Download Tits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored Underground Comics PDF

TitleTits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored Underground Comics
TagsAvenger Comics Adult Comics
LanguageEnglish
File Size2.0 MB
Total Pages16
Document Text Contents
Page 1

18

Introduction

This is by far one of the most fucking insane com-
ic books I’ve ever read. Written by two wigged out
chicks in Laguna Beach, it is sexual, funny, sharp,
bitter, disgusting and sick. If you think you are
cool, if you think there is nothing around that
can still shock you, try reading this little epic. It
blew my mind (what little there is left of it) and
just turned my fucking head upside-down. This
comic is perverse in only a way that a woman can
create perversions. Sheeeeit, really wiggy. Subject
matter in this book includes such things as cunt
dribble, Kotex chewing dogs, knee fucking, the
Blueberry Yogurt Douche and Cosmic Orgasms.
What more can I tell you? What more would you
want to know? The Porn-O-Graph fell off my
desk when I gave it this book. Make up your own
mind for a change. Buy the damn book and freak
out. Remember, nobody can make a dirty book
like a woman can make a dirty book (CB 1974).

What would cause such a reaction in a reviewer from

The California Ball, a sex tabloid accustomed to re-
viewing sexual material? What does he mean when
he describes the comic as ‘perverse in only a way that
a woman can create perversions’? According to one
account, Tits and Clits was consumed by ‘feminists,
curious bystanders, and the furtively horny alike’, yet
the explicit content was largely not meant to titillate
but to bring a woman’s point of view to discussions of
sex during the apex of the sexual revolution (Skinn
2004: 145). Tits and Clits was explicit without being
pornographic, but audiences often struggled to dis-
tinguish the difference. Lyn Chevli and Joyce Farm-
er’s aim to convey their sexual politics to both male
and female readers and their use of imperfect female
heroines set Tits and Clits apart from other projects
emerging from feminist print culture in the 1970s.
The project was a wholly unique form of feminist
activism emerging from the worlds of both under-
ground comics and feminist consciousness, but one
that was not fully credited for its political content at
the time.

Issue 9
May 2017
www.intensitiescultmedia.com

Tits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored
Underground Comics

Chadwick Roberts
University of North Carolina Wilmington

Abstract
This essay explores the uniquely crude and politically charged content of underground sex comics created
by women in the 1970s. Lyn Chevli and Joyce Farmer’s Tits and Clits (1972-1987) explored sex from a woman’s
point-of-view while maintaining the graphic humour of underground artists like R. Crumb. The content was
in keeping thematically with Second Wave feminism, which was resisting the objectification of the female
body and fighting for a place for women within the sexual revolution. I argue that the ways in which Tits and
Clits conceived the female body and women’s unique perspectives on sexuality connected the aesthetics and
voice of underground comics to the feminist movement in a way that was mutually beneficial. Chevli and
Farmer’s struggles with censorship both inside and outside of feminist circles attest to both the power of their
work to move readers, as well as the volatility of sexual and feminist discourse during the 1970s. This unique
fusion of two concurrent social movements (the underground press and women’s liberation) tested the limits
of intelligibility, in terms of what could be identified as feminist activism.

Page 2

19

Chadwick Roberts
Tits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored
Underground Comics

In order to fully appreciate Tits and Clits as an activist
undertaking, it is important to situate it chronolog-
ically within the newly democratised print culture
of the 1970s, the Second Wave of feminist thinking
and activism and the evolving sexual revolution. This
essay first examines the creation and reception of the
title and then conducts a close reading of the content
to see exactly how it challenged the sexual culture of
the 1970s.
The underground press exploded in 1965
when new offset printing technology made newspa-
per and comic production affordable to the masses
(Rosenkranz 2002). Two years later, underground
comics such as Zap Comix gained huge popularity
by challenging the conventions of traditional comic
books and creating a countercultural hero out of its
author, R. Crumb. As Dez Skinn writes in his history
of underground publications,

through their instant accessibility by telling sto-
ries in pictures, comix became the perfect vehi-
cle for a new way of thinking, a powerful tool not
only to break the sex taboos, but also to present
entire lifestyle manuals to the nascent peace and
love generation (2002: 10).

The percentage of these publications that were
produced by women was very small. Even rarer were
titles like Tits and Clits (hereafter referred to as T&C)
that operated as oppositional cultural forces within
the already taboo-breaking genre of underground
comics. When T&C #1 debuted in 1972, the publi-
cation and it creators faced resistance from within
underground publishing, from law enforcement
due to the title’s explicit content, and from feminists
who were offended by the raunchy approach taken
by Chevli and Farmer. Indeed, T&C entered a mi-
lieu that was rife with unsettled discussions about
women’s roles within the sexual revolution and the
relationship between explicit sexual material and the
women’s movement.
Comic strips and characters played import-
ant roles in bringing Second Wave feminism to the
masses. Trina Robbins was part of a women’s collec-
tive that produced its own comic called It Ain’t Me
Babe (1970). In the pages of this comic, classic female
cartoon characters, from Wonder Woman and Olive

Oyl to Betty and Veronica, had their consciousnesses
raised and decided to stand up against male oppres-
sion. Two years later, in 1972, when Gloria Steinem’s
Ms. magazine launched its first stand-alone issue, it
featured Wonder Woman on the cover. By the early
1970s, cartoons and comics had already become an
established way of making feminist ideas palpable
to the public. While It Ain’t Me Babe and Ms. used
well-known, female comic characters to deal with
the theme of sexism and celebrate women’s strength,
the creators of T&C moved beyond creating feminist
versions of mainstream comic characters. In fact,
their characters were not traditional feminist role
models either. In many ways, the characters in T&C
were already liberated and their purpose was to raise
the consciousness of readers by demonstrating how
women could navigate/embrace the sexual revolution
without shame.
T&C emerged two years after Germaine
Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970) posited the notion
that sexual liberation was a necessary precondition
to women’s liberation, and a year after a pamphlet
version of Our Bodies, Ourselves (1971) began circu-
lating and offering women information and agency
over their sexual and reproductive health. T&C was
published a year before Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying
(1973) created a female heroine on a quest for sexual
fulfilment and introduced the world to the ‘zipless
fuck’. It emerged the same year the ill-fated Equal
Rights Amendment passed the U.S. Congress and a
year before Roe v. Wade seemingly settled the repro-
ductive rights question. Like Greer’s Female Eunuch,
T&C deconstructed notions of traditional femininity
and womanhood at the same time that it celebrated
women’s differences from men. Greer’s book advocat-
ed using men for women’s own pleasure, and T&C
mirrors this approach, seeking liberation on women’s
own terms and through women’s unique experienc-
es, with plenty of libido and little regard for what we
would now call political correctness.
I argue that the ways in which T&C conceived
the female body and women’s unique perspectives on
sexuality connected the aesthetics and voice of un-
derground comix to the feminist movement in a way
that was mutually beneficial. The title exposed blind
spots in the world of underground comix and fissures

Page 8

25

Chadwick Roberts
Tits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored
Underground Comics

Figure 4: Cover of Tits and Clits #1 (1972)

Page 9

26

n.d.[a]). When she created her own comic she ‘envi-
sioned it as antidotal: the shot of penicillin necessary
to curb pathological misogyny and promote healthy
sexual liberation for all’ (Meier 2014).
A close examination of T&C demonstrates
how Chevli and Farmer’s universalising quality of
comic characters and comic storytelling to speak to
their experiences of women’s sexual culture in the
1970s. The series changed the ways the theme of sex
was treated narratively and visually in underground
sex comics, mirroring, at times, methods and ap-
proaches employed by early editions of Our Bodies,
Ourselves. The heroines of T&C, recurring charac-
ters with names such as Mary Multipary and Fonda
Peters, were represented as sexually adventurous
feminists and provided with a supportive commu-
nity of sisters (both biological and chosen). Mary
Multipary (Latin for ‘many births’) was described
by her creators as a woman with ‘generous hips and
a libido to match’ (Farmer 1988: 18). In short, Chevli
and Farmer’s heroines displayed as much passion for
their feminist community, and one another’s sexual
health, as they did for men and sex.
The connections between women’s sexuality
and the women’s health movement are made clear in
one of Chevli and Farmer’s earliest comics. In ‘The
Menses is the Massage!’ Mary Multipary spends 12
pages learning how to make her own tampons out
of natural sponge. Mary shares her knowledge with
her girlfriends, and they get together to craft their
own sponges over cans of beer. They even discuss
how they will explain the sponges to male partners.
After creating and trying out their sponge creations,
they dance around the living room singing ‘No more
cotton! No more hooks! No more boxboy’s knowing
looks!’ (Chevli and Farmer 1972). Mary’s girlfriends,
filled with glee from their subversive fellowship,
thank her for ‘a truly thigh quivering experience’
(Chevli and Farmer 1972). Another comic from the
same issue ‘A Little Help from a Friend’ finds Fon-
da Peters in bed with a male lover when she jumps
out of bed to phone her friend Mary about a birth
control question. In another comic, ‘Fonda Peter’s
Vaginal Drip’, Fonda spends weeks seeking treatment
for a vaginal infection only to find a creepy doctor, an
even creepier pharmacist, and little help for her

problem. It is only when she phones a girlfriend who
tells her to use yoghurt to treat her infection that she
is finally cured in time to attend a swingers’ party she
has been invited to attend. These strips dwell on the
inadequate resources available for women to learn
about their own bodies and find agency regarding
issues of sexual and reproductive health. In each
case, ingenuity and sisterhood are coupled together,
as women discover that their best resources for ques-
tions of sexual health are one another.
The similarities between the experiences of
these characters and women who were reading the
personal accounts of other women in Our Bodies,
Ourselves is striking. Both T&C and Our Bodies, Our-
selves sought to contextualize the health and medical
advice given to women by other women within a uni-
verse of women’s real-world experiences. Women’s
sexuality and health were intrinsically intertwined
and in ways that had yet to be explored in other print
venues. Like the scenarios just described in T&C #1,
early editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves warned against
many of the products marketed to women that it con-
sidered unsafe, including coloured toilet paper and
feminine hygiene sprays (Wells 2010).
Our Bodies, Ourselves harboured a deep suspi-
cion of the healthcare system, and frequently recom-
mended natural alternatives similar to the remedies
mentioned in T&C #1. Homemade tampons prove
to be a better fit and a cheaper solution for handling
a period and the medical profession is ineffective;
in the ‘Vaginal Drip’ strip, the doctor’s pills are not
effective and the pharmacist, who knows yoghurt to
be the best cure, withholds this information. These
strips underscore the fact that, for women, sex of-
ten involves weeks of planning and preparation
and often means dealing with a commercial culture
and a medical establishment that is ill-equipped
to deal with women’s sexuality in meaningful ways
but instead works toward stigmatising and profiting
from women’s sexuality. The heroines in T&C eschew
sexual shame and gleefully look to one another for
advice and alternatives.
T&C often included issues of menstruation
in sexual situations, visiting the issue in such strips
as ‘Hymn to a Hemorrhage’. The heroine, suffering
without a tampon while in the woods, makes do with

Chadwick Roberts
Tits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored
Underground Comics

Page 15

32

To Chevli and Farmer, humour and fearlessness were
key to translating and expanding feminist activism.

Conclusion
T&C emerged at the intersection of the women’s
movement and the sexual revolution and bears the
mark of both. History would bear out that this would
be anything but a seamless merger. The story of T&C
adds diversity and nuance to the highly mythologised
‘feminist sex wars’ of the late 1970s and early 1980s,
showing a diversity of thought on the use of explicit
material among feminist artists early in the 1970s.
Feminist discomfort and opposition to the type of
sexual discourse found in T&C also adds complexity
to later feminist organising against pornography in
the late 1970s. What is compelling is the fact that it
was sexualised violence in underground comics that
inspired Chevli and Farmer to create T&C. Likewise,
it was sexualised violence in media that motivat-
ed feminist anti-pornography groups like Woman
Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) (Los
Angeles, 1976) and Women Against Violence in Por-
nography and Media (WAVMP) (San Francisco, 1976)
to organize. Simply put, as members of these groups
debated what sort of representations they considered
pornographic, they focused first on the same sexu-
alised violence that disturbed and motivated Chevli
and Farmer. They all agreed on the problem, but
differed on the solution. While Chevli and Farmer
worked to influence sexual politics from within, an-
ti-pornography feminists came to very different con-
clusions about how to respond, and set the stage for
a larger debate that would split the movement into
anti-pornography and pro-sex camps by the early
1980s. What use, if any, did feminists have for explicit
sexual material? In the hands of Chevli and Farmer it
became part of the answer to material they objected
to. It became a key component of their activism.
Chevli and Farmer’s troubled relationship
with some factions within the feminist movement
came about in large part due to their failure to ad-
here to the standards of propriety many feminists
expected from feminist cultural producers at the
time. The duo challenged the politics of respectabil-
ity many liberal feminists invested in. It was not so
much the themes that T&C addressed, but the

explicitness and tone in which they dealt with men-
struation, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases
and other complications that prevented women’s full
engagement with a sexually liberated life. In addi-
tion, T&C also depicted group sex, sex toys and sex
work which might have given some feminist readers
pause. Disgust can operate as a mechanism of class
distinction, but in this case it also delineated the ex-
pectations of many feminists from the irreverent and
disruptive elements of the alternative press. Chevli
and Farmer merged the two in ways that established
them as original and provocative voices in the world
of underground comics, but also rendered their work
obtuse and unpalatable to many feminists. To Chevli,
who frequently referred to the ‘honesty’ and ‘hu-
manizing’ qualities in her work, the corporeal body
was a much more tangible battlefield to the average
woman than the philosophical musings of movement
feminism. The material in T&C points to the com-
plex cultural conversations women were undertaking
about their relationship to the sexual revolution, but
most importantly it acknowledged that feminism had
to be lived/embodied while these revolutions unfold-
ed.
In the opinion of Chevli and Farmer, strong
women and feminists could not afford to have deli-
cate sensibilities, especially in matters involving sex.
Nice girls, personified by Greer’s ‘female eunuch’,
seemed to finish last and often gave up sexual plea-
sure. The raunchy and humorous narratives in T&C
consistently point to women’s yearnings for alter-
natives to the sexual culture being offered to them,
their desire for greater access to knowledge about
sex, and the beginning—much earlier than previ-
ously thought—of a popular feminist discourse on
the place of explicit material for women in hetero-
sexual culture. Feminist sexual humour continues to
be a source of contentious debate, but by helping us
find the edge of our sensibilities and gently nudging
them, it forces us to reconsider the paradigm within
which women are able to pursue their sexualities.

Chadwick Roberts
Tits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored
Underground Comics

Page 16

33

References
CB (1974) The California Ball, no. 4, 25 January.
Campbell, J. (2011) ‘Farmer Discusses Special Exits’,
Comic Book Resources. Online at: http://www.
comicbookresources.com/?page=
article&id=30716 (Accessed 6 July 2016).
Campbell, J. (2013) ‘Women in Comics: Farmer &
Robbins on Abortion, Anger and
Underground Comix’, Comic Book
Resources. Available at: http://www.comic
bookresources.com/?page=article&id=44269
(Accessed 1 August 2016).
Chevli, L. (n.d.[a]) ‘Feminist Comix-Humor’
(manuscript), Lyn Chevli Collection, Box 1,
Folder 9, 3.
Chevli, L. (n.d.[b]) ‘Humor in Feminist Culture’
(manuscript), Lyn Chevli Collection,Box 1,
Folder 9, 1.
Chevli, L. (1978) Letter to Dorrwar bookstore, 14
November, Kinsey Institute Library and
Collections, Bloomington, Indiana, Lyn
Chevli Collection, Box 1, Folder 30.
Chevli L., and Farmer J. (1972) Tits and Clits 1. Laguna
Beach: Nanny Goat Productions.
Chevli L. and Farmer J. (1976) Tits and Clits 2. Laguna
Beach: Nanny Goat Productions.
Chevli L. and Farmer J. (1977) Tits and Clits 3. Laguna
Beach: Nanny Goat Productions.
Farmer, J. (1988) ‘Busted’, Itchy Planet 2, Westlake
Village: Fantagraphics Books.
Geerdes, C. (1973) ‘Southern Runaways Conceive
Daughter of Tits and Clits’, Berkeley
Barb, 10-16 August.
Greer, G. (1972) The Female Eunuch. New York,
Bantam.
Meier, S. (2014) The Forgotten History of Outrageous
Woman-Made Comic ‘Tits and Clits’, Bitch
Media. Online at: https://bitchmedia.org/post/
the-forgotten-history-of-outrageous-women-
made-comic-tits-clits (Accessed 1 August
2016).
Pilcher, T., and Kannenberg, Jr., T. (2008) Erotic
Comics: A Graphic History from Tijuana Bibles to
Underground Comics. New York: Abrams.
Robbins, T. (1999) From Girls to Grrlz: A History of
Women’s Comics from Teens to Zines. San

Francisco: Chronicle Books. Robbins, T. (2001)
The Great Women Cartoonists.
New York: Winston Gaptill.
Rosenkranz, P. (2002) Rebel Visions: The Underground
Comix Revolution 1963-1975. Seattle:
Fantagraphics Books.
Skinn, D. (2004) Comix: The Underground Revolution.
New York: Thunder Mouth.
Wells S. (2010) Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Work of
Writing. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Williams, D. (2005) Revolution in the Garden: Memoirs
of the Gardenkeeper. Los Angeles: Silverback
Books.

Chadwick Roberts
Tits and Clits: Sexuality and Activism in Woman-Authored
Underground Comics

Similer Documents