Walking among the lush foliage of High Line Park on a recent misty morning, I encountered no one else for more than a mile. It smacked of zombie apocalypse, to be sure, but it was also a preciously peaceful experience, the kind one rarely has in high-energy New York. Similarly, I wandered through the remarkable Alice Neel retrospective at the Met a few weeks ago, which was strange, cool, and utterly hushed. On my last visit in late 2019 (to see Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll), I couldn’t get close to any of the iconic guitars because of the throngs blabbing into iPhones and yelling at wayward family members. But the Met in May of 2021—with timed tickets, limited capacity, and masked and muffled inhabitants—that enormous space was mine, as if I had the key to the city.
Having space—to walk, to think, to maneuver, to create—is a motif in this issue. A new history of Eleanor Roosevelt argues that her time in Greenwich Village—living among radicals, artists, and lesbians—enabled her to transcend the elite confinement to which she was born. Gods of the Upper Air narrates the anthropological adventures of Margaret Mead, Zora Neale Hurston, Ella Cara Deloria, and Ruth Benedict in the early twentiethcentury. They travelled the world with humility and curiosity—and helped to unmask the arbitrariness of racial categories and the folly of labeling societies as “civilized” or “primitive.” Women’s Liberation!, an anthology of radical writings of the second wave, reviewed here by millennial feminist and assistant editor Charis Caputo, “narrates the creation of language for describing reality—sexism, sexual harassment, marital rape, date rape, sisterhood, etc.—concepts that have become so commonplace we forget their origin.” Charis notes her own (and maybe her generation’s) resistance to the “white bourgeois” second wave, and her sense that that characterization itself is reductive. Shane Snowdon, “baby-boomer lesbian,” is worried that the second wave has been framed as hopelessly retrograde. In her review of Ginny Berson’s memoir of Olivia Records, Snowdon celebrates a beautiful and powerful lesbian feminism, one that engaged (in flawed but sincere ways) with many of the same questions intersectional feminists grapple with today.
Beyond recording and distributing, the women’s music movement created important feminist spaces—in this case, the festivals that brought its fans together for sex and revolution. In my experience, the conversations among attendees about power, bodies, gender, race, class, safety, etc., in those spaces was light-years ahead of the “mainstream” world. In fact, the polarization (including cancelling and boycotting) that is so prevalent today had its sneak preview in the passionate controversy over Michfest’s “womyn-born- womyn” policy. Trans inclusivity ultimately prevailed in the popular understanding of feminism, as it seems clear to me that it should. Despite its failures and oversights, feminism, as a movement, has progressed and will continue to progress toward more inclusion, rather than less.
New York City, June 2021