Welcome to the dyke a quarterly online annotated archive

 


DAQ dyke a quarterly announcement flier 1974DYKE A Quarterly of Lesbian Culture and Analysis,
was published in NY City in the mid 1970s. Editors Liza Cowan and Penny House created a magazine that was as beautiful as it was radical, and as personal as it was political. After it ceased publication in 1979, it languished in private collections until, in 2010, curators from The Library of The Museum of Modern Art and The Schlesinger Library requested copies and papers.

While Liza Cowan was doing graduate studies in anthropology in the 1990s, she was dismayed to discover that scholars were depending on secondary source material to write about Lesbian Feminist activism of the 1970s, so she and co-editor Penny House decided to produce the digital archive to provide primary source documents about Lesbian Feminism to scholars everywhere.

Although rigorous in presenting the scans and searchable transcriptions of the original materials, the DAQ archive presents another dimension as well. The annotations to the original articles are written as personal essays and as research essays about the women or groups mentioned in the articles. Hyperlinks make this a useful tool for both scholars and for the non-academic reader. Because the archive is published in blog format, readers can respond with their own stories and links.

DYKE A Quarterly is now available for research at The Museum Library of The Museum Of Modern Art in New York City. The issues as well as ephemera, letters, and collateral material are available for research at The Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College.

 


"What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear" at The Museum Of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art has a major exhibition called  "Is Fashion Modern?"  Part of the exhibtion covers t-shirts. 

Coordinating with the exhibition, the museum publishes a blog with some wonderful articles. I'm honored that they wanted to know the backstory of my photograph of Alix Dobkin wearing "the future is female" shirt from Labyris Books.  Please read the actual blog...it's got some great essays. I've reprinted mine here.

The future is female t-shirt labyris books worn by alix dobkin photo by liza cowan 1975

The story behind the The Future Is Female graphic T-shirt is well known, both within feminists circles and outside them. In 2015, the Lesbian history Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y posted a photo of folk singer Alix Dobkin wearing a T-shirt with the logo in 1975, a piece of merchandise from Labyris Books, New York City’s first women’s bookstore. Soon after, the owners of Los Angeles–based boutique Otherwild approached Liza Cowan — the photographer and Dobkin’s then partner — requesting permission to reproduce the T-shirt. The garment and logo have since become an enduring symbol, worn by celebrities and civilians alike. It has also sparked numerous debates about the binary nature of gender and about the necessity for more inclusive discourses in mainstream feminism.

The story of the groundbreaking project that gave birth to the famous photograph is less known, however. As an artist working in the context of separatist Lesbian politics, Cowan was interested in the semiotic power of fashion to communicate identity. Years before costume and dress gained academic validation, Cowan developed a photo essay called “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” an exploration of Lesbian dress and its role in the construction of identity. As part of our research for item #044 on the Items: Is Fashion Modern? checklist, the Graphic T-shirt, we spoke with Cowan about the project, the political implications of Lesbian dress, and the proliferation of identity-proclaiming merchandise.

 

You first published your photo series “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear” in COWRIE Lesbian Feminist magazine. Can you talk a little more about what prompted you to work on this and the context in which it was developed?

COWRIE was a small magazine I started in 1972, originally as the newsletter of a women’s group on the Upper East Side of New York City. The group was called Community of Women, and our goal, unachieved, was to start a women’s center to serve the women in the neighborhood. By the third issue, in June 1973, the group had disbanded, but my editorial partner and I decided to continue publishing the newsletter as a magazine for Lesbians, renamed COWRIE Lesbian Feminist.

I had been observing how the women in the Lesbian community — as we called it then — were dressing. In 1972 I was inspired by a wonderful article in Rags Magazine, edited by Mary Peacock and Daphne Davis, called “What Gay Women Wear.”

I began to ask questions about clothing, both to myself and to my friends. I had just come out the year before, at age 21, and had started to dress like my Lesbian peers. I wanted to know why we dressed as we did, and what were the social and political implications. Mind you, this was decades before fashion, or even culture theory, was considered worthy of study as an academic discipline. In those days it was considered trivial, and I was often ridiculed for being interested in fashion. I knew it wasn’t trivial, and I knew that clothing carried a message. I wanted to decipher it.

In the seven-part series, I covered general observations, history of Lesbian clothing — including ancient Amazons — and contemporary lesbian clothing designers, hair, and shoes. In every one, I was trying to decipher the political and social consequences and meanings of our clothing choices.

My main theory, I suppose, was that contemporary Lesbians didn’t want to look like men, as we were constantly accused of trying to do, but we wanted to look like Lesbians — women-loving women — to invoke the styles of at least some of our foremothers. We wanted to honor our history and to wear clothes that would signal our identity to other Lesbians.

Why did our foremothers, some of them, dress in men’s clothing? Because of the power and freedom that men’s clothing both symbolized and allowed. Through the ages men have dressed for freedom, for comfort, and for power. Women have been forced to dress as second-class citizens and sexual objects. From hobble-skirts to corsets, from stiletto heels to beehives, our clothing has confined and constricted us. Lesbians didn’t want to look like men, they wanted to be free — free to move, free to play, free to run, free to work, free to catch the eye of other women, and free to mark themselves as off-limits to men.

Clothing — in addition to being necessary, sometimes fun, and always interesting — is about power and class. It always has been. Clothing is deeply symbolic. That is my interest. Writing about clothing was always an intellectual pursuit. I was not interested, or able, to tell women what to wear or where to shop, or what accessories to buy. I wanted to explore the meaning.

“The discussion I had with my friend [who had asked me why I wanted to look “dykey”] made me start thinking about the Lesbian Look. What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. And why. I knew we look different from straight women. Is it a clothing style? A hair style? The movement Lesbians that I know, the community that shows up at conferences, women’s dances etc. all tend to dress similarly: comfortable clothes, T shirts, sturdy footwear, hair cut short, tied back, or loose au naturel. Women wear put-together suits, and blazers are always popular. But many of the women that go to bars (at least on weekends) wear outfits straight from Glamour magazine: platform shoes, tube tops, baubles, crimson mouths and plucked eyebrows. These clothes carry quite a different message.”

Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, Vol. 1 #3, June 1973

“The clothes I wear help me to know my own power. So does being a Lesbian. I love the way I look. I love the way other lesbians look. I’m learning to rid myself of all straight patriarchal values and build my own world. So it’s a combination of clothes and attitude that make a woman identifiable as a lesbian”

Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, Vol. 1 #3, June 1973

In 1975, along with my childhood friend Penny House, I started another magazine called DYKE: A Quarterly. The “What the Well Dressed Dyke” series continued there, but only for one issue. Our inaugural flyer for the magazine has become somewhat famous now, and exemplifies that Dyke look I had been describing in my articles. Decades later, in 2016, the flyer was featured in the book Gay Gotham, by Donald Albrecht and Stephan Vider, who curated the Gay Gotham exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.

Penny House and I had read fashion magazines ever since we were young girls. We both came from upper-middle-class families in New York City, where fashion — and the fashion industry — was part of the air we breathed. We had one school chum who had moved to England and became one of the world’s first supermodels in the ’60s, and we also had other friends whose parents were photographers, fashion editors, or were featured in magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the like. We thought it would be amusing to do a photoshoot of Dykes as a fashion image. Dykes — the famously “ugly” and badly dressed. We found a Lesbian photographer who had access to a fashion photography studio. Her dad owned it and she was one of his assistants.

Penny and I gathered a couple of women to join us in the shoot, including Alix Dobkin as well as Penny’s modelesque friend Val. The photographer’s girlfriend was also in the shoot. Alix and I were wearing jeans. I had just shaved my head and was wearing a bandana and a blue work shirt, the kind I’d loved since I was a “folkie” teen. Blue work shirts were emblematic of ’60s folkies, as were bandanas. Laborers’ outfits, appropriated by middle-class kids, had become trendy again within a subcategory of Dykes who had grown up as Beats and folkies. Penny, Alix, and I are wore vests. Alix and Penny’s were traditional, woolen “men’s” vests, which we used to buy at thrift stores. Mine was blue cotton with tiny white flowers on it, a kind of a vestigial hippy item. Val had on gorgeous tall leather boots with a folded-over top. Alix and I were wearing workmen’s boots and shoes, another leftie/folkie appropriation that was quite popular among Lesbians. Debbie and Penny seem to be wearing Frye boots, which were all the rage.

More than anything, though, it is our posture that says, “We’re Dykes!” Ladies just did not stand like that; hands on hips, standing squarely on two feet, balanced and ready, staring straight at the camera with no smiles. It would never be unusual to see a group of men with this body language, but a group of women? Highly unusual, and only could be read as Lesbian.

It was around this time, 1974 and 1975, that Alix Dobkin and I were contacted to do presentations at an event in California called The Lesbian History Exploration. I decided to make my series into a slide show. One of the photos I used was an image I took of Alix wearing The Future Is Female T-shirt from our friends at Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City.

In the series, you explore what you call Lesbian “archetypes,” like the Amazons, but you also discuss certain stereotypes like “haute Dykes.” What was your research process like?

I prepared for the slideshow by taking photos of images in books of Lesbians from a particular era of Lesbian history, mostly American and British expats living in Paris — women like Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Clifford Barney, Sylvia Beach, Alice B. Toklas, Romaine Brooks, Janet Flanner, Renée Vivien, and more. I relied heavily on photos taken by the legendary Lesbian photographer Berenice Abbott. These women had recently earned legendary stature among my Lesbian friends and colleagues.

Then I took photos of contemporary Lesbians, mainly in New York City. I created the categories of fashion expression, “DYKE Schlepp” and “DYKE Finery,” and set about going to every event I could find at the time. For a couple of months I went to many events for Lesbians including dances, workshops, conferences, networking gatherings, concerts, and even a fashion show by Lesbian clothing designer Morgan Zale, whom I had interviewed for COWRIE. I went looking for what women were wearing, and asking permission to photograph them. In that era, there were many such events every month in New York City. I did not go to bars, mostly because the lighting would be terrible.

DYKE Schlep was, as it sounds, our everyday clothing: jeans and T-shirts, pea coats, work boots, denim overalls, sneakers, and Frye boots. Pretty much an up-cycled workman/folkie look. DYKE Finery included the outfits we wore to mostly evening events: jeans, suspenders, blazers, Frye boots, wingtip shoes, and the occasional fedora or tie. The difference between Schlepp and Finery was not huge, as I recall.

There was a section on hair. We tended to wear our hair short, sometimes the very bold shaved their heads. I did it once, just to see what it was like, and so I could document it for the slide show. I also included categories of lesbian accessories, like feminist/lesbian political buttons, which everyone wore, and the ever-present bandana/kerchief, which was tied in many different ways. As I travelled around the country, I continued to add slides and would include them in subsequent presentations around the US.

The last section of the show was about the style evolution of a few Lesbian friends, showing how their looks had changed as they went from girlhood to adulthood. I made slides from the photos in their photo albums and then photographed the women as they were at the time I was putting together the presentation. Most had gone through a period of being heterosexual, which made the whole thing both interesting and hilarious to my audiences. I think only one woman had been a Dyke her whole life, but even she had a marriage of “convenience,” which she had documented and was in the show.

In addition to my live photoshoots, I also did a number of interviews for the COWRIE series. I spent a wonderful afternoon at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Stella Blum, who was at that time the curator of their fashion/clothing department. I also tried to interview Dietrich Felix von Bothmer, curator of Greek antiquities at the Met when I was researching Amazon clothing. He scoffed at me and told me he would not do my “homework.”

“h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y” and Otherwild took inspiration from your photograph of Alix Dobkin for their first collaborative clothing collection, which gave rise to many Lesbian-history-inspired garments. What are your thoughts on the growing availability of queer identity-proclaiming garments and their popularity? What is the biggest change that you see when you compare this context to the radical Lesbian one in which you came of age?

I don’t know why garments with slogans are popular in general. I never wear shirts with slogans, no matter how much I agree with them. I never have. I don’t enjoy being a walking billboard, and I find it odd that so many women do. The only one in my household who wears slogan shirts is the Rootstein mannequin who lives in my dining room. She likes when people stare at her — it’s her job. If I were going to wear one, I’d wear the T-shirt from Old Lesbians Organizing for Change that says, in simple block letters, “This is what an old Lesbian looks like.” It’s an inspiring message, it’s a fundraiser for a great organization, and it would be really hard to appropriate it.

However, the fact remains that these shirts are now big business. There were plenty of feminist and Lesbian T-shirts, of course, during the 1970s. Enough that DYKE: A Quarterly was planning for a theme-based issue on Lesbian Media, including T-shirts and buttons. But most of the T-shirts of that era were decorated with slogans and symbols from women’s groups, events, or places. Bars, conferences, sports teams, political groups and actions, etc. had their shirts. They were popular, and they were a great way to fundraise. T-shirts commemorated a place, an event, a group, but usually not a free-floating idea. Even the original The Future Is Female T-shirt had the name of Labyris Books on the back.

The point of buying these shirts was to support the places, the women, or events that created them. Sometimes the shirt was a medium for communicating a political action or “zap,” like the day in 1970 when a group of radical Lesbians occupied the stage at a meeting of the Second Congress to Unite Women wearing “Lavender Menace” T-shirts, protesting the exclusion of Lesbians and Lesbian issues from the feminist movement.That was a defining moment in lesbian history, made more powerful by the shirts themselves. This was not T-shirt as commodity. The action and the shirt are entangled.

T-shirts also acted as a way to signal other women. Wearing a T-shirt that said “Amazon Expedition,” for example, was a cue to let other women know that you’d been at that wonderful event, and the word “Amazon” let other women know that you were probably a Lesbian without actually broadcasting a message to everyone.

It was not hard to find T-shirts that included words like “Lesbian” or “Amazon” or “Sister” commemorating a march or an event, if you knew where to look, but you’d rarely find a T-shirt without the name of the group that made it, and date of the event. There were, of course, times when you’d see shirts that were just a slogan without a corresponding place or event. One well known photo shows a pair of women wearing shirts, one of which said “femme” and the other “butch,” but I think those shirts were homemade.

The big change came when T-shirts went from being fundraisers, cues, and memorabilia for events or groups to being commodities in themselves. In the past, the only place to buy Lesbian T-shirts, buttons, etc. was at an event, or at a woman’s bookstore. So you were supporting either an event, or a feminist venue, or both. Today, there are only a couple of women’s bookstores in existence. In the past, there were dozens and dozens.

Today, e-commerce and the huge popularity of slogan T-shirts have changed the whole ballgame. Anyone can buy a shirt without ever setting foot into a women’s bookstore or a feminist or Lesbian event. The shirts are are now just free-floating commodities. When you see someone wearing a T-shirt that says “Feminist” or “Love wins,” it does not reference a particular event, group, or even timeframe. It’s just something you bought.

Back cover dyke a quarterly 1977 photo by Irene Young
Back cover, DYKE, A Quarterly. Lesbian t shirts. photo by irene Young

Alice Austen cover now available as digital download

Yes. You can buy a large scale digital download of our Alice Austen cover at Smallequals.com, which is Liza Cowan's etsy store.

shop  HERE 

 

Alice austen  dyke a quarterly  cover  the darned club  digital download smallequals.com

 

 

Famous 1976 cover of DYKE, A Quarterly

Photo, The Darned Club, taken in 1891 by Alice Austen, renowned American photographer.

DYKE A Quarterly cover designed by Liza Cowan.

Large file 2726 × 3472 pixels. Will print large for exquisite framed art.

FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY, NOT TO BE USED FOR RESALE OR ANY COMMERCIAL PURPOSES

"Alice Austen (1866 - 1952). Austen was one of America's earliest and most prolific female photographers, and over the course of her life she captured about 8,000 images. Though she is best known for her documentary work, Austen was an artist with a strong aesthetic sensibility. Furthermore, she was a landscape designer, a master tennis player, and the first woman on Staten Island to own a car. She never married, and instead spent fifty years with Gertrude Tate. A rebel who broke away from the ties of her Victorian environment, Alice Austen created her own independent life." Alice Austen House Museum

For more about Alice Austen visit www.aliceausten.org. You can visit her home on Staten Island, which is now a historically landmarked museum.

In 1976, DYKE, A Quarterly was the first publication anywhere in the world to recognize Alice as a Lesbian, in a feature article about her photographs and her life with her partner, Gertrude Tate.

This magazine cover has been featured at The Museum Of The City Of New York, in their exhibition Gay Gotham. A framed enlarged print - the same print we offer here - now hangs at The Alice Austen House Museum in Staten Island.

How to print:

Small Equals is partnered with the wonderful and EASY framing company Framebridge. (www.framebridge.com) All you have to do is upload the digital file, choose which frame and size you want and order. The online software will show you exactly how your picture will look in one of their many framing options. They do all the work, from printing to framing, at their factory in the US. You can see what a beautiful job they do in the framed print they made for me, shown in photos. Their work is perfection, and their prices are amazingly affordable. Really. Check them out.

First time shoppers at Framebridge can use this referral promo code: SMALLEQUALS15 for a 15% one time discount. www.framebridge.com


For unframed prints we suggest you take the image to your local printer on a thumbdrive. Ask how large they can print it on their equipment. They should have computer software that will show you how it looks at various enlargement sizes.

Of course, you can also use your own home computer for smaller prints.

 

alice austen the darned club dyke a quarterly digital download www.smallequals.com


SIDE TRIP: Berkshire History Conference: Reclaiming the Future, by Liza Cowan in Windy City Times 1990

I wrote the following article in 1990 about two trips I made to The Berkshire Conference on The History of Women, one in 1987 and one in 1990. In it I point out the differences I saw in the two conferences, and my different responses to them, in the pivotal time when Second Wave Feminism was waning and what we now loosely call Third Wave Feminism was on the rise. 

 

I offer it to you at this moment without annotation or commentary. Perhaps later I will add these.

 

Berks clippings on lined paper
Windy City Times, 1990, Berkshire Conference On The History of Women, Liza Cowan

 

 

Liza Cowan

Windy City Times

Thursday, June 28, 1990

 

Three years ago, in June of 1987, The Seventh Berkshire Conference on the History of Women helped save my life by giving me a collective historical past. This year’s Berks left me nervous that academic historians were going to revise my personal/political history beyond my recognition.

 Five months before the ’87 Berks, I had taken the drug Ecstasy and plunged into a state of constant terror. I had enjoyed the drug several times with no bad effects, but this time while I was tripping a cynical and uninformed friend told me that in five years everybody would be dead from AIDS. My mind, in its chemically altered and vulnerable state, believed her literally. My stomach went cold and knotty, darkness closed in on my internal visual field. I took myself home and tried every psychological trick I knew to change my subjective reality. I couldn’t. And as the days passed, it got worse.

 It wasn’t just my personal health that scared me. Sure, I was afraid of getting sick and dying. But the worst part for me was believing that there would be no people in the future. The memory of all our generations since the beginning of our species would disappear - forever.

 On a more personal note there would be no one to remember me, Liza. I had decided when I was 15 years old that I didn’t want to be famous, but I did want to be a legend, and I had structured my life’s work to that end. The word “legend” implies that there will be someone in the future to know about you. Legend implies future. I now believed there would be none. The future was blank. I was stuck in a terror-filled present. At the ’87 Berks, I found my path to healing through the past.

 I am not a historian; I have no academic training at all. The closest I ever came to doing history was when I presented a slide show, “What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, 1900-1976” at the Lesbian History Exploration, a grass-roots lesbian history conference held in California in 1976. My sister, Holly Cowan Shulman, is a historian, and had been been invited to read a paper at the ’87 Berks on “The Image Of Women Presented Over The Voice Of America 1942-1945.” She asked me to go with her; she knows history, I know women

 I found tons of dykes at the Berks, some old friends, many women I didn’t know. I’d say there were several hundred visible/identified lesbians, many more woven throughout the conference. Every session featured at least one lesbian presentation. Joan Schwarz from The Lesbian Herstory Archives charmed us with her slide show on lesbians in Greenwich Village. Del Martin, Phyllis Lyons and Barbara Gittings presented an oral history of The Daughters of Bilitis. Two lesbians came from abroad to discuss “The Transition to Modern Lesbianism in Denmark and Holland.” Dykes packed the hall to hear about “Love and Friendship in the Lesbian Bar Communities in the 1950’s and ’60’s.” In a hot crowded room, we sweated through Tee Corrinne and Flavia Rando’s slide show on Lesbian Art from 1905-1930.” (Lesbians were not given the most luxurious or spacious accommodations.)

 Halfway through the conference, I remembered the summer when I was 10 years old and my mother and older brother took me to the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, a vast place with many varied food stalls. My mom gave me some money and set me off on my own to explore and have lunch. When we regrouped she asked me what I had eaten. “A hot dog,” I told her. She couldn’t believe it. With all the different and new foods available, I’d eaten a hot dog!? Why hadn’t I tried something I’d never had before, she asked, and marched me off to find new taste thrills.

 As much as I love lesbians (and hot dogs) I decided that since I already knew a lot about the lesbian subjects  that were being offered, I should take advantage of the opportunity to explore areas I knew little about.

 I learned from Sarah McMahon of Bodoin College about “The Indescribable Care Devolving Upon a Housewife: The Preparation and Consumption of Food on the Midwestern Frontier, 1800-1860. She compared recollections in women’s, mens and children’s journals from that time. Sally McMurry’s paper on “Women Cheesemakers in Oneida County, New York, 1830-1870” sent me back in time in my imagination to a rural area I had actually lived near. Lori Ann Keen taught me about “The Role of Afro-American Women  as Innovators in the Fashion and Cosmetic Industries in the 1920’s,” and my all-time favorite, the one that moves me still, Marilyn Ferris Motz’s paper on “Lucy Keeler: Home and Garden as Metaphor.”

This was what I had wanted all my school years - to know about how women lived. I never cared about wars or presidents or any of that stuff of which man’s history was made. but it touched me profoundly that someone would write her PhD dissertation on the flower garden of a middle-aged spinster in the suburban Midwest at the turn of the century, that designing and maintaining a personal garden, feeding a pioneer family, or the life of a lesbian bar community was as worthy of analysis as, say, founding a railroad, or maintaining a career in Congress. Years before I heard this paper, I was impressed by Alice Walker’s essay, “In Search Of Our Mother’s Gardens” in which she wrote, “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s day? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.”

The weekend’s revelations revelations suddenly made the past bloom for me. By hearing these papers I regained, as Ann Of Green Gables might say, Scope For The Imagination. In this blossoming the intimate garden of women’s lives, with its twisty paths and shaded groves of leafy rich details, my mind had a place to go to heal.

 Through the past, I eventually regained an image of time that included the future, an image that had disappeared during my five-month drug abyss. (The process of healing from Ecstasy Hell was more complex than I have gone into here. It took a year and a half to fully recover. Please, even if you’ve taken Ecstasy in the past and its been fine, don’t do it again If you've never done it don’t.) My life went on, but the Berks held a special place in my heart. Three years later, when it was held again, I was eager to go.

 Looking through the 1990 program I didn’t see very many of the intimate garden-type papers I’d enjoyed so much the last time, so I decided to concentrate on the lesbians, check out what was happening in the field of lesbian history.

 The conference was far too vast and complex for me to report on as a whole. Even keeping tabs on all the lesbian activities was too much. My experience was quite different this time, knowing I was there to write about the conference. I was far more attuned to the issues and controversies than I had been last time when I was there for my own amusement and healing.

 Lesbian accessibility and visibility are ongoing issues at the Berks. It took true dyke devotion for several hundred of us to hike over to the Lesbian Reception since at the last minute the venue was changed to a gym that was so far away from the main events that it was off the college map. A truly marginalizing experience.

 A Friday evening roundtable discussion “Documenting Third World Lesbian Communities” was bumped from its original location by the last minute scheduling of a talk by Kate Millet. Juanita Ramos and June Chen carried on, and both did excellent presentations, despite being put into a room with inadequate audio-visual equipment. It was a sleight that could not be overlooked. The Lesbian Caucus decided to go to the Sunday Berks business meeting, where it was decided that these issues would be put onto the agenda for the next Berks planning meeting.

 Most of the papers and presentations were given by academics. My overall impression was that the papers were much more abstract than last time, filled with the trendy jargon of deconstructionism. I wished they’d spoken English. I was both bored and annoyed by the rapid-fired droning reading styles of many of the presenters, and I found it very hard to take notes.

 None of the papers I heard thrilled me the was those few had at the last Berks. I enjoyed some. The paper on the “Radical Women of Heterodoxy” inspired me to consider doing biographical research. But when I look back at my experience of the Berks, I see that my focus is concentrated on two panels. I thought about them more than any others, both during the conference and afterward.

 On a hot, muggy Saturday afternoon I went to a panel discussion called, “Will The Real Lesbian Please Stand Up? Questions of theory and Method in Current Historical Research.” Becki Ross, dressed in a black leather jacket, miniskirt and bright red lipstick, read her paper on the “Social Organization of Lesbians in Toronto, 1976 - 1980.” She was talking about LOOT, a Toronto lesbian group. I was having a little trouble following the details because I was trying to remember if they were the Toronto lesbians I had had a big fight with in 1977. (I checked some correspondence when I got home and found out they were, which made it ironic that the more Becki went on about them, the more I identified with them.) She had done interviews with some of the women involved in the LOOT social space and her main point, I think, was that this lesbian community was repressive. They insisted on a conformity of thought and dress - the dress being drab flannel shirts and workboots, the thought being that women-only space was a radical act on its own. Sex work and gay male issues were not represented. As I listened, I began to feel uncomfortable. It had occurred to me that Becki had some agenda, some point of view that she was not expressing overtly, but that she was weaving into the paper. Something about how these lesbians were repressive. Was there a sexual theme to her analysis?

I was a lesbian-separatist activist in the ’70’s. I believed that women-only space was a radical idea. I still do. As I sat listening to Becki, I thought, “She doesn’t understand what we were doing. I don’t think she respects these women she’s talking about.” It was hard to remember that she wasn’t talking about me.

I think it’s too soon to analyze what happened 10 to 15 years ago and to declare it history. We don’t have enough distance on the time, enough perspective. Everything from 15 years ago appears weird. Look at the clothes, hairstyles, furniture. Now they just look stupid. Soon they will look interesting, and later they will be retro-stylish, like things from the 1950’s are now. Fifteen years later is the time to tell stories, ask questions, get oral histories, collect pictures, begin to put the pieces together. But it’s not time to analyze.

When Becki was finished, Julia Creet from the University of California-Santa Cruz read her comments on the papers. She mentioned “sex radicals” and (I wrote this down) “the sexual repression of lesbians in the 1970’s."  When it was time for questions I raised my hand. I said I felt like I’d been living on Mars instead of New York City, but I didn’t know what a “sex radical” was. I didn’t think that lesbians of the ’70’s were sexually repressive and, if we were, I’d like to know how. I was afraid that what they meant by repressive was someone who, like me, had an unfavorable analysis of sado-masochism.

I literally didn’t understand Julia’s answer. I don’t think she ever defined “sex radical” or said how the lesbians of the ’70’s were repressive. I didn’t want to turn it into a dialog so I shut up. But I was uncomfortable. Was “sex radical” about sado-masochism? Could it means something about butch-femme? Transsexuals? I strained my imagination to figure out what it could mean. How come I didn’t know the term, and why could they not explain it to me? If their analysis of of the lesbians of the ’70’s was formed by a “sex radical” perspective as I had a hunch it was, I wanted to know what “sex radical” meant. I never found out.

At another presentation, on another day, I was intrigued by the ideas of naming and self-concept. Lisa Duggan, in her paper on female cross-dressing and the “mannish lesbian” of the late 19th century, told the story of a famous murder case from the 1890’s, in which a young woman killed her lover rather than live without her. Almost as an aside, she spoke about women struggling to create themselves. She insisted that it’s too early to look for “lesbians” in the 1870’s or 1880’s. In this deconstructionist analysis even women who were sexually active with women, women involved in passionate friendships, even passing women, did not have an inner knowing of themselves as “a kind of person with subjectivity of self.” (I think she meant a sense of self as agent, perceiver, active player, rather than object.) A lesbian identity is created, she said. The “mannish woman” at the turn of the century pioneered lesbian subjectivity because her self-presentation took her outside of the female world.

I wonder if we are only lesbian if we have a word for it. Do women loving women in other cultures/times have “subjectivity?” And does that matter. What did they call themselves, and how did they conceive of their love for other women? What should we call women who loved women but didn’t call it anything? Should we give them a different name? Names? How do we discuss them with each other?

I will probably continue to call these women lesbians, but I enjoy thinking about the idea of self-description and and how it changes over time. I wonder how the concept we now call “lesbian” will evolve. I speculate that we are only beginning to be able to know how vast, how powerful, women-centered life can be.  And that’s truly Scope For The Imagination.


The Future Is Female in The Washington Post

The Future Is Female quote by Liza Cowan
The Future Is Female

This quote ran yesterday in The Washington Post, and they also ran three of Liza Cowan's photos, all about the now-famous slogan, t-shirt and button, The Future Is Female. 

 We were pleased that they reposted this quote, which Liza originally wrote for an interview with Charlotte Cush at i_D magazine in 1975.

The Washington Post article is HERE

The i_D interview is HERE

The original t-shirt was made by Labyris Books, the first women's bookstore in New York City. Liza Cowan made the buttons as a fundraiser for Labyris. See more HERE


DYKE GOES TO THE MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NY

A few images from DYKE, A Quarterly will be featured in an upcoming show at The Museum Of The City Of NY called Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in 20th Century NY.  The show opens October 7th 2016.

We've been working for months with curator Stephen Vider, figuring out what pieces would work best, how to title them, what sizes, who owns the rights and etc. We are not sure yet which images, or how many images,  will be in the exhibit but we do know for sure that our iconic flier, DYKE IS OUT! ARE YOU? will not only be feature in the exhibit, but will be available as a poster in the Museum gift shop, along with postcards and magnets with that image. 

DYKE IS OUT poster and magnet for the museum of the city of ny gift shop design liza cowan dyke a quarterly

 

And there will be a book, which will include at least some of our pages. 

You can read more about the exhibit here

You can buy the magnet and the poster at the Museum gift shop. The magnet is also available online   here.  All sales help to fund the DAQ online annotated archive.

 We will keep you updated. 


"Casting spells for a female future with 70s lesbian separatist Liza Cowan"

 From i-D magazine. By Charlotte Gush. December 7, 2015. Original here:

In 1975, Liza Cowan photographed her girlfriend wearing a T-shirt that read ‘The Future Is Female’. Fast forward to 2015 and a replica bought by Annie Clark for girlfriend Cara Delevingne has caused an Instagram-based feminist fashion frenzy. i-D caught up with Liza to find out about the T-shirt’s lesbian separatist roots, her magazine DYKE and what ‘The Future is Female’ means to her. 

 

 Alix Dobkin, photo ©Liza Cowan. the future is female 1975 high res copy 2
Alix Dobkin wearing original The Future Is Female Shirt form Laybris Books. Photo ©Liza Cowan 1975

 

In recent weeks, perhaps the very first truly Insta-famous feminist fashion item has emerged: a sweatshirt worn by Annie Clark, of St Vincent, and girlfriend Cara Delevingne that reads, 'The Future Is Female'. Far from being the latest catwalk creation, the design actually has its roots in the radical feminist movement of lesbian separatists in the 70s, having been created originally to raise funds for Labyris Books, the first women's bookshop in New York City, which opened in 1972.

In 1975, photographer Liza Cowan photographed her then-girlfriend Alix Dobkin wearing the slogan T-shirt, for an advert the magazine DYKE: A Quarterly, which she co-edited with Penny House. [note from Liza - this isn't actually true. I took the photo for my slideshow, What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear] Fast forward to 2015 and the lesbian feminist Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y posted Cowan's image, where it was seen by graphic designer Rachel Berks, who sells feminist products from her studio-store, Otherwild. With permission, Berks recreated the T-shirt and began selling it -- with 25% of profits going to women's health organisation Planned Parenthood -- in her online store and in the gift shop of a lesbian feminist haunted house called KillJoy's Kastle, where St Vincent singer Annie Clark bought two slogan sweatshirts for herself and girlfriend Cara Delevingne. Paparazzi shots of them wearing the designs spread across social media and a feminist fashion frenzy was set in motion.

i-D caught up with photographer, artist and feminist Liza Cowan to find out more about lesbian separatist feminism in the 1970s, her magazine DYKE: A Quarterly and what 'The Future is Female' means to her.

 

Alix dobkin and liza cowan at three maple farm NY circa 1975
Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan at Three Maple Farm, NY. Circa 1975



 How does it feel to see a radical statement created by your community of lesbian feminists in the 70s become famous on the internet in 2015?
If you had told me 40 years ago, when Alix Dobkin and I made this photo, that it would become a pop culture sensation of this magnitude, we would have said that the idea was impossible.

Are you concerned that the feminist message gets lost and people think it's just a cool image?
In some ways the message 'The Future Is Female' is, if not lost, then certainly understood differently than it was in the 70s. Feminism has changed, the world has changed. It is difficult for many younger women to imagine the power, the excitement and the urgent need for women to come together to change the world. This may change. I do like that people think it's a cool image. It IS a cool image.

What does 'The Future is Female' mean to you?
The beauty of the phrase is that there is no precise meaning. We are asked to absorb two powerful archetypes, and to imagine them in relationship to each other. It is a dynamic phrase, a lively phrase. In order to make sense of it, we have to engage with the words. The archetype of 'the future' asks questions about the nature of time: When does the future begin? Where is the future? How does it happen? As an archetype, 'female' covers broad territories. Flora or fauna. Virgin Mary or Kali. Medusa or Quan Yin. Astarte or Parvati. Bringer of peace, or destroyer of illusion. Nurturer or avenger. Mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandmother. Nymph, maiden, crone.

'The Future is Female' reminds me that all life formed in a matrix. Matrix means womb, matrice, mother. Life springs from the female. Whether the future starts right this second, or in a million years, it emerges from the female body; not just the body of women, but of all female sentient beings, including the body of our home, Gaia.

I have also said that the slogan is a call to arms. While I think this is true, it is also true that it is an invocation. If we are to have a future, it must be female, because the rule of men -- patriarchy -- has just about devastated life on this beautiful little planet. The essence and the spirit of the future must be female. So the phrase becomes not just a slogan, but a spell. For the good of all.

 The image of Alix was part of a photography project about women. Tell us more?
From 1972 to 1978 I wrote a series of articles called What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear, starting in a small lesbian magazine I published called Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, which ran from 1973 to 1974. Later I published them in my bigger magazine, DYKE: A Quarterly of Lesbian Culture and Analysis, which I co-edited and co-published with Penny House.

Today, you can get a PhD in fashion theory. In those days, it was considered trivial. I knew it wasn't, and I knew and that clothing carried a social message. I wanted to decipher it. In the seven part series, I covered general observations, histories of lesbian clothing -- including ancient Amazons -- contemporary lesbian clothing designers, the politics of hair and the history and politics of footwear.

How did you discover feminism and when did you start to identify as a feminist?
I first heard about Women's Liberation in 1970, listening to Robin Morgan being interviewed on the New York City listener-sponsored radio station, WBAI. My life changed immediately. I joined a consciousness-raising group, and I never looked back.

After you became a feminist, you began to identify as a lesbian separatist -- what does that mean and why was it an important distinction?
I was not a lesbian when I became a feminist. I came out gradually over the next year or so. In the process of producing feminist radio shows at WBAI (the same station where I'd first heard Robin Morgan), I had the opportunity to interview many many accomplished and exciting women, including some lesbians. One morning I had a dream in which I revealed to myself that I deeply loved women, and I decided at that very moment to be a lesbian. Soon after that, I met Alix Dobkin, a recently divorced folksinger and mother of a nine month old daughter. We met when she came to the station to be a guest on my late-night feminist radio show, Electra Rewired. We became friends, and then fell in love.

Over the course of the next few years, we spent much of our free time reading and discussing lesbian books, periodicals and theory, with each other and with friends. The new ideas about lesbian separatism resonated for us, and we developed our own ideas, which I wrote about in DYKE, and Alix sang about. Our work took us to women's actions and communities in New York City and soon, all over the United States, where we enjoyed the opportunity to work out ideas with many brilliant lesbians.

Contrary to popular belief, lesbian separatism was never a prescriptive code for behaviour or relationships. It did not dictate who to be friends with, what 'family' should mean, or how to live your life. It was an analysis, a lens through which to observe the world. There was no centrally-distributed dogma. Lesbian Separatism, boiled down, was a way to figure out what it meant to be a woman, without having to bother with men telling you what you could not think or say.

It was a way to develop networks of women's businesses, publishers, bookstores, conferences, cafes, trade organisations, credit unions, music production, health care centres, media, schools, self-defence courses, cooperative farms, festivals, auto-repair shops, distribution networks. We did everything. Not everyone who participated was a lesbian, but most were. Women-only networks, spaces and actions are one of the cornerstones of creating community, and forging effective feminist activism. That's why it's such a difficult and contested thing to do these days.

 

 

Liza Cowan and Penny House circa 1975 photo by Alix Dobkinjpg
Liza Cowan and Penny House at Three Maple Farm, 1975. Photo ©Alix Dobkin

Why did you create DYKE: A Quarterly, and what was the reaction to it?
DYKE: A Quarterly (DAQ) was my second feminist magazine, following a smaller predecessor, Cowrie Lesbian Feminist. Before that I'd been a radio producer. I like media, I like to write, I like to design; and we had wonderful resources of lesbian writers, artists and activists to draw on as contributors. Co-editor Penny House and I decided that publishing a lesbian feminist magazine would be our perfect contribution to the movement.

Some women loved it. Some hated it. Some loved how brave and honest we were. Some women were frightened by that. Some hated that we wrote about such 'frivolous' topics as clothing and fashion. Others found that enlightening. Some women loved that we tried our best to make it beautiful and substantial. Others were suspicious of us because it was beautiful and substantial. But we were always taken seriously.

All our articles were written by lesbians, (except one, by our woman dentist, about oral hygiene.) Our typesetters were lesbians, and the magazine was printed by a lesbian printshop. We sold only by subscription, or in women's bookstores. Sometimes we sold the magazine in person as we toured the country with Alix Dobkin. All our advertisers were lesbian feminists. We paid for everything we published. It was quite the cottage industry. Our biggest problem was funding. But that was par for the course in what was then known as 'alternative publishing'. We folded after four years and six issues.

Back cover DYKE A Quarterly photo ©Irene Young

In DAQ Issue 1, the introduction says that subscriptions will be returned to men, that you don't want male readers or straight women, just lesbians. Why did you want to be exclusive in that way?
The idea of women talking seriously to other women is often seen as a threat to the social order. We just wanted to talk amongst ourselves. Nobody else was interested, anyway.

Some people feel that lesbians have been ignored in the history of both the feminist movement and the gay rights movement. What's your take on that?
I agree, that absolutely happens, and I find it infuriating; but that doesn't mean that nothing has been written. It does depend on where you look. Lesbians have been writing both popular and scholarly works about lesbians for decades now, and there are some wonderful documentary films. Once you start searching, you will uncover a goldmine.

The DAQ archive is now held at The Museum Library at MOMA in New York. Do you think more needs to be done to preserve original feminist and lesbian cultural history?
Absolutely. I always encourage lesbians to donate their personal papers and their personal lesbian libraries to local or national women's or lesbian archives.

Flier for DYKE A Quarterly photo ©Irene Young
Flier for DAQ, Media issue. Photos ©Irene Young

 

The Future Is Female statement spread around the world after Annie Clark and Cara Delevingne were photographed wearing the Otherwild sweatshirts, and there is a big resurgence in celebrities endorsing feminism, like Beyoncé, who performed in front of a huge bank of lights that read 'FEMINIST' on her tour. What do you think of celebrity feminism?
I don't keep up much with celebrity feminism. I'm not a huge consumer of contemporary pop culture. I don't think it can be a bad thing for women celebrities to endorse feminism, and if it encourages other women, particularly young women, to feel good about being feminist, that's a good thing. For me, it depends a lot on the scope and content of their message. If there is no analysis or activism, feminism becomes a symbol with no substance. "The map is not the territory. The name of the thing is not the thing named." -- Alfred Korzybski, 1931. The word 'feminist" is not the same thing as feminist activism.

Although is it very popular to say you are a feminist now, some of the achievements of 70s feminists seem to be being undone. Has progress been made or are we slipping backwards?
I hope that we are reaching the end of an era of mean-spirited attacks, critiques and disavowal of 70s Lesbian activism, attacks which have been painful to witness, and are filled with lies, distortions and half-truths. I see a new generation of folks who have discovered us, and appreciate our work. The h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y Instagram account is one of many examples of this. I hear from more and more young people every day who are truly excited to know more about what we did, and are inspired to carry on the work.

Photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT circa 1974
Image from contact sheet, photoshoot for DYKE IS OUT flier 1974

 

What advice do you have for young feminist and lesbian activists today?
KNOW YOUR HERSTORY: Read, read, read. There is so much to read, so much scholarship, so many articles, so much literature. Get to know the radical roots of feminist theory. Read about 1st and 2nd wave feminists. Become familiar with the legions of amazing feminist and lesbian feminist women who came before you: activists, artists, scholars, scientists, trade-unionists, abolitionists, community leaders, organisers. Likewise, listen to women's music, watch feminist and lesbian films and documentaries. Explore lesbian theatre, and lesbian novels.

Form consciousness-raising groups with a few trusted women-friends. Consciousness-raising was the foundation of second wave feminism, and I can't stress enough what an important tool it is. Meet weekly, pick a topic for each week, and talk honestly and openly with one another. You'll be surprised what you discover. Things you thought were your private problems are not just common, but are the very structure of oppression. This is the technique by which we discover that "the personal is political". Not only will it expand your consciousness and political understanding, it will help you develop the small, trusted and intimate groups from which all kinds of networks and activism can spring.

lizacowan.com

Credits

Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Liza Cowan


DAQ #5, 1977. Lesbian Hoboes by JR Roberts with illustrations by Roberta Gregory

 DYKE, A Quarterly #5, 1977,  featured this historical essay by JR Roberts, with illustrations by Roberta Gregory. Click images to enlarge.


"While reading the book, Sisters Of The Road: The Autobiography of Box Car Bertha (1937) I came across more than a dozen references to Lesbians during the 1920’s and 1930’s. While this life story of Bertha Thompson, as told to Dr. Ben L. Reitman, presents a negative and stereotypical view of Lesbians, it does provide the only references I have uncovered so far which document the existence of numerous and visible Lesbian hoboes during this period. After peeling away the stereotypes there wasn’t much substance left, so I began an investigation to learn more about their lives as women and as Lesbians during those Depression years. This article is the result of that beginning investigation, an investigation which I now consider an on-going project."

 

DAQ Lesbian Hoboes, JR Roberts, illustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications 1977, DYKE A  Quarterly

 

 

DAQ Lesbian hoboes JR Roberts illustrations Roberta Gregory ©tomato publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 38, 39

 

DAQ Lesbian Hoboes JR Roberts, illustrations Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications DYKE A Quarterly 1977 pages 40 and 41

 

DAQ lesbian hoboes jr roberts,illustrations by Roberta Gregory. ©Tomoato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 42 43

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts,illustrations by Roberta Gregor ©Tomoato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 44 45

 

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts, ilustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 46 47

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts, illustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomato Publications Dyke a quarterly 1977 pp 48 49

 

DAQ lesbian hoboes JR Roberts, illustrations by Roberta Gregory ©Tomaoto publications Dyke a quarterly p 50

 

JR Roberts (aka Barbara Henry) is a Lesbian Librarian who founded The New Alexandria Women's Library in Chicago,within the Lesbian Feminist Center, in 1974. She is also the author of Black Lesbians,  An Annotated Bibliography, Naiad Press 1981. Forward by Barbara Smith. 

61Fg7VY8t3L._SY464_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Roberta Gregory lives in Seattle Washington and is responsible for a lot of comics over the years. Best known for "Bitchy Bitch" and "Bitchy Butch" characters and is currently working on Mother Mountain and True Cat Toons. Visit Robertagregory.com and truecattoons.com

She was also a contributing artist to DYKE, A Quarterly. 


61Al6FqRznL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_


The Future Is Female - the button

The future is female liza cowan design liza cowan archives liza cowan photo
the future is female, 1974

 

Labyris Books was the first feminist bookstore in NYC. It was owned by Jane Lurie and Marizel Rios, fresh from their experiences at the takeover of the 5th Street Women's building. The slogan of the store was "the future is female" and in 1974 they asked me, Liza Cowan, to make this button for them. At the time, I was running a feminist button business, White Mare Buttons. It's hard to believe that I still have a bunch of these left...but I do. They are great, don't you think? And the slogan is just as fresh today as it was in 1974.

  Flier for Labyris Books new york city from The New Women's Survival Catalog 1973 liza cowan ephemera collections

I have a limited quantity of mint-condition, vintage buttons available  at my online store. 
www.smallequals.com

All sales help support the DYKE, A Quarterly Annotated Online Archive. 


From The Vaults: Chai Labyris rubber stamp

Chai Labyris rubber stamp ©liza cowan for White mare 1978

 

White Mare, Inc. was a feminist Lesbian button company owned and operated by Liza Cowan, co-editor of DYKE, A Quarterly. This image of the Chai inside a Labyris was very successful, so White Mare made it into a limited edition rubber stamp in addition to two runs of buttons.  

This design combines several powerful words and symbols: the Star of David (a cross -cultural geometric symbol- here indicating Judaism,) the Chai, the Hebrew number 18, which is good luck and other resonating numerology .The Labryis, the double headed axe, symbol of Matriarchy and Amazons. The circle sitting atop the Labyris, turns it into a Venus or women's symbol. 

 

More about White Mare buttons HERE