Feminism Is the Template,

Sexism Is the Reality

A Conversation with Jennifer Stone

by Adrienne Lauby

Jennifer Stone is a creative artist -- a novelist, poet, essayist as well as a radio programmer. Her witty fast-talking program of social commentary and literary analysis, "Stoneís Throw" airs on KPFA in the Cover to Cover time slot on Tuesdays at 3-3:30 p.m. "Mind Over Media," a shorter program of film critiques, is a feature on Philip Maldariís Morning Show on Thursdays at 8:20 a.m. Her books, Stoneís Throw (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA), Mind over Media (Cayuse Press, Berkeley, CA), Over By The Caves (New World Press), and Telegraph Avenue Then (Regent Press, Oakland, CA), can be ordered direct at (510) 845-5458. The interviewer is a member of North Bay for KPFA.

AL: Weíre both feminists. Letís talk about feminism first.

JS: We can do that of course, but itís a social liability to be a feminist, even in intellectual and leftist circles. The media has won this round after all. Weíve integrated into many things, but feminists canít put their fist in the air. Thatís out of fashion.

Iíve been waiting for Amy Goodman (of "Democracy Now") to talk about women. Sheís attuned to womenís issues and has humor. But you canít wait for these things.

For me, feminism is the template. Women are symbolic of the health of the planet. Birth control was the greatest change in the 20th century. Michael Parenti says itís about Labor but if women abdicated, the world would collapse.

AL: Women work but they are responsible for child and elder care too, which most men arenít. If you make the world safe for women, everything else would be better because women are everywhere.

JS: You always have to work within the zeitgeist, thatís the thing of it. I try to understand what is going on in the wider culture and what is going on next door. You know about the Cult of the Virgin Mary in Eastern Europe? Womenís lives have become so miserable theyíre going for the feminine heroes, saints and role models. Thatís why Iím focusing on women heroes in my Stoneís Throw program, starting with women writers like the Brontes, George Sand and Gertrude Stein.

I used to try to talk about all the things I care about but Iíve come to think itís better to be a one-issue person. Maybe I will just do women writers until I die -- dare to be dull.

AL: Speaking of "what is going on next door," what is the situation at KPFA?

JS: As far as women go, KPFA is the same as anywhere; itís all unconscious. The guys just donít get it. If I said that there should be a woman on the air twenty-four hours a day, a woman in the studio with whatever man, they would look at me blankly. If a woman isnít present, womanís sensibility is missing, but that isnít part of menís worldview. I heard an hour-long program the other day about the ghetto. Listening, youíd think no women live there. But thatís the androcentric way, to think he until someone says she. I suffer from pronoun envy.

As far as getting along on the air and being able to make some kind of difference, you have to be terribly sincere and say three times that you love men -- which is what I do. Film reviews are pretty much bitch-craft, of course, but wise cracks arenít understood these days. When I take a poke at males, I get women calling to say, "Youíve got to take that man-hater off the air."

Technically, we have equality on the staff at KPFA; but remember the studies. If the percentage of women isnít much higher than men, the women donít speak. Susan Stone is one of our Mama Bears. She makes everything work. She says, "I give them sugar."

Thereís two ways to make change, top-down or bottom-up. In the top-down way, Mary Francis Berry comes to town and meets with people like Angela Davis and Alice Walker and says, "I need a few top notch people to improve this station." She finds them, gives them real power and they work with the people who are here. You donít start out by firing people, for heavenís sake!

The bottom-up way might be to bring in so many people at the lower levels, they overwhelm the existing structure -- smother those who are divisive.

AL: Itís hard to hear how much the people at KPFA are hampered by sexism.

JS: Women need to scream louder; we are so cautious. Most of the women at KPFA have children.

I watched Chris Matthews interview Germaine Greer on a TV edition of "Hardball," and she was ignoring his clichés pretty much. Then she burst out, "women have very little idea how much men hate them." There was silence. Then, in an entirely new voice, he said, "Thatís true." It was one of those rare moments when truth burst through the script.

Women prefer love to power, and they seem to think they canít have both. Maybe they canít, or if they can, the price is too high.

What I tell women is, of course you can have it all, but you canít have it all at the same time. Itís come down to trying to get a little more space and clever women do have that. In terms of KPFA, women need to fight for as much time as we can get.

But, really, thereís nothing anywhere for most women. Women only survive when they have other women to back them up. I think thatís been proven. We donít do that for each other anywhere in the world. "Woman" is a service occupation -- it affects us all.

AL: Mothers, the original fountains of life, have been transformed into walk-in soda fountains.

JS: No one can know unless theyíve had children. I waited to have children until I was twenty-six and twenty-eight and I still didnít have a clue. After that, I waited six years for their father to help me. I only left because it was easier to be alone than to have him there -- not understanding.

A child is much more work than a husband or lover. The only way to civilize a growing child is to have a completely child-centered life.

They say the permissive society has run amuck, but if you have that kind of commitment you can raise decent human being. The problem is, it turns mothers into needs machines. In the nuclear family, the mother is asking help the man, the least likely person. You canít ask one male to give you an esteem bath, fold diapers and earn the money -- naturally they get angry.

I havenít been able to think of a way to satisfy a mother outside the clan structure. She needs aunts and grandmothers all over the place. No, womenís lives are lived in the warfare of oppression unless they have tremendous help and resources.

Remember those studies on the feminization of poverty? The longest-lived people are married men and the second longest are single women. Women die of their second heart attack because when a woman is sick it is so inconvenient for those around her. Who is going to watch her blood pressure and cook exactly the foods she needs day after day?

AL: You end up with are strategies for making do, rather than something that works for the long run.

JS: Gertrude Stein was self important; she loved herself. Remember that mantra, Iím becoming the man I wanted to marry? Stein used a strategy that did that.

People say she was self-indulgent. She had enough income to enjoy herself. She had a woman lover and lived an intellectual life. But weíre not talking excess here. Stein said she and Alice had to choose between clothes and paintings, so they wore old clothes and bought paintings.

AL: And the Brontes?

JS: The Bronte sisters were what Virginia Woolf called the "angel in the house." Younger women donít understand the Brontesí kind of deprivation. They donít realize those women lived in genteel poverty and what that meant. The Bronte strategy used writing to trance out in order to ignore their emotional hungers. Their lives were miserable and we have nothing like it today in Western culture. The schools were so poor, the Bronte children suffered frostbite in their schoolrooms. As adults, they bought writing paper two sheets at a time.

The issues for women come down to; itís damned if you do, damned if you donít. When Stein was in Oakland, the school used to ask, "What did you do to lend a hand today" and she said she and her brother Leo "never learned to lend a hand." Of course, she did; she drove an ambulance in France during World War I. Still she is considered selfish because she disdained heterosexual feminine behavior.

Womenís liberation is literally the last revolution. Most women donít understand until they are old and then itís too late. After two years at Mills College in the 1950s, I realized I did better without men in the classroom, but try telling that to a seventeen year old girl.

AL: What has the struggle with Pacifica been like for you?

JS: I wish there was something wise to be said about what happened with Pacifica but we really mucked up. The only good thing was that we got some community involved. The Pacifica people did everything wrong but we did some things wrong back.

Anyway, when Lynn Chadwick walked in and told Aileen Alfandary that she couldnít air a KPFA issue on the news, that was a misstep. Corporate Pacifica canít dictate to Pacifica news. Pat Scott would never have made that mistake; most people arenít stupid. But Lynn did it and then the thing split wide open.

Of course, we have our share of drama queens at KPFA.

What can you do? When Ginny Z. Berson became station manager, she did it (One of our recent managers would only take the job) on a condition of no more staff meetings. I was aghast.

"But Jennifer," she said, "You never come to them."

I do go to meetings when itís essential but most of them are toxic. Having Jim Bennett as acting manager is fine, good. He has made this place run technically for years. The workers should control their work, that sort of thing. But, he still has his technical job and itís way too much for one person.

When Pat Scott came, she didnít understand the hostility. I told her to think of it like working in a junior high school but she wasnít the Mom type.

Pat Scott raised money. I didnít understand. I said having a new building was having an edifice complex. But she said I didnít understand. The rents were going to go up and put us out of business if we didnít own a building. Iím terrible at business so I have to guess she knew what she was talking about.

We need both a station manager and a programming director. The second job would be to make the best use of the talent, to do the Mom stuff and the mentoring. Itís a job of cut and paste and trim, doing what creative people do for the best possible result. And, if a programmer simply canít make anything good happen, you get rid of that person with dignity and respect. You take them out to lunch and ask, "How do you want to do this?"

I donít know, maybe we donít need supervision! On Radio Free Berkeley I did three hours at a time with no oversight -- and I was better then.

AL: North Bay for KPFA includes dedicated musicians, visual artists, novelists, people who do law. . . Whatís the mix at KPFA?

JS: Writers and musicians used to work at KPFA, now they come for publicity, to promote their work. Some staff are still working artists. Jack Foley and I are free lance writers.

It seems to me that the intellectual level of the programming continues to decline. I donít know what you do; experiment I guess.

AL: So, letís get specific. What would you do if you were the KPFA programming goddess?

JS: Iíd do at least one hour a week called "Old Enough to Know Better" and give all the elders airtime. Bring back Bill Mandel, Phil Elwood, all those who have been on KPFA in past years.

As for women, we need a "Majority Report," where medical and legal news is, at least, reported -- maybe a call in but basically information. What is the status of the laws? Poor womenís problems, housing, reproductive rights.

The assumption is that womenís issues are mixed into the programs we air now but you have to target certain people. [We have to] frame femicide as a hate crime. Femicide is not a hygiene spray!

I thought of a show called, "Motherís Milk," but the title is too titillating. Why not, "In the Best Interests of the Child?"

I was thinking Iíd try a late-night call in show with a professional shrink and someone who deals with childrenís issues.

One problem is that our culture is soaked in this abuse paradigm. You canít tell people who are starting to remember abuse that what they believe may not be true. Most Satanic stuff is projection but these are very hurt people and you canít just say that.

Child abuse is old, goes back to the origin of patriarchy. Virginia Woolf was an abused child. In the forties we didnít call the police; we said, "Thatís the way men are."

You canít do childrenís issues without talking about mothers. The childís grandparents may have been involved in the motherís abuse. How can we tackle all this as a society?

Get ready, because childrenís rights are the next big issue. What do you do if your kid says, "I have a right to see my father even if heís a murderer in San Quentin." Maybe women need a parallel legal system, at least a juvenile justice system run by moms.

AL: Weíve talked about management, what do you think of efforts to give listeners some power in the KPFA/Pacifica structure.

JS: I think itís a great idea to give listeners more power.

AL: But after the crisis is over, wonít the listeners end up just another small group of people adding their voice to the mix?

JS: What you do is set up a phone bank and require calls as part of the programming work. Iíd like to find out who the student government leaders are at all the high schools and call them every week. Then weíd really know what was going on with teens and not just be scrambling to say something about the high profile incidents.

The thing you need is real contact, real hooks into the community, our own medical and legal voices. People donít know who to contact. I had someone call me to ask where she could find Planned Parenthood.

AL: So, youíd recommend more listener power?

JS: Sure, listeners as the boss. How could this happen? The folio came along, so maybe. . .

I donít mean to obsess about KPFA dynamics. Itís not so different than anywhere else. Making anything better takes time. I always say, democracy takes all your week nights.

In times of conflict, thereís the possibility of experiments. Right now, people at KPFA seem quite cheerful and not wrestling with demons. Thereís a certain vagueness and distraction, as though keeping things going is about all they can do.

Mostly I think, "do it yourself or it wonít get done;" thereís an alchemy in these things and you donít know what might happen. Maybe thereís room for more feminism. Maybe tomorrow everything will turn into something else. As Fats Waller said, "One never know, do one?"

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