- Flower Children:The Women
A cloudburst of nostalgia and apologia for the 1960s rained upon the United States in 2009, punctuated by commemorations of the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock music festival and the Public Theatre's Broadway revival of the rock musical Hair. Not that the long decade of the Sixties has at any point been absent from American cultural fare since its demise in, say, 1975. In music and fashion, television and film, hairstyles and "lifestyles"—in every cultural form imaginable—Sixties culture has been sustained, reprised, and mythologized for well over thirty years now.
Scholars have had their say, too. Scores of books have considered the Vietnam War and the war at home, the movements for social justice, and the machinery of reaction. The counterculture, for all its zany excess, has received a level of scrutiny seldom bestowed on a youth rebellion. What Vice President Spiro Agnew famously characterized as a "whole damn zoo" of rebels—of "Yippies, Hippies, Yahoos, Black Panthers, lions and tigers alike"—former radicals David Horowitz and Peter Collier, slouching toward the cultural and political Right, later dubbed a "destructive generation," dismissing the 1960s as an era "overrated and unmourned."1 Yet Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle, in Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and '70s (2002), perhaps the best scholarly treatment of the Sixties counterculture to date, take the children of Aquarius at their own word, as did Theodore Roszak in The Making of a Counter Culture (1968) and Charles Reich in The Greening of America (1970). Make no mistake, they say: these long-haired, bell-bottomed, pot-smoking, acid-dropping, commune-dwelling, nature-loving, music-making, sex-sharing "freaks" were rebels for a cause: the cause of remaking society to reject warmongering and artifice, alienation and repression; to reflect instead the jouissance of life unfettered by the restrictive norms of a corrupt and moribund society. Ken Goffman and Dan Joy place the youth counterculture of the Sixties in a still more attenuated context of rebellion that includes the Abrahamic and the Socratic, the Transcendentalist and the [End Page 753] Parisian bohemian, in their sometimes serious romp, Counter Culture through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House (2004).
Within this torrent of retrospection, the experience of women in the Sixties has received uneven treatment. Most scholarly overviews of the 1960s in the U.S. discuss the development of second-wave feminism, tracking activist women's consciousness of gender oppression in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, as in the New Left and other progressive movements, to their eventual creation of a decentralized, multifaceted set of organizations that sought to challenge male dominance and empower women. Todd Gitlin's participant-observer narrative, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (1987), for example, discusses women's experiences intermittently throughout the text, before honing in with a chapter titled, "Women: Revolution within the Revolution." Scholarship focused explicitly on women in the Sixties also trends toward a tributary analysis in which rivulets of discontent in mainstream culture, counterculture, and radical movements eventually culminate in a feminist surge by the late Sixties. With a few exceptions, the counterculture receives sparse attention in studies of women in the 1960s, while women get short shrift in analyses of the counterculture.
In Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture, Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo seeks to redress these lapses. She challenges two standard and related assertions in the literature: first is that women in the counterculture suffered exploitation as domestic drudges and child breeders in much the same way, ironically, as women in mainstream, mid-twentieth-century American culture; added to that burden, hippie women faced sexual maltreatment in a counterculture caught up in the rapture of sexual revolution. Second is that the truly beneficial and lasting legacies of the 1960s for women resulted from organized feminist activism, not from the more amorphous, frivolous, and male-dominated counterculture. Each of these assertions contains a dose of truth, Lemke-Santangelo contends, but neither reveals the complexity of...