by Micki Leventhal
I am old.
I cut my activist teeth in the civil rights actions of the 1960s, struck for Kent State, fought for the right to wear pants to work ( yes, really! ) , lobbied for a word change from 'chairman' to 'chairperson' at the national convention of the American Association of University Women and campaigned for the ERA while caring for my twins, who were conceived the old-fashioned way.
I came out at the age of 36 in the fabulous heyday of radical feminism. I volunteered at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, bared my middle-aged breasts in the Michigan woods and returned to graduate school at 40, earning a master's degree in women's studies.
I blush now to admit that I was so steeped in feminist essentialist culture that at one time, in a perverse twist on Victorian practice, I kept my books-by-female-authors and my books-by-male-authors on separate shelves. ( Well, at least I didn't burn the 'boy books!' )
I ultimately rejected lesbian separatism due to, primarily, my deep and abiding love for my boy-child and, secondarily, my unwillingness to deny myself the richness of men's cultural productionsfrom Wolfgang Mozart, Mark Twain and William Morris to Buddha, Balanchine and the Beatles. I am glad of that.
Fast-forward through lots of life to a post-Monica Lewinsky, post-9/11 world of new realities, virtual and otherwise. This is a world where, sadly, GLBTQ folks still do not enjoy full civil rights. It is also a world where, happily, a scrapbooking suburban housewife relates the story of herself and her aged mother going to clean out the house of her deceased uncle and discovering that 'he was gay, but that's okay, of course.' And continuing to tell, giggling and blushing but not condemning, of the wealth of bondage toys they packed up for disposal or donation. And, it's a world where my partner's Midwestern folks display our wedding photo on the mantle along with those of their three hetero sons.
Working in higher educationat an arts college no lessI must continue to learn and navigate an ever-evolving reinterpretation of social constructs, emerging 'memes' and 'tropes' and shifting paradigms. While still celebrating the Goddess eight times a year with my Dianic circle, I grow to understand and embrace 'gender queer' and struggle to accept 'fuck-me feminism.' It is a rich, vital and GLBTQ-happy reality in which my friend James can come to work in a skirt and staff is developing a database-friendly code for 'third sex' donors to the college.
Into this new world swoops a reminder of a 'simpler' time.
Searching for lodging for an upcoming trip to visit our daughter in Santa Fe, we virtually arrived at Casa Feminista, owned and operated by Sonia Johnson and her partner, Jade DeForest. Could it be? My inner investigative journalist kicks in and I'm hot on the trail, discovering that, yes indeed, this is THE Sonia Johnson of radical-lesbian-feminist-separatist fame. The Sonia Johnson about whom rumors of fiscal and sexual 'improprieties' still swirl. The Sonia Johnson who disappeared from the cultural landscape some 15 years ago and emerged last year lecturing at a meeting of a North Carolina chapter of the re-formed Congregation of the Goddess International.
What a kick. We inquired about lodging at Casa Feminista in Ojo Caliente, N.M., and, in the process, learned that right after the summer solstice, Johnson will actually be in the city of Santa Fe, the centerpiece of an historic gathering/reunion/celebration of the Good Old Days.
There is truly an amazing line-up planned for Feminist Hullaballoo: The Wild Women Reunite. Joining Johnson are philosopher Mary Daly; musicians Alix Dobkin and Margie Adams; writer and scholar Cherrie Moraga; Goddess priestess Kim Duckett; writer Paula Gunn Allen; drummer Afia Walking Tree; lesbian utopian novelist Sally Gearhart; and many others. The women-only event takes place at the New Mexico School for the Deaf, June 22-24. There will be speeches, music, drumming, spirit circles, commitment ceremonies and general rabble-rousing. Check out program information and reservations ( at $175 each ) at www.feministhullaballoo.com .
Feminist Hullaballoo was born out of frustration. In an e-mail interview, Johnson explains that when activist and cultural critic Andrea Dworkin died in 2005, DeForest contacted Ms. magazine and suggested an interview with some of the well-known feminists from the 1970s through the '90s in order to introduce 'the new generation of feminists to them through articles instead of obituaries. The editor was kind but not interested.' Jade decided to organize an event and gathered together feminist activists and academics, the collective becoming the current producing body, Estrogenerations, Inc.: 'a non-profit group of womyn dedicated to the well-being and survival of all female beings.'
Struggling and fighting and forging bonds of sisterhood for two decades, 'the [ second wave ] Women's Movement finally became comatose in the 90s, slowly devolving into the Ladies Auxiliary of the Democratic Party,' Johnson says. 'The ideal of liberation died and we were back on our knees begging the men again, doing most of the hard work and getting nothing for ourselves again. This did not satisfy the hunger of our souls, just used us up and burned us out. So we retreated into our personal lives. But we were isolated from what had given our lives purpose and from the power of female energy. Many became depressed, despondent [ and ] ill. Many died, too early.'
Johnson explains that, for a decade, she and DeForest also retreated into their private lives, surrounded by female friends, flowers and laughter. But about three years ago, they 'felt a quickening' and agreed that it was time to go back to New Mexico. They bought an old place and rehabbed it into a women's retreat center. 'That was fine as far as it went but we needed a real reunion … to begin to weave the broken web back together, recommit ourselves to women again. To bring women together again.' Like any major public event, the Feminist Hullaballoo has been a huge organizational undertaking, growing and coming to reality through the efforts of many women. 'The original idea,' Johnson is anxious to emphasize, 'was definitely Jade's.'
Whether or not these cranky crones will have anything new to say remains to be seen. Can the experiences, defeats and victories of the past instruct those who will fight the battles yet to come? Will the songs and sentiments of the foremothers be perceived as quaint camp or will they serve to inspire? Certainly, this event offers a nostalgic trip through history and memory for the older generation and a once-in-a-lifetime living history lesson for the younger.See you there?
See www.feministhullaballoo.com .