While small groups of women sat together in Chapel Hill to talk about women’s liberation, other group were meeting in Durham. And still other groups were meeting in New York and California. The women’s movement became a national force because of the way in which groups utilized access to mimeograph machines. Some groups wrote manifestos while others just read them. Either way, the print culture allowed for the movement to reach and connect an entire nation of women, because whether they were readers or writers or a bit of both, once they finished the material, they mailed it off to another group.
Historian (and former Triangle area feminist) Sara Evans’s book, Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century’s End provides countless examples to support that print culture helped to keep feminism alive. Evans recalls organizing a mimeographed newsletter (best known as Feminary), “so that multiplying groups could stay in touch.” As a member of Group 22, she and her fellow members “plugged through…angry mimeographed pamphlets that circulated from group to group around the country…When we read them, we joined a national conversation about just what this movement was, what kind of change it should advocate, and possible strategies for getting there.”
She explains the mimeograph as a precursor to the Internet (Evans 12). A cheap, do-it-yourself style alternative to a publisher, the mimeograph gave groups the freedom to self-publish whatever they pleased in the forms of articles, manifestos, newsletters and even journals. Groups from across the country wrote dozens of mimeographed publications that circulated widely. By 1975, nearly 200 periodicals and approximately two dozen feminist presses supported the movement’s print culture (Evans 92).
In addition to creating newsletters and writing manifestos, feminists created their own literature. In Chapel Hill, the Lollipop Power Press published non-sexist and non-racist children’s books as a way to combat the gendered and racist socialization of children.
Not satisfied with a newsletter that primarily served the women of the Triangle, a new collective formed to create a publication that would be a guide for all North Carolina women. In 1974 Diana Press published their creation, Whole Women Carologue.
Around the country, other women were doing similar things.
A Boston based women’s group named Bread and Roses wrote one of the most famous guides to women’s health, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Our Bodies, Ourselves , used self narratives as a way to provide truthful information and to “demystif[y]” women’s medicine (Evans 47-48). In this way, the women’s health guide accomplished in print what consciousness raising groups aimed to do in person. By making public the experiences of other women, the book legitimized women’s own experiences.
Another journal, Quest: A Feminist Quarterly looked to bring different sects of feminism back together. Founded in 1974, Evans describes Quest as “practical feminism.” As such, it hoped to bridge the divides among socialist, cultural and liberal feminism (164).
Another group of women, all of whom worked in the publishing industry (aptly named Women in Publishing), had their eyes set on changing publishers’ standards. They assembled guidelines for nonsexist language and distributed them to major publishers. As a result, McGraw-Hill sent out an 11 page document to all of its editorial employees in addition to 8,000 nonfiction authors who wrote textbooks, reference works, trade journals, educational materials as well as children’s books. The “Guidelines for Equal Treatment of the Sexes in McGraw-Hill Book Company Publications,” made recommendations like:
Men and women should be treated primarily as people and not primarily as members of opposite sexes…Members of both sexes should be represented as whole human beings with human strengths and weaknesses, not masculine of feminine ones’…Not only were authors advised to avoid stereotypic and simplistic presentations, they were also warned to deal with women and men in the same terms…to avoid patronizing, ‘girl-watching,’ and sexual innuendo, and to treat women ‘as part of the rule, not as the exception (Evans 91-92).
Other suggestions were to avoid using male nouns, like fireman (substitute with firefighter) and to be cautious of marginalizing females by referring to them only by their first name or by their familial role (wife, mother, sister, daughter, etc) while referencing their male counterparts by their full names or titles and by always being listed second (Evans 92).
Source: Evans, Sara, Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at the Century’s End, (New York: Free Press, 2003).