Ellen Willis and her cohort struggled for their rights; our generation inherited them. The liberties that women devoted their lives to winning and protecting are now largely taken for granted – Roe v. Wade was decided more than a decade before I was born, no-fault divorces are a fact of life, and it’s unlikely that I’ll lose the right to vote.Read more.
Reading “Toward a Feminist Sexual Revolution” by Ellen Willis made me feel, for the first time in my life, that another writer understood and had articulated what I want – not just domestically, or politically, but sexually. Like: during actual sex. Other theorists I’ve encountered tend to encourage repression of some sort: either the repression of sexual urges themselves, or the repression of any emotion connected to sex. These ideas were so ingrained that I didn’t even realize I’d internalized them; reading this essay was like when you don’t realize you had a headache until the moment it disappears.Read more.
When people write about Ellen Willis, they tend to write in the first person. A friend pointed this out last week, after listening to me complain about trying to write about No More Nice Girls. It was so good, I told her, I felt like anything I wrote wouldn’t be on its level, wouldn’t capture the complexity of the arguments Willis—radical feminist, visionary cultural critic, revolutionary intellectual and intellectual revolutionary—makes so lucidly and hilariously and persuasively.Read more.
For many years I did not consider myself a feminist. If you had asked me I would have denied that I was one; I would have equivocated about “not being sure what that meant,” about equal rights vs. exceptionalism, about the various particular feminists I’d met or read and disagreed with.Read more.
That first line of “The Last Unmarried Person in America”—“The great marriage boom of ’84 began shortly after Congress passed the historic National Family Security Act”—is such good science fiction that it took me several beats to realize it was in fact made up. Then Ellen Willis expands on it, noting that the Act abolishes divorce, prosecutes single people as vagrants, requires applicants for civil service jobs to sign a monogamy oath, and my personal favorite, makes the interstate sale of quiche a federal offense. This America has finally made “a reality of what had then been an impossible dream: universal marriage.” Gays who take an oath for a sexless marriage can marry, and young couples insist that their marriage has nothing to do with the NFSA but is instead about their love; they assure the narrator that their desire to commit is spontaneous.Read more.
For one year, immediately after graduating from college, I taught English to high school sophomores in South Texas. My inexperience with classroom management often resulted in—among many other disasters, large and small—discussions that veered wildly off topic. The school, and the larger community, was majority Hispanic; in fact, reviewing my students’ standardized test results from the previous year, I realized that only two had identified themselves as solely “Caucasian.” And so perhaps it was not surprising that one of those two students eventually brought up the topic of “reverse-racism.”
I don’t remember what my lesson plan that day was to have been; in any case, it was immediately discarded in favor of a discussion about structural inequality.Read more.
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead was the first book I read by British novelist Barbara Comyns. I knew nothing about Comyns at the time: I picked up the novel exclusively because of the title, which struck me as promising and intriguing. In fact, the book turned out to be a great deal more than that: it was downright astonishing.Read more.