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Marriage has given me an illusory sense of power. A married woman can flirt with men, tell them her troubles, presume on their friendship, and by the rules they can’t demand that she follow through. If she wants a man (especially a single man) it is not only acceptable, but almost expected, for her to make the first move. In no other situation does she have so much freedom. Furthermore the status marriage confers insulates her somewhat from rejection and humiliation. Whatever another man might think of her or do to her, at least one man has certified her Class A merchandise.
This was my mother writing in 1969, and this is still so piercingly true. I basically got married by accident, and therefore have always had a certain amount of distance from Being a Wife, but one of the first things I noticed was how that title changes the dynamic with guy friends new and old. On one level it’s a relief—everything is innocent, unless you choose otherwise. But it also signifies a strange, depressing finality, like now that you’re married, you cease to be seen as a sexual, adventurous person. It’s an uncomfortable shift that I wish we could leave by the wayside, like girdles and segregated help-wanted ads. 
Sep 6, 2014 / 9 notes
As she saw it, the most illuminating and urgent version of “the personal” is not so much “the domestic” as “the sexual”. Pleasure, she argued, is a human right. The sexual revolution must be a collective one or, as she wrote in 1967, a movement to fuse and energize “the politics of nations with the politics of our own bodies”. It was this honouring of the body and of sensory experience that led Willis to writing about rock. The music of the late 1960s and early 70s was a way for her to think about gender politics, both in the broad sense, and on a personal level. It was seeing Janis Joplin, for example, that “made me resolve, once and for all, not to get my hair straightened”.
Aug 14, 2014 / 2 notes
Aug 13, 2014 / 1 note
One question I’m endlessly interested in is what rebellion and radicalism look like in the 21st century — a topic I explored in a piece for The Believer about the surprising subversion of production-library music, and also in my Pitchfork coverage of Pussy Riot. I’m a feminist, and yet I often find I’m most drawn to music that I disagree with politically and that sometimes even directly affronts my presence as a listener. (Last summer, Yeezus blew my mind while Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady left me cold.) I think the great Ellen Willis said it best, when writing about the Sex Pistols in 1977: “And there lay the paradox: music that boldly and aggressively laid out what the singer wanted, loved, hated — as good rock and roll did — challenged me to do the same, and so, even when the content was anti woman, antisexual, in a sense antihuman, the form encouraged my struggle for liberation.”
Aug 13, 2014 / 12 notes
Each sentence in this collection bears the mark of a writer haunted by the notion that without a constant search for clarity on what mattered most to her, she would never realize the life — or love, or society — she hoped for. If we persist in thinking that the members of her generation deceived themselves when they believed they were beginning to see the light, we deserve every bit of darkness that is blinding us now. For those of us who would rather not get fooled again, we have these 513 pages as a guide.

The New York Times review of “The Essential Ellen Willis” is a rave!

(Although it does take a jab at our generation and era of Internet journalism, calling it “self-congratulatory clique-building and fresh outrage every hour on the hour”—which is a maddeningly cynical way to think of an exciting, creative, participatory media climate about which Mom would have been thrilled.)

Jul 25, 2014 / 13 notes
To read her cultural criticism is to see her admitting insecurity, weakness. Willis wasn’t always sure where the boundaries fell between personal and political, if those boundaries even existed. She could grant, “My commitment to heterosexual sex is very basic and I want, need love and companionship.” And she could also observe when her own politics became more sophisticated. She later footnoted her celebrated article on Dylan as a “prefeminist essay,” critiquing her reference “with aplomb if not outright endorsement to Dylan’s characteristic bohemian contempt for women.” She calls another statement in the piece “absurd.” What other writer would inspect her shedded skin with such harsh and bracing honesty?
Emily Greenhouse’s Dissent review of “The Essential Ellen Willis” is one of the most perceptive things written on the book so far, and it has now been liberated from the paywall!
Jul 18, 2014 / 15 notes
What if our politicians asked us to show our patriotism through dancing joyously, not shopping the sale racks? How about if public debates over discriminatory sodomy laws argued that anal sex should be legal not only because the opposite is homophobic but also because anal sex feels good? If we didn’t see self-denial as a moral imperative would we have more love for fellow people, more empathy? Would we be less anxious about our own spending habits? Happier?
Jun 11, 2014 / 7 notes
You can get a contact high from reading “The Essential Ellen Willis”…If you breathe deep, these essays are still capable of making you dizzy with possibility.
May 22, 2014 / 7 notes
My dream is to get, like, Taylor or Miley to tweet about Ellen Willis. Or at least Lorde.
May 15, 2014 / 7 notes
"With a tone as sharp and amusing as Ms. Willis’ writing, Ms. Aronowitz suggested that the ongoing appeal of Ms. Willis’ work is its playful ‘liberationist spirit,’ like the 1980s satire of a ‘National Family Security Act,’ which she offered up as the first reader at the party. Further interest lies in the incisiveness of her mother’s ideals: ‘Her writing was really [a] part of this larger value system that she had.’"
The “Essential Ellen Willis” party was written up in the Observer!
May 14, 2014 / 5 notes

"With a tone as sharp and amusing as Ms. Willis’ writing, Ms. Aronowitz suggested that the ongoing appeal of Ms. Willis’ work is its playful ‘liberationist spirit,’ like the 1980s satire of a ‘National Family Security Act,’ which she offered up as the first reader at the party. Further interest lies in the incisiveness of her mother’s ideals: ‘Her writing was really [a] part of this larger value system that she had.’"

The “Essential Ellen Willis” party was written up in the Observer!