tells stories many women will identify with."
--The Washington Post Book World

"A positive joy to read!"
--Nora Ephron, Chicago Tribune Book World

BUST Magazine
[An] important, gorgeously written history of the Second Wave.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Here is a gossipy account of women's liberation by a New York journalist who was in the thick of many movement controversies--from the pornography wars to accusations of elitism. A freelance magazine and TV news writer, Brownmiller went to her first women's liberation meeting in the fall of 1968. After her feminist "click," she almost single-handedly redefined Americans' views of rape when she wrote Against Our Will in 1975. Brownmiller chronicles the movement's rise out of civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activism; the heady days of demonstrating at the Miss America pageant, in the offices of Ladies' Home Journal and on the streets; the struggle for abortion rights and to define rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment as discrimination against women; and the rise of feminist newspapers, magazines and publications such as Our Bodies, Ourselves. She also covers writers Marilyn French, Shere Hite and a host of other feminist theorists then on the edge and now part of the mainstream. Her memoir concludes with what she views as the final demise of the radical feminist movement, when feminists started to shred one another in the porn wars of the 1980s. For those seeking a narrative rather than analytical history, Brownmiller offers an enthralling mix of lively stories about her own activities (although she doesn't delve into her own background as much as some readers might wish) and interviews with other participants in one of the most influential social movements of our time. Agent, Frances Goldin. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Based largely on interviews and her own experiences, Brownmiller, the author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, reflects on the history of the women's movement from the 1960s to the present. Topics include the founding of the Women's Liberation Movement, the explosion in women's publishing, and changing attitudes and laws on abortion, rape, battering, pornography, and sexual harassment. Brownmiller records the triumphs and occasional euphoria as well as the rifts and philosophical divisions within the movement while sketching portraits of its well-known and less-familiar leaders. For other perspectives and reflections on the period, see The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation (LJ 10/15/98). Appropriate for large public and academic libraries.--Patricia A. Beaber, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Ewing Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Carol Spindel
Susan Brownmiller was in the vanguard of women's liberation, joining New York Radical Feminists in 1968...Brownmiller's latest book, In Our Time, is an engaging memoir that traces second wave feminism's meteoric rise in the late 1960's through its slow, painful decline.
Time Out New York
Kirkus Reviews
A cogent, vivid view that conveys the drama and urgency of the women's liberation movement, from a writer who was both a committed activist and a critical observer, sometimes simultaneously. Although Brownmiller has written books on other subjects (e.g., Seeing Vietnam, 1994), she is still best known for her 1975 exploration of rape, Against Our Will. This new history/memoir explores the revolutionary decades that began in 1963 with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, a book that "changed my life," says Brownmiller. She was attracted to the radical side of women's liberation and recalls with pride and occasional bemusement the women who struggled to formulate new social theories, mine history, introduce consciousness-raising groups, and meld socialism and anticapitalism with the feminist revolution. The usual suspects—Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer—receive a share of attention, but the focus is on lesser-known activists, many already committed to the political left, active in the civil-rights and anti–Vietnam War movements and burgeoning New Left politics. Experienced in confrontation, these low-profile women organized meetings and demonstrations, wrote papers, published newsletters, and shared the dark corners of their lives with one another in consciousness-raising sessions. A collectivist bent led to the "trashing" of individuals who attracted the limelight (including Brownmiller herself, who as a successful writer had a higher profile). There was infighting, and splinter groups formed. Some, like the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, hung together and succeeded; others fragmented and disappeared. By 1975, according to Brownmiller, theearly theorists and organizers were too inflexible and impractical "to triumph on the larger stage they had brought into creation." But on that stage were core issues of rape, abortion, domestic violence, and sexual harassment around which all women could rally, although clashes continue over pornography, and abortion is once again under siege. Meetings, debates, demonstrations, church speak-outs, living-room confessions—all come passionately to life in this memoir; close to how it really was for women's libbers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385318310
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Pages: 388
  • Sales rank: 1,224,330
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Brownmiller is the author of Against Our Will: Men, Women And Rape; Femininity; Waverly Place, a novel; Seeing Vietnam, and Shirley Chisholm, a biography for children.  She has written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, Esquire, Vogue, Rolling Stone, The Nation, and many other publications.  She lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

The Founders

Of the thousand or so white volunteers who joined the southern civil rights struggle during the mid-sixties, at least half, including myself, were women. Many of us went on to found--or to play a major role in--the Women's Liberation Movement a few years later. History seldom offers parallels this tidy, but as it happened, many of the female abolitionists of the nineteenth century had gone on to organize for women's suffrage. These two vivid epochs were separated by more than a century, yet nearly identical forces applied. After fighting alongside men in a radical movement to correct a grievous wrong, the women then woke up and wondered, "What about us?''

Political organizers understand that the important thing about action is reaction. There you are, taking a stand, struggling to express a new idea, and the response is so powerful--positive or negative--that it reverberates into new responses and reactions, especially in you.

Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were part of the American delegation that traveled to London in 1840 for a World Anti-Slavery Convention. As the high-minded congress got under way, the male abolitionists voted not to accredit and seat the women. For ten days Mott and Stanton watched the proceedings from the visitors' gallery, where in mortification and anger they hatched the idea for a women's rights congress that became the historic Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.

White women in the civil rights movement during the 1960s were also consumed by a vision of equality, one that seemed important enough to risk our lives for. (And one white woman, Viola Liuzzo, did in fact lose her life to a sniper on the Selma-to-Montgomery March.) Although Martin Luther King, Jr., came to embody the stoic heroism of those hopeful years, to kids on the college campuses, and to many older radicals like me, SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the true cutting edge of the movement.

SNCC had been formed after the lunch-counter sit-ins in February 1960. And it was SNCC that sent out the call for an army of northern volunteers to help register black voters in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, the call to which so many white women responded. SNCC was cast in the image of a young, fearless black male, a concept that may have been necessary for its time, but its corollary was that women of both races were expected to occupy a lesser role.

Jan Goodman and I were in the second batch of volunteers for Mississippi Freedom Summer. No longer part of the student community from which SNCC drew most of its volunteers, I was by then a researcher at Newsweek, stuck in a dead-end job, and Jan was directing inner-city programs for the Girl Scouts. During our orientation session in Memphis, we were told that Meridian needed emergency workers. Michael Schwerner, the project director, James Chaney, a local organizer, and Andrew Goodman, a summer volunteer who hadn't had time to unpack his duffel, had just been murdered in nearby Neshoba County, although their bodies would not be found for another forty days. When no one else at the Memphis orientation session volunteered for Meridian, Jan and I accepted the assignment. Between us, we had a good ten years of organizing experience, hers in Democratic primaries and presidential campaigns, mine in CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, and both of us together in voter registration drives in East Harlem. The night we arrived in Meridian, a field secretary called a meeting, asking to see the new volunteers. Proudly we raised our hands.

"Shit!'' he exploded. "I asked for volunteers and they sent me white women.''

On other projects in other Mississippi towns that summer, white women were reminded of their second-class status as movement workers through a variety of slights. Because of the southern white male's phobia about mixing the races, our presence in the volunteer army of integrationists was construed as an added danger to the movement's black men. I do not wish to underestimate this danger, but there will always be a germ of a reason, sound or unsound, behind the perpetuation of sexist practice. When antiwar activism got under way a year or so after Mississippi Freedom Summer, there was also a logical reason why women in that movement were relegated to second-class status: the draft for the war in Vietnam directly affected young men.

Women the world over are required to modify their behavior because of things that men fear and do.

SNCC was a "beloved community'' to Mary King and Casey Hayden, an encompassing lifestyle dedicated to the perfection of moral virtue. They were among the first white women to have staff jobs in the Atlanta headquarters. Mary was the product of six generations of Virginia ministers on her father's side. Casey, from East Texas, entered student politics through the Christian ecumenical movement and helped to found Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the primary force on the white New Left. She had married Tom Hayden but they were living apart.

The two women studied the French existentialists in their evening hours to broaden their understanding of theory and practice. When they'd exhausted Camus, they turned to Simone de Beauvoir. Certain passages in The Second Sex spoke to them so directly that they began pressing the book on others. Some people in the movement started grumbling that Mary and Casey were undisciplined sentimentalists "on a Freedom high.''

In the fall of 1964, Mary and Casey wrote a position paper on women in SNCC that owed its inspiration partly to Beauvoir and partly to their experience in their movement work. "The average white person doesn't realize that he assumes he is superior,'' they wrote. "So too the average SNCC worker finds it difficult to discuss the woman problem because of the assumption of male superiority. Assumptions of male superiority are as widespread and deep-rooted and as crippling to the woman as the assumptions of white supremacy are to the Negro.''

Expecting ridicule, the two white women did not sign the paper they passed around that November at a staff retreat on the Mississippi coast. Thirty-seven manifestos and proposals had been prepared for the retreat at Waveland, and most were being ignored. A wrenching split within the organization was consuming everyone's energy.

One evening Stokely Carmichael and a few others took a welcome break down at the dock. Camping it up, he joked, "What is the position of women in SNCC? The position of women in SNCC is prone.''

Alas for Stokely, his riff became nearly as famous as his later calls for Black Power. While language purists wondered if Carmichael had really meant "supine," his jest came to symbolize the collection of slights suffered by women in SNCC.

One year later Mary King and Casey Hayden gathered the courage to sign their names to an expanded version of their paper and mailed it to forty women activists against the Vietnam War. The second broadside recounted a list of movement grievances--who gets named project director? who sweeps the office floor? who takes the minutes? who speaks to the press?--before it concluded "Objectively, the chances seem nil that we could start a movement based on anything as distant to general American thought as a sex-caste system. Therefore, most of us will probably want to work full-time on problems such as war, poverty, race.'' King and Hayden titled their paper "A Kind of Memo.''

Another year passed and "A Kind of Memo'' found its way to a national SDS conference that convened at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana two days after Christmas in 1966. Fifty women, a lot for that time, caucused in the school cafeteria to discuss it.

"Heather Booth and I were there,'' recalls Marilyn Webb, who would play a significant role in the founding of Women's Liberation in Washington D.C. "When the SNCC letter from Mary and Casey was read aloud, it precipitated a three-day marathon discussion about women in SDS. We'd been dealing with civil rights, with the Vietnam War, we'd been urging resistance to the draft with slogans like 'Women Say Yes to Men Who Say No'--that had been our mentality. This was one of the first conversations where we talked about what was happening with us. We ended up talking about everything, including our sexuality.''

Community organizers trained by Saul Alinsky, who ran workshops and wrote primers on the principles of activism, Marilyn Webb and Heather Booth were soon to marry New Left leaders. They were to try as well to marry the new women's thinking to SDS. The political union, however, was not to be.

The following April, "A Kind of Memo'' surfaced yet again, this time in Liberation, a leftist-pacifist magazine. Having served as catalysts, Mary King and Casey Hayden then retired from the fray. SNCC, their beloved community, no longer welcomed white participation. They had lost their political moorings. It would be characteristic of the emerging feminist movement that various women would surface for brief moments in leadership roles and then, exhausted by the effort, depart from the scene.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
The Founders 11
An Independent Movement 35
Which Way Is Utopia? 59
Confrontation 81
"Abortion Is a Woman's Right" 102
Enter the Media 136
Full Moon Rising 167
"Rape Is a Political Crime Against Women" 194
Internal Combustion 225
Feminist Author 244
"No Man is Worth Dying For" 259
Its Name Is Sexual Harassment 279
The Pornography Wars 295
Epilogue 326
Acknowledgments 331
Source Notes 333
Index 351
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Interviews & Essays

I'm always facetiously saying to female editors, "I'm not a feminist, but --"

But after reading Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution," I realize that I am, in fact, a feminist, an old-style one from the late '60s and early '70s. Feminism in the early 1970s was a civil rights movement. In those days, women had no reproductive freedom. Rape was considered a rare occurrence. Domestic abuse was a nonissue. A woman's only choices of occupation -- besides becoming a housewife -- were secretary, waitress or movie star.

Not that early feminists (or "women's libbers," as they were called in the suburbs where I grew up) shared a mutual agenda. The anti-war feminists clashed with the communists who clashed with the lesbians. Brownmiller, author of the important treatise Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, describes this social movement's history even-handedly, revealing it to be a riveting time in American history when ideology was exhilarating.

I said as much to Brownmiller at the beginning of our interview.

Your book reminded me of the days when the left still stood for something, and the right wing hadn't yet monopolized the moral high ground.

I'm so glad you said that, because 99 percent of my readers are always women. So maybe some men who are interested in political theory and activism will appreciate this. Certainly young men have far greater understanding than the men of my generation ever had or ever will. Men of my generation say, "It wasn't until I had a daughter that I began to see what you were talking about."

Having a female boss gives one plenty of perspective.

[Laughs.] I think having no boss is the best. But you know, I feel that the generation just after mine developed this great dislike of us for what we had done. And I think today's young people are just so much more open to what was happening in the '70s.

There once was a time when a woman had to put the date of her last period on a job application.

The young just don't know that. It wasn't their experience at all.

Some women readers regret that you didn't write more about yourself in the book, but that didn't bother me. You only appeared as often as you needed to.

That's what I thought. Although I can imagine some movement women saying, "There she goes! Talking about herself again!" But I knew I needed to be very careful not to become the Zelig or the Forrest Gump of the women's movement. Was I significant to this movement? Yeah, I was significant to the anti-rape movement. I was not significant to the anti-sexual harassment movement. To put myself into that chapter would have been self-serving.

So you worked on this book for four or five years -- what was it like seeing your old comrades?

Well, it was often very emotional. I did a lot of phone interviews because everyone was dispersed around the country. The interviews were usually conducted very late at night for me because many of them seem to be on the West Coast now. There was such a stillness over the telephone wires as I was getting them to recall and tell me about their history. They were remarkable conversations, but I have to say that many of the women I called were very depressed. They had captured the attention of the nation in the '70s, and their time had passed. Nobody remembered their name and contribution. They were often surprised to get a call from me, because of course I'd become more famous with Against Our Will. So if they'd been waiting for a historian's call -- and they all had been -- they didn't imagine that it would be me.

What does feminism mean today?

Well, it remains a solidification of the values that we created, but I'm too much of a realist to tell you that there's a feminist movement out there. We're in a holding pattern -- and that's OK. Its time will come again.

I think there should always be some sort of conflict between men and women. Otherwise we'll become one oring homogenous gender.

I agree totally. I think there's a place for a woman to be a sex object, in bed, you know?

After Nina Burleigh wrote in the Washington Post that she'd gladly give Clinton a blow job, I had an argument (which I lost) with a Salon editor that in the end, after 30 years of feminism, it still comes down to giving Mr. Big a blow job.

Well, maybe you should have won that argument. I wrote a kind of naughty piece about Bill and Hillary for my Web site called "Bill Clinton, Jack Rabbit." I was so pissed off that all these feminists were falling into line and defending this guy. I felt very sorry for people like Gloria Steinem who thought she had to defend the president because he had done more for women than any other president to date. It's my feeling that he did that because of our movement. He couldn't not do it.

Is there a slang term for giving a blow job to get a job?

Well, there were all those casting-couch stories in the '50s and '60s. I was a struggling actress in those days. We used to say to each other very bravely, "Yeah, women who screw get screwed."

How many years did you spend trying to be an actress?

Oh, my dog years, in my early 20s. I was always politically minded. I don't come from a red diaper family, but I found my way to the left very early because I was a rebel. But I was studying acting. I was in a couple of off-Broadway shows. I was a terrible actress -- and still involved trying to be political, because those were always the two things in my life. I didn't dare think I could write. Of course that was the deep dream. But by the time I was 28, I got a job at Newsweek as a researcher, and it really was the time when I understood that there were other paths that I could take in life.

I was at Newsweek from '63 to '64 as a researcher in the National Affairs department. And I quit to join the civil rights movement in Mississippi. And that was the time when Betty Friedan's book [The Feminine Mystique] came out in paperback. I read it just before I went to Mississippi. And I said, "Oh my God, it's me; she's talking about me." That was probably my crucial turning point.

The FBI tried to infiltrate the civil rights movement. Did they care about "women's libbers"?

Well this is a debate I had with other movement women. As far as I could see, any of the craziness of the women's movement was due to individual women who were a little crazy. Now other women, and they still argue with me, feel that the FBI was infiltrating the movement with provocateurs. I have never seen hard proof of this. I'm sure some agents attended some meetings, but they were looking for communists. They didn't see feminists themselves as any threat.

That's sort of insulting, isn't it?

[Laughs.] I never thought of it that way. Well, I guess they really didn't think that talking about sexual satisfaction and orgasms was dangerous. They were there to report on who was going to blow up a building.

Were you ever tempted to blow up Hugh Hefner or something?

No. I must say, though, there were a couple of earlier incidents where people had actions at draft registration centers, when I'd say to myself, boy, if somebody gave me some of this plastique, would I have been tempted? Yes.

My anger at my country and at this war was tremendous. But I've just never thought that violence was the way to go, particularly in America. I can't speak for other countries where conditions were more extreme and they had to do what they did. But no, we in our movement had so many imaginative things to try that violence was just not on our agenda.

So, in the end, did the good "guys" win?

I once heard a Marxist historian give a speech where he said, "Capitalism has an extraordinary ability to co-opt its enemies. And you will have to pardon me from celebrating this, because I cannot." That has resonated in my head all my life as an adult political activist. It is astonishing how the "establishment" manages to co-opt all ideas and give the people who created them a little piece of it. And then change it around. Mellow it out. So that it's no longer got its cutting edge. And it certainly happened with the rape crisis centers and the battered-women shelters. We created these as brilliant tactics to shock the nation into understanding that rape is a problem, and battery is a problem, and men were the source of the problem because they were doing the raping and battering. Right? And now they're all called "victims' services centers."

So who is really running things in America?

Is anybody? Probably not. I don't want to get paranoid about it. But having lived through a time when -- as I say in the end of the book -- you could have a part-time job, a cheap apartment and have plenty of time for social activism, then boom! Ronald Reagan, rise of the fundamentalist right, and all of a sudden everybody's working just to pay the rent like mice on treadmills. And that's what young people are today -- they're mice on treadmills and they don't even know it. Or if they do know it, they don't know that once it was different. Someone once said so plaintively to me the other day, "I hear there was a time when you could get a cheap apartment in New York and work part time and work on your novel. Ha-ha-ha." Yeah. "Work on your ovel." "Work on political activism." Yes. Once upon a time there were cheap apartments in New York.

Come on, historians have to appreciate irony...

Isn't that funny, the things that life does to you? I am a historian, aren't I? I became one when I wrote Against Our Will because I saw that rape had a history, and nobody had ever said that before. Let me tell you, to be my age and to suddenly be a historian of a life that you lived, it makes you feel old.

What I think is great about your book is that it's about a time when intelligent people took ideology seriously. It seems like for the past 20 years the only people with ideology are the nuts that blow up buildings in Waco -- I mean, Oklahoma.

Yes. But even the nuts who blew things up -- the Weatherpeople in the '70s, the '60s -- they're much more famous than my women's movement heroines. Everyone seems to know about Bernardine Dohrn, right? Because it's very sexy to the American public, that a good-looking young woman blows things up and goes underground.

That's true in a way. But I think Americans have always been crackpots hungry for ideology.

[Laughs] Yeah, we're ripe for crackpots at least.

A little while ago I had a vision about the relation between the civil rights movement and the women's rights movement that will sound crackpot, but I believe it's true.

Tell it.

Last month I interviewed a female dominatrix. Among other things, I learned that there are private clubs in New York City where successful female executives -- powerful women like Tina Brown -- can go and get whipped by men. Whatever that says about the hidden desires of certain women, I know that there are not secret clubs in New York where successful African-Americans can go to be subservient to some "Massah."

You know I stopped going out to look at the [Greenwich Village] Halloween parade because a couple of years ago I watched a white man with a leash, and the collar was around a black man. They were bravely walking through the street. And my inner voice was saying "No, no, no." And they thought they were being very brave.

And once on the radio, a hundred years ago, when gay liberation was just happening, I'll never forget hearing a Jewish gay man say, "I will admit this, I will admit this, I grew up during the Holocaust, and yes, my sexuality includes being handcuffed." [Laughs.] You know, how can you deal with people's sexuality and fetishes? This was a big stumbling block for us in the women's movement. We ran up against a lot of crazy people's crazy sexuality.

You think nothing can surprise you, but then...[Both laugh.] It's like Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the great British actress, said: "I don't care what they do as long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses."

You have to accept that. Because otherwise you're put in the position of being the moral censor. And that's what happened in the anti-pornography movement. The pro-porn women said, "You are censoring our minds. You are censoring our behavior. This is who we are. And the end of the road goes no further. The road stops right here."
Salon

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  • Posted November 25, 2010

    Highly Recommended

    In our time is mostly about woman who fight for there rights in the twenineith century. The woman have groups in New York, Washington, Manhattan, and Mississippi. They come together every third Wednesday in the month and talk about woman's rights such as rape, abortion, and sexual harassment. Each group have a certain leader who's in charge of the group. Also, men like too come too the meetings and disagree on what woman believe in.One of the most popular women group is called "Woman's Liberation Movement." It represents the feelings of a large and growing mass of woman throughout the country. Abortion was the copious feminist of all. They believed the abortion was the woman's decision and not the men. During the meetings most woman candid on the topic. This book will be recommended for those who believe in woman rights and what they dicuss. I would rate this book a 9.5 because it was very interesting and i also learned a few things and what woman had too go through to get there freedom and rights today.The womens in this book did an excellent job standing up for there selves and what they believe in and there rights. Lets see what they'll stand up for in the future.

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