Country Women as a Periodical

A collection of four different covers of the feminist periodical Country Women, all featuring a venus symbol with a fist enclosed in the circle. This fist clutches a grain of wheat.

Four covers of the Country Women periodical, covering topics such as “Homesteading” and “Work & Money,” depicting a venus symbol with a fist inside of the circle, clutching a grain of wheat. Various line drawings skirt the outer edges of the covers showing women spreading seed, picking fruit, and reading.

Though most periodicals of the second-wave feminist movement emerged out of major U.S. cities, rural feminist literature managed to become part of the national feminist consciousness. One of the most prominent of rural feminist periodicals is Country Women, a journal published out of Mendocino County in California from a women’s farming commune. The journal describes itself as “a feminist country survival manual and a creative journal” (Country Women). This highlights the two-pronged approach of the rural feminist project: creating a rural lifestyle that is more empowering for women and making space for the artistic endeavors of rural women. Art was critical to the Second Wave feminist movement, and this remains true amid rural feminist circles. Many scholars of the second-wave feminist movement note “the centrality of poetry in the feminist projects of the 1960s and 1970s” (Voyce 162). This is certainly seen in Country Women which features prominently the poetry of rural women. The poems are often set alongside or within line art that provides both context for the poetry and a reminder of the necessity of artistic expression by women within the feminist movement. In a piece entitled “We’re Not Just Farmers,” one country woman laments the leading role that practical farm chores plays in her life and warns against denying the part of oneself that longs for beauty, arguing that “we need to take the artistic parts of ourselves more seriously” (Rodgers 6). Not only does Country Women show that rural women are not lacking in feminist ideology, it also shows that the feminist poetry movement is alive and well in the countryside. Rural women are not simply tending to the farmhouse all day; they are writing poetry, blowing glass, painting landscapes, and drafting political essays. Even as Country Women encourages rural women to make artists of themselves, the journal does not deny the importance of practical skills that pertain to a country lifestyle, specifically when it comes to work that is seen as traditionally male labor. Country Women advertised itself in a fellow feminist publication, Heresies, as devoting half of its content to writings and art focused around a theme relevant to the women’s movement and centering the other half on “learning specific skills [such as] building a solar energy collector, caring for cows and goats, reglazing windows, and winter gardening” (Heresies 122). The reality of country life can be brutal; it is not all just feasting on one’s harvests and relaxing in meadows. Women must have the practical skills to run a successful farm and make a living, especially considering that most young girls growing up in the country are not necessarily instructed upon how to operate a farm and the equipment that comes along with it. This information is usually bestowed upon sons. Women existing in traditionally masculine spaces such as the farm or the literary world itself is a radical act, and Country Women provides critical documentation of these routine radical acts throughout the Second Wave feminist movement.

Works Cited:

Country Women. Vol. 1, no. 3, Country Women Editorial Collective, 1973.

Heresies. Vol. 2, no. 2, Heresies Collective, 01 Jul. 1978, p. 122.

Rodgers, Amy. “We’re Not Just Farmers.” Country Women, no. 22, Country Women                  Editorial Collective, 01 Dec. 1976, p. 6.

Voyce, Stephen. “The Women’s Liberation Movement: A Poetic for the Common                        World.” Poetic Community, University of Toronto Press, 04 May 2013, pp. 162-                201.

“Hippiechick” and the Necessity of Rural Feminism

A poem entitled "Hippiechick" by Susan Saxe that discusses the gendered oppression that rural women face surrounded by line art of flowers.

The poem “Hippiechick” by Susan Saxe, originally published in her poetry collection Talk Among the Womenfolk, republished in the 22nd issue of Country Women in 1976 and situated within art of a floral, dreamlike landscape. The poem chronicles the sexist oppression that country women encounter.

There is a prominent ideology stating that city women need feminism most. When we think of feminist issues, these issues are often very city-centric: sexual harassment within the office, women not being able to walk the streets alone at night, gendered wage gaps in white-collar jobs, and more. Because of this, there is an idea that removing oneself from the city will also lessen the burdens of societal oppressions. There is an idea that rural communities are stuck in their ways and happy with them—that rural women’s liberation is a hopeless cause. Saxe’s poem examines exactly why these ideas could not be further from the truth. Women in the countryside do massive amounts of labor—both labor that is seen as traditionally feminine and labor that is not. One rural woman describes their disruption of popular conceptions about the kind of work that farm women do, proclaiming that “contrary to what the Farm Journal and Hoardes Dairyman might lead one to believe, the women on farms in this country are doing a good deal more than baking cherry pies and tending the chickens…they are running big equipment, pulling calves and cleaning barns” (Hoth 3). Women’s role on the farm is not an easy one. On top of raising children and doing housework, these women are helping to run a farm that provides them with sustenance. It is these women, especially, that are in dire need of feminist policies such as wages for housework, more equitable distribution of domestic labor, and free childcare. Susan Saxe appears frightened at the notion of a woman returning to the country, commenting disapprovingly that “you have drifted, my sister, / Into the arms of disaster, / Back to the farm” (17). Likely due to the enormous amounts of labor that women are expected to perform in the country, Saxe equates the farm to the “arms of disaster.” Saxe uses listing to compound the undesirable aspects of country life, describing “wrists scratched raw by blackberry thorns, / A baby crying upstairs, / The flies buzzing round. / It was from this, my sister, / That your grandmother fled” (17). By stacking these responsibilities, Saxe portrays the many duties that rural women are burdened with.

Though the grandmother of the rural woman being referred to fled the country for a better and perhaps easier life, there is clearly an allure to the country that would cause this woman to desire a homecoming. The continual use of the phrase “my sister” connotes commonality between urban and rural women while acknowledging the political consciousness of the rural woman. It is not as if this exchange is one in which the urban woman is proselytizing to an ignorant country woman; this is an exchange between equals with different ideas about liberation. Saxe points out the gendered inequality present in many rural households, decrying that the “man grows stronger / with each passing day” while the woman’s “belly grows bigger. / My sister, I’m freaking out. / You’re barefoot and pregnant” (17). These few lines exemplify the absolute necessity of a feminist ideological presence in the country. It’s true that many rural women exist in states of acute oppression and have a vast quantity of unique issues to be addressed. The effects of many social issues are felt most by people in under-resourced areas, such as the rural countryside. This poem embodies the line of deep solidarity felt between women of different identities that was often expressed in feminist poetry; poetry allowed women to connect across boundaries of race, class, sexuality, and place. Saxe begins the last stanza of the poem with a reminder of the necessity of rural women’s liberation, warning that the woman says she does not “need liberation / Because you’re natural, and natural is free, / But soon you’ll be just two vacant eyes” (17). In order to prevent the eventual burnout of these incredibly powerful and hardworking country women, a feminist analysis is necessary. Simply belonging to the land and being connected to nature is not enough to amount to women’s liberation. Women’s liberation must be accomplished across socioeconomic divisions and carried out to the greatest extent in areas where women are traditionally undervalued.

Works Cited:

Hoth, Sandra. “Belonging to the Land.” Country Women, no. 31, Country Women                      Editorial Collective, 01 Nov. 1978, pp. 2-3.

Saxe, Susan. “Hippiechick.” Country Women, no. 22, Country Women Editorial                          Collective, 01 Dec. 1976, p. 17.

Periodicals as a Locale of Connection: Rural Women and the Construction of Communities

A picture of a letter to the editor in a feminist publication in which a rural woman describes her eagerness to receive more feminist content.

Carol Bellhouse, a rural woman, wrote into Off Our Backs: A Women’s Liberation Newspaper in January of 1971 with a letter entitled “Hooray for Women’s Liberation!”, expressing a keen interest in receiving more feminist periodical material.

Letters written to feminist publications from women in the country make incredibly clear their earnest interest in feminism both as a concept and in practice. Feminist periodicals, especially those like Country Women that are attuned to the specific oppressions and needs of rural women, play an essential role in disseminating feminist ideology in the countryside. They allow for women to connect with feminist ideas when people in their community may not be doing that work. They allow for rural women to express themselves in the form of art, poetry, and the circulation of how-to articles for other rural women looking to hone their crafts. One woman from a “small town” derides the traditional feminine lifestyle that she encounters around her, stating that the main objective of the “nice, decent girl[s] in her town is to get married and have 44 kids.” She writes to Off Our Backs, a newspaper of the Women’s Liberation Movement, requesting more materials from the newspaper (Bellhouse 5). This is just one example of a woman in the countryside that is hungry for feminist literature and to engage with the movement. Though it is just one woman, coupling this with the many women that write in and contribute to Country Women, the feminist presence in the countryside cannot and must not be discounted. The letter of a feminist collective in Alberta, Canada, to Country Women is another testament to this hunger, a representative stating that they all “leaped at the literature and ideas of the [feminist] movement, convinced that it was valuable to us” (Slim 4). Rural women were actively engaging with the feminist thought of the time, seeking out this material and often discussing it in groups. Feminist publications are especially “valuable” to country women, who may not have a women’s resource center or consciousness-raising group located in their area.

A letter from a rural woman's collective in Canada attesting to the necessity they have for feminist literature, accompanied by an image of a woman feeding her chickens.

A letter from a women’s collective in Canada, published in the 8th issuing of Country Women in 1973, commenting on the profound importance that feminist literature and periodicals have for isolated rural women. A picture of a woman feeding her chickens appears alongside the letter.

Another woman writing to Country Women expresses not only a lack of feminist resources in her area but an outright lack of support for and acceptance of female farmers, expressing that she “had to draw support from women through publications” (Slim 4). It is easy to see how a publication like Country Women would be instrumental in the lives of many farming women looking to find a community within what could have been an, at times, hostile rural environment. These publications allow for rural women to feel supported and tapped into the national Second Wave feminist movement occurring at the time. Perhaps Country Women shouldered the burden of this job connecting rural women even more than other periodicals, with a reflection on their printing holding that “because many women who read Country Women see no other feminist publication, we discovered the important role we play in introducing the women’s movement to our more isolated sisters” (Bye 60). Even though these women are isolated and it is likely difficult for them to access feminist print material, issues like Country Women still circulated widely and truly did allow for some manifestation of connection to form among farming women across North America. Feminist periodicals are an avenue for connection among remote rural women and were critical in shaping the Second Wave feminist movement in the country.

Works Cited:

Bellhouse, Carol. “Hooray for Women’s Liberation!” Off Our Backs, vol. 1, no. 16, off                 our backs, inc., 21 Jan. 1971, p. 5.

Bye, Harriet. “Country Women in Print.” Country Women, no. 22, Country Women                     Editorial Collective, 01 Dec. 1976, pp. 60-61.

Slim. “Letters to Country Women.” Country Women, no. 8, Country Women Editorial                Collective, 01 Oct. 1973, pp. 2-8.

Living One’s Politics in “To a Distant Friend”

A poem by Elsa Gidlow describing the different political practices of country and rural feminists.

A poem, “To a Distant Friend,” by Elsa Gidlow, published in the 1976 issue of Country Women entitled “City~Country.” The poem discusses separations and divergences between city and country women, and the relationship between global politics and farm life.

Elsa Gidlow’s poem, “To a Distant Friend,” situated within Country Women’s 22nd edition on the divergence of the feminist movement between city and country landscapes, provides the perspective of a country feminist writing to a friend in the city. The poem discusses both the physical distance between these women, as well as their differences in values. The friend in the city is said to “write of missing the old times; / But more, of anger at the wars” (Gidlow 7). The urban friend has a clear political consciousness; their anger is so pronounced that they are corresponding with their friend in an attempt to make sense of this needless destruction. Even across the urban/rural divide, it is clear that an interest in global politics links these two women. However, the country woman seems more concerned with the natural workings of the world and partaking in a communal lifestyle: “here, from Druid Heights, / I write of pruning the apple, / Seed-planting, progress of lettuces” (Gidlow 7). Druid Heights was a poet’s commune owned by Gidlow and frequented by countercultural icons such as Allen Ginsberg and Neil Young (Silverstein). This retreat distanced Gidlow from the immediacy of anti-war efforts playing out in major cities at the time but allowed for her to remain grounded in the commune’s productive capacities. The alliteration present in these few lines suggests a methodical approach to this labor and a real connection to the land.

Gidlow writes about a fundamental linkage between the farm work that she is partaking in and the broader political landscape, asserting that “last year’s corruption feeds / This year’s harvests” (7). It is undeniable that the ramifications of U.S. global policy can be felt even in the most isolated of American communities. Climate change, megafarming, and the decimation of many rural communities in America can all be traced back to policy choices in the Capitol. The poem reaffirms the importance of the natural world to rural feminists. Gidlow ends the poem by stressing the role that communal living, working, and celebrating plays in the rural feminist’s political analysis, telling of “our festive times, / Sharing wine, fruits of our harvests” (7). It is through this communal labor that the rural feminist expresses her politics. Though a group of women farming in Northern California seems so disparate to global anti-war struggles, it is through living in cooperation and eking out a living wholly separated from state power that this rural feminist asserts her solidarity. This same idea is commented on in another article in the same issue of Country Women, with one woman proclaiming that “women’s communities can’t escape living their politics in their daily lives” (“City”). Gidlow’s poem exemplifies this idea that political meaning can come from land and labor itself. Through living and farming communally, rural feminists proclaim their independence from the capitalist, heteropatriarchal global order.

Works Cited:

“City Voices.” Country Women, no. 22, Country Women Editorial Collective, 01 Dec.                    1976, pp. 13-16.

Gidlow, Elsa. “To a Distant Friend.” Country Women, no. 22, Country Women Editorial                Collective, 01 Dec. 1976, p. 7.

Silverstein, Nikki. “Advocates Push to Preserve Historic Druid Heights Community.”                    Pacific Sun, Weeklys, 19 Jan. 2021,                preserve-historic-d ruid-heights-community/.

“This Distance Doesn’t Exist”: International Solidarity between Rural Women

Rural isolation did not keep the rural feminists of the Second Wave movement from expressing solidarity with their sisters fighting American patriarchal hegemony across the globe. Country Women’s 18th issue—this edition subtitled “Politics”—is full of discussion surrounding the various socialist and decolonial insurgent movements occurring across the Global South throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The idea of a depoliticized countryside at the time becomes even more untrue when extrapolated to countries outside of the US, where many liberation struggles arise out of rural areas. One article acknowledges the distance that is easily felt between rural American radical feminists and radical women in the global “Third World,” but cautions that it is “important to remember that this distance, in actuality, doesn’t exist” as “we are women of the country, and we are women of this world” (Julie and Weed 17). It is, in some ways, their connection to the countryside that unites these women. Wars like the Vietnam War were hardly being fought in urban areas, and, thus, rural women tended to be more immediately affected by their violences. These sentiments show that not only are rural feminists capable of connecting with the broader, urban Second Wave feminist movement; they are also capable of forging a global connection among women that share their common identities and goals.

A poem entitled "Common Victories" authored by women of the Weather Underground discussing the life of Thi Binh and its feminist implications.

Originally published in a collection of poetry by women of the Weather Underground, this poem, “Common Victories,” was republished in Country Women’s “Politics” issue in 1976. The poem is accompanied by line drawings of a flowering tree branch and a woman with a bandana on.

The poem “Common Victories” chronicles the life of Thị Bình, a chief negotiator and leader on behalf of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, describing that she “came victorious / … / from prison lye, barelegged work in the deltas” (Women of the Weather Underground 35). These lines establish Thị Bình as a country woman of great merit. The title of the poem’s use of the word “common” implies that her struggles and her accomplishments can be felt and shared collectively—that it is both her hard, grueling labor and her striking successes that she holds in common with working women of the world. The poem honors the strong women that came before Thị Bình; it is stated that “she covered her mudcaked body / with crimson ao dai / dipped in / the blood of women / warriors / sacred red” (Women of the Weather Underground 35). Here, red functions as both the color of her cause, communism, and as a metaphor for the strength and the bodies of the women that allowed for Thị Bình to participate in the liberation of her lands. The evidence of her ruralness is not washed away; she remains “mudcaked” even when adorned in the áo dài. Perhaps it is her rural roots along with the support of a community of women that provides her the strength to lead a revolution. Thị Bình is portrayed as concluding that she “shall not resign [herself] to the usual lot of women” (Women of the Weather Underground 35). She refuses to accept the life that is laid out for her, refuses to perform the powerlessness that is expected of women. It is through the communal strength of the women that she has come from and that have informed her political consciousness that she is able to disobey the patriarchy and come out a potent commander.

A poem by Devi Indigo, entitled "chile as the killing begins," describing a Chilean woman's commentary on her homeland being ravished by American imperial interests.

Entitled “chile as the killing begins,” this poem, written by Devi Indigo, was published in the “Politics” issue of Country Women in 1976. A sketch of a woman gazing into the distance breaks the poem in half.

The same innate capacity for resistance is evident in Devi Indigo’s “chile as the killing begins.” The woman in the poem indicts “amerikan corporations / which steal copper off / the land she knows / belongs to her people / the people who work the land” (Indigo 18). Rural communities often feel the results of land pillaging and resource extraction more intensely, and this remains true in the coal towns of West Virginia to the copper- and lithium-rich mountains of Chile. This woman lives in the community and knows that these resources belong to the village, delineating a clear political analysis of colonial antagonisms and her place within them. This woman does not trust the men in her life to fix these large-scale problems, as she knows “too many men / have brought her promises then / carried them away in cheap caskets” (Indigo 18). Reliance upon men has only led this woman to disappointment. Some women in the country simply do not have the choice to be dependent upon men, and this can lead to various empowering experiences. This Chilean woman has a moment of reckoning with her own power as she “just sits as they pass by, / then she goes inside / to load her rifle” (Indigo 18). No longer will she sit by as her country is ravaged by imperial powers, and no longer does she trust the men to rectify this problem for her. Through loading her rifle, she is taking the power into her own hands and providing inspiration to country women suffering the effects of sexism, racism, and imperialism worldwide. Country Women’s many encounters with “Third World women” and their liberation struggles throughout the world highlight the intentional solidarity and interconnectedness between global rural women.

Works Cited:

Indigo, Devi. “chile as the killing begins.” Country Women, no. 18, Country Women                   Editorial Collective, 01 Jan. 1976, p. 18.

Julie and Weed. “Women of the World.” Country Women, no. 18, Country Women                   Editorial Collective, 01 Jan. 1976, pp. 17-18.

Women of the Weather Underground. “Common Victories.” Country Women, no. 18,               Country Women Editorial Collective, 01 Jan. 1976, p. 35.