Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"But the gap between sexual freedom and repressed eroticism goes deeper. 'In America,' Kate Millett has said, 'you can either fuck or shake hands' and this sums up the situation. The ability to feel, to hold, to embrace, to take comfort from the warmth of other human beings is sadly lacking . . . "

--Dennis Altman, from "Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation," 1971

Two implies polarity - two sides, two choices, or two opposing forces. Fire doesn't burn in a straight line. The Two of Wands presents a stalled impulse, one that leaves us momentarily neutral, perhaps even sad and without courage. We may need to stand aside before becoming fuel for another inspired conflagration. In this card a young man confronts a naked woman on the path of freedom. She bounds away while he considers her polymorphous sensuality and sorts out the perceived freedom and comfort of her naked body from the programmed distress of his sexual tension.

Gender provided the Counterculture with one of its most engaging and defining polarities. What emerged was a Wand-like activism of feeling that addressed the politics of sex. The tactics and strategies of revolution could be employed on behalf of the voracious appetites of the heart. And there was much to do. The first task was to abandon a yoke of patriarchal expectation by which women were subdued through a common understanding that men alone were empowered. The ideological reconfiguration of this dilemma is still ongoing, but the frank, direct, and rebellious outcomes of the Sixties changed dramatically the fortunes and status of Western women. Feminism's Second Wave was the largest. Hundreds of years of sporadic feminist assertions suddenly and conveniently congealed around the egalitarian acceptance of a woman's personal freedom.

Whether New Left ideologue or Hippie sensualist, it became intellectually and emotionally difficult to deny any woman her evolving ambitions, her personal proclivities, her idiosyncratic sexuality. Moreover, women quickly created or found networks that worked to strengthen their self-discoveries and subsequent convictions. Historical research found voices like those of 19th century advocates Mary Gove Nichols and Victoria Woodhull, women who called marriage "soul-killing bondage," who urged wives to resist sex against their wills, and who advocated free love. "A healthy and loving woman is impelled to material union as surely, often as strongly, as a man," Nichols wrote in the 1850s, countering the prevailing view that women were sexually "passionless." Consciousness-raising sessions aroused self-awareness through group acknowledgment of a woman's power and assertive support for her needs and desires. Masturbation amplified her orgasm and enriched her libido. Tension with men was inevitable, but some men took comfort, even relief, from the ever-emboldened expression of a woman's true feelings. More than a few men said it was helpful to finding and expressing their own.

Spontaneous social nudity served to relax this tension, even if only at the surface. Like the young German Wandervogel, alleged hippie ancestors of the 1900s who wandered in packs and frequently camped naked in the countryside, the Counterculture removed clothes to form a soothing space for the unthreatening co-expression of male/female sexual freedom. Nudity was part of a developing ethos that redirected sexuality away from guilt-based and phallic obsessions and moved it closer to whole body awareness. It encouraged an experience of physical pleasure that comfortably incorporated feminine, gay, and lesbian expressions. The tolerant atmosphere created by social nudity, like long or unshaved hair, was another affirmation of the natural body. It was remarkable, but characteristic of the era, that men and women could share a playful but vulnerable public sensuality and still wage the private sexual politics of gender liberation.