Friday, November 10, 2006

Ellen Willis, 1941-2006

I just found out over on Bitch|Lab's blog that Ellen Willis has died of lung cancer. BL has several posts about Willis running currently on her blog.

A New York Times obit can be found here. The Wikipedia page about her (largely written by me) gives the basics about her ideas and includes a bibliography and a fairly thorough list of links to Willis' essays that are available online.

Ellen Willis was a huge influence on me politically, and not just on feminist/sex-positive topics, but on ideas about culture (and its relationship to politics), media, consumerism, free speech, war, and Israel/”The Jewish Question” as well. I think her instincts were some of the most consistently anti-authoritarian I’ve seen in any political writer – moreso than many anarchists, in fact. (About the only place I part company with her was in her devotion to Freudianism and Reichianism, which don’t disagree with on a philosophical level so much as I think scientifically they’re dated ideas about how the mind works.)

It could be pointed out that the sex-positive movement has a lot of good writers, but very few theorists. Willis was one of the few who did "theory", and did some in-depth essays on exactly why things sexual freedom and free speech are so important, and indeed, why they are (or at least should be) important radical values.

Its unfortunate that an untimely death (she was only 64) robbed the world of such an incisive and insightful thinker. She'll certainly be missed by me.


There's also a good obit on The Nation website titled "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday". Very right-on quote:

Writing about feminist anti-porn crusades, she urged women not to "accept a spurious moral superiority as a substitute for sexual pleasure, and curbs on men's sexual freedom as a substitute for real power."