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No More Nice Girls

No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays

Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    No More Nice Girls
    Book Description:

    With characteristic intelligence, wit, and feminist insight, Ellen Willis addresses democracy as she sees it: “a commitment to individual freedom and egalitarian self-government in every area of social, economic, and cultural life.” Willis confronts the conservative backlash that has slowly eroded democratic ideals and advances of the 1960s as well as the internal debates that have frequently splintered the left.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8234-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Identity Crisis
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    Last year I attended a feminist conference in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, amid preliminary rumblings of the civil war that would break up the country and mutilate the city in the name of nationalism. The conference, which brought women from all over Eastern Europe and the United States, was the first gathering of its kind in the East, a historic event. We introduced ourselves by name and place. For the women of what was still officially Yugoslavia, this was no casual moment; their various self-identifications were deliberate and pointed: “Yugoslavia”; “Croatia”; “Ljubljana”; “Europe.” Most of the rest spoke as unproblematic Poles, Bulgarians,...

  5. Part 1: No More Nice Girls

    • Lust Horizons: Is the Women’s Movement Pro-Sex?
      (pp. 3-14)

      My nominations for the questions most likely to get a group of people, all of whom like each other and hate Ronald Reagan, into a nasty argument: Is there any objective criterion for healthy or satisfying sex, and if so what is it? Is a good sex life important?Howimportant? Is abstinence bad for you? Does sex have any intrinsic relation to love? Is monogamy too restrictive? Are male and female sexuality inherently different? Are we all basically bisexual? Do vaginal orgasms exist? Does size matter? You get the idea. Despite the endless public discussion of sex, despite the...

    • Nature’s Revenge
      (pp. 15-18)

      Who would have predicted that just now, when the far right has launched an all-out attack on women’s basic civil rights, the issue eliciting the most passionate public outrage from feminists should be not abortion, not “pro-family” fundamentalism, but pornography? The fervor with which some feminist activists have rallied against smut is more than a little ironic, for opposition to pornography is also a conspicuous feature of the new right’s program. Furthermore, in certain respects the arguments of the two groups are uncomfortably similar. If anti-porn feminists see pornography as a brutal exercise of predatory male sexuality, a form of...

    • Toward a Feminist Sexual Revolution
      (pp. 19-50)

      It’s perhaps some indication of the complex, refractory nature of my subject that this is the third version of my preface to the article that follows—itself the third revision of what began as a talk at a feminist conference in 1981. At that time, feminists were just beginning to engage in a passionate, explosive debate—or rather, a series of overlapping, intertwined debates—about sex. The arguments crystallized around specific issues: pornography; the causes of sexual violence and how best to oppose it; the definition of sexual consent; the nature of women’s sexuality and whether it is intrinsically different...

    • The Last Unmarried Person in America
      (pp. 51-55)

      The great marriage boom of ’84 began shortly after Congress passed the historic National Family Security Act. Though most of its provisions merely took care of old, long overdue business—abolishing divorce, enabling local communities to prosecute single people as vagrants, requiring applicants for civil service jobs to sign a monogamy oath, making the interstate sale of quiche a federal offense, and so on—two revolutionary clauses cleared the way toward making a reality of what had until then been an impossible dream: universal marriage.

      The child purity provision, popularly known as the Down-There Amendment, prevents premarital sex by allowing...

    • Peace in Our Time? The Greening of Betty Friedan
      (pp. 56-63)

      The classic blind spot of liberals is their faith that all social conflicts can be settled by peaceful compromise. However bitter the differences, whatever the imbalance of power between opposing parties, one need only apply ingenuity and good will, reject “extremists on both sides,” and the lion will sit down with the lamb. No matter how many lambs get eaten, liberals never learn. Faced with an enemy who won’t play by their rules, who responds to all their placating gestures with more bids for power, they get irrational. Either they keep ceding more and more ground, or they proclaim that...

    • Marriage on the Rocks
      (pp. 64-74)

      Occasionally when I give a talk on “the crisis in the family,” someone in the audience asks me what I think is the main cause of divorce. “Marriage,” I say. I get a laugh, but a nervous one. For the first time in history, marriage has become, for masses of people, a voluntary association rather than a social and economic necessity; as both a cause and a consequence of this development, divorce has become an increasingly ordinary fact of life. It is still the common sense of our culture that divorce is tragic, that we should be happily married for...

    • Putting Women Back in the Abortion Debate
      (pp. 75-83)

      Some years ago I attended a New York Institute for the Humanities seminar on the new right. We were a fairly heterogeneous group of liberals and lefties, feminists and gay activists, but on one point nearly all of us agreed: the right-to-life movement was a dangerous antifeminist crusade. At one session I argued that the attack on abortion had significance far beyond itself, that it was the linchpin of the right’s social agenda. I got a lot of supporting comments and approving nods. It was too much for Peter Steinfels, a liberal Catholic, author ofThe Neoconservatives, and executive editor...

    • Looking for Mr. Good Dad
      (pp. 84-89)

      Though the two are easily confused, female cynicism about men is not an expression of feminism. The cynic assumes that men will always have power over women and the will to exploit it, that if things change it can only be for the worse. But since few people can live entirely without hope, she tends to displace hers onto the past. For the feminist’s utopian vision, she substitutes a romantic nostalgia for patriarchal paternalism; she imagines that by pursuing freedom we’ve gained nothing, only sacrificed the “respect” and “protection” and “commitment” that were once our due. This is the familiar...

    • From Forced Pregnancy to Forced Surgery
      (pp. 90-100)

      For once I did not feel isolated in my outrage: the courts ruled, and virtually everyone agreed, that in the Nancy Klein case the right-to-life movement had gone too far. A stranger purporting to represent the fetus of a comatose woman and challenging her husband’s right to authorize an abortion on her behalf so violated accepted canons of privacy that even Cardinal O’Connor felt constrained to say he understood the husband’s action, though of course he could not condone it.

      The case was a particular embarrassment to those who argue that opposition to abortion expresses concern for all life. Doctors...

    • Sisters Under the Skin? Confronting Race and Sex
      (pp. 101-116)

      Recently, at a feminist meeting, a black woman argued that in American society race is a more absolute division than sex, a more basic determinant of social identity. This started an intense discussion: if someone shook us out of a deep sleep and demanded that we define ourselves, what would we blurt out first? The black woman said “black woman.” Most of the white women said “woman”; some said “lesbian.” No one said “white person” or “white woman.”

      I’m not sure it makes sense to say that one social division is more absolute than another. I wonder if it isn’t...

    • Radical Feminism and Feminist Radicalism
      (pp. 117-150)

      I was a radical feminist activist in the late ’6os. Today I often have the odd feeling that this period, so vivid to me, occurred fifty years ago, not a mere fifteen. Much of the early history of the women’s liberation movement, and especially of radical feminism (which was not synonymous with the w.l.m. but a specific political current within it) has been lost, misunderstood or egregiously distorted. The left, the right, and liberal feminists have all for their own reasons contributed to misrepresenting and trivializing radical feminist ideas. To add to the confusion, radical feminism in its original sense...

    • Feminism Without Freedom
      (pp. 151-158)

      During the earliest skirmishes between the women’s liberation movement and its new left progenitors, one of the charges that flew our way, along with “man-hater” and “lesbian,” was “bourgeois individualist.” Ever since, left criticism of the movement has focused on one or another version of the argument that feminism (at least in its present forms) is merely an extension of liberal individualism and that, largely for this reason, it is a movement of, by, and for white upper-middle-class career women. At first this attack was crude and frankly preventive, aimed at heading off the whole idea of feminism as serious...

    • Rebel Girl: What De Beauvoir Left Us
      (pp. 159-164)

      On May Day, the remnants of my old radical feminist group Redstockings held a memorial for Simone de Beauvoir. I had wanted to go, but couldn’t make it, so I heard about it from a friend: Ti-Grace Atkinson talked about going to de Beauvoir’s funeral, women spoke about her impact on their lives, someone read a message from Shulamith Firestone. Listening to this account, it occurred to me that in a way my relationship to de Beauvoir had always been secondhand, mediated and refracted by other feminists. When I first got involved in the women’s liberation movement, I knew de...

  6. Part 2: Exile on Main Street

    • Escape from New York
      (pp. 167-193)

      For Americans, long-distance buses are the transportation of last resort. As most people see it, buses combine the comfort of a crowded jail cell with the glamor of a liverwurst sandwich. Though I can’t really refute that assessment, I don’t really share it, either. As a student with lots of time, little money, and no driver’s license, I often traveled by bus. Un-American as it may be, I feel nostalgic about those trips, even about their discomforts. In my no doubt idealized memory, discomfort was the cement that bound together an instant community of outsiders, people who for reasons of...

    • The People’s Picasso
      (pp. 194-199)

      The Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art is, among other things, a reminder of the convoluted relation between so-called high art and mass culture. It’s the best attended art exhibition ever; by the time it ends on September 30 more than a million people will have seen this definitive collection of works by the man who, in the popular mind, has become a synonym for modernism. Such an event inevitably raises questions about why people are going to it and what they’re seeing. How does Picasso’s status as a cultural icon affect our perception of his work, and...

    • Sins of Confession
      (pp. 200-205)

      The confession, as a literary genre, is based on one simple convention: the writer purports to admit to the reader (who may represent society at large, or a particular segment of it) some act or sentiment that the reader can be expected to find immoral, shameful, and/or shocking. The implicit claim of the confession is that the writer is braving condemnation, ridicule, ostracism to tell us something important; its implicit demand is that we suspend our reflex condemnation and hear the writer out. It is not the content of a personal revelation that determines whether it’s a confession, but the...

    • Ministries of Fear
      (pp. 206-210)

      Listening to all the Ramboid crowing that our guys finally got them some terrorists, punctuated here and there by party-pooping moralizing about how we should really be attacking the conditions that lead to terrorism, you would hardly know that theAchille Laurohijacking was a specific act, with its own particular purpose and logic (or lack of it). As far as the government and the media are concerned, it’s simply one more example of “terrorism,” a label now applied to all sorts of political or quasi-political violence, from the hostage taking in Iran to the assassination of Israeli athletes in...

    • Exile on Main Street: What the Pollard Case Means to Jews
      (pp. 211-218)

      When Jonathan Jay Pollard was sentenced to life in prison, I thought we were in for some national psychodrama, and perhaps some nasty politics. It didn’t happen. If you’re reading this article because you’re angry about (or at) Pollard, you’re probably Jewish. If, on the other hand, you’re thinking, “Pollard? Oh yeah, one of those spy scandals—was there something special about him?” you’re probably not. ANew York Timespoll published in April found that 62 per cent of the Jews sampled, but only 18 per cent of the gentiles, knew that Pollard, an American Jew, had been convicted...

    • The End of Fatherhood: Family Plots
      (pp. 219-226)

      InThe World According to Garp—the novel—a good family man crazed by jealousy accidentally crashes his car, killing one of his sons, maiming another, and castrating his wife’s lover.Garpthe movie veers quickly away from that scene, keeping the audience a safe distance from the horror, preferring to concentrate on Garp’s eccentric but suitably heartwarming mom. In the climactic scene ofShoot the Moon—made in 1982, the same year as the sanitizedGarp—a man who has left his family deliberately crashes his car into their new tennis court and gets beaten up by his ex-wife’s...

    • Andy Warhol, ?–1987
      (pp. 227-229)

      When Andy Warhol was shot in 1968, I went to the hospital along with my then-lover, also a journalist, who had gotten me interested in Pop Art a couple of years earlier. We didn’t know Warhol personally and weren’t trying to visit him. We just went and hung around waiting for news. I don’t remember the details, only the conviction that we had to be there and the feelings of love and alarm that had only partly to do with an artist we cared about.

      At the time, it was a commonplace among those of us who wrote about pop...

    • In Defense of Offense: Salman Rushdie’s Religious Problem
      (pp. 230-234)

      A novelist transgresses the taboos of one of the world’s most politically powerful organized religions: he treats what for devout Moslems are absolute truths and sacred writings as if they were simply the stuff of myth, a narrative like any other, fair game for his irreverent imagination. Islamic governments ban the book; in other countries political pressure and threats of violence lead to its suppression; Moslem demonstrators hold book burnings. Finally, in a dramatic denouement, the dictator of an Islamic theocracy calls on the faithful around the world to execute the author for blasphemy.

      You’d think it could hardly be...

    • Beyond Pluralism
      (pp. 235-239)

      There is more than a little continuity between the intellectual turmoil on the fractured Western left and the past decade’s cultural and political ferment in Eastern Europe. Jeffrey C. Goldfarb’s thoughtful exploration of the latter,Beyond Glasnost: The Post-Totalitarian Mind, is also something else: an argument—in a deceptively unassuming, anti-ideological voice—about how to conceive of and move toward freedom; an argument that could hardly be more relevant to the debates among American radicals. Which is why I found myself scribbling notes in the margins, arguing back, and in general doing the sorts of things I do when a...

    • Now, Voyager
      (pp. 240-243)

      When I was a kid, I loved the Hayden Planetarium. I don’t know what it’s like now, but the show used to begin with a simulated sunset. Gradually the sky would darken and the stars come out, till I was sitting engulfed in a night more absolute, dusted with lights infinitely more numerous and brilliant, than the ordinary city nightscape could ever be. It was thrilling no matter how many times I saw it. I read to death a booklet the planetarium put out calledThe Sky Above Us, which, along with some basic information about the solar system and...

    • The Drug War: From Vision to Vice
      (pp. 244-248)

      Wandering through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens on the first expansively warm day of the year, snatching some time out from my work-ridden, pressured, scheduled dailiness, my daughter asleep in her stroller, I found myself thinking, “This would be a beautiful place to trip.” A weirdly anachronistic thought—I haven’t taken any psychedelic drugs in 15 years and have no serious desire to do so now. Even if I could negotiate the unencumbered 24 hours or so I always needed to go up, stay up, and come down again, it’s the wrong time. The vibes, as we used to say, are...

    • The Drug War: Hell No, I Won’t Go
      (pp. 249-254)

      At last the government has achieved something it hasn’t managed since the height of ’50s anti-Communist hysteria—enlisted public sentiment in a popular war. The president’s invocation of an America united in a holy war against drugs is no piece of empty rhetoric; the bounds of mainstream debate on this issue are implicit in the response of the Democratic so-called opposition, which attacked Bush’s program as not tough or expensive enough. (As Senator Biden—fresh from his defense of the flag; the guy is really on a roll—put it, “What we need is another D-Day, not another Vietnam.”) To...

    • Coming Down Again
      (pp. 255-270)

      That Blake line,” said my friend—for the purposes of this article I’ll call her Faith, a semi-ironic name, since she is a devout ex-Catholic—“It’s always quoted as ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.’”

      “That’s not right?” I said.

      “It’s ‘The roads of excesssometimeslead to the palace of wisdom.’ Very different!”

      I looked it up. There it was in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” the “Proverbs From Hell” section, directly following “Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead”: “The road of excess leads to …” etc. No...

  7. Epilogue: The Neo-Guilt Trip
    (pp. 271-274)

    Americans are tired of greed and ready to embrace decency and compassion.” By now I’ve heard some version of this sentiment too often to dismiss it as new-decadespeak; a real collective attack of conscience seems to be coming on. And I have to say that even as I stand on line to order my Donald Trump dart board, this nouveau guilt makes me nervous. The image it brings inexorably to mind is that of a compulsive eater about to enter the vomiting phase of a binge-purge cycle.

    The thing is, I haven’t yet recovered from America’s last bout of purgatory....

  8. Permissions
    (pp. 275-276)
  9. Index
    (pp. 277-281)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-282)