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HOLLY FORSMAN
 
Fashion Model to Radical Feminist
Holly Forsman, Model
At approximately 6 PM on Friday, November 27, 1969, I read an article in The Village Voice that changed my life. "The Next Big Moment in History is Theirs" was written by staff writer Vivian Gornick. I'd never been directly addressed by a news story. That in itself astonished me. Lately I'd been depressed and unable to focus. My thoughts were always elsewhere. This amazing article, describing the formation of a feminist group called New York Radical Feminists, explained why. Just reading it brought relief. My depression and increasingly self-destructive behavior was not just my problem; it was a symptomatic gender problem. I was chafing at the bit of patriarchal oppression. Reading on, prickly issues became clear: my father selecting my brother for college because as a girl I would marry; my overreaction when I was patronized during a serious political discussion; the assumption I should cook and raise a family; my function as decorative arm candy and consequent obsession with appearance.

My husband, who was experiencing success as a TV commercial director, had just formed his own company and thought his success was enough for us. I was a pretty young woman. He was successful. Shouldn't that be enough? I tried to explain but couldn't because I didn't understand it myself. Now, reading this article, I realized it was his life I was living.

Things were different before I'd retired from modeling after a good eight year run. Then I'd had my own circle of friends and earned my own money. Now I was being questioned over my Lord & Taylor bill, and I didn't like it. I was 28 years old and realized I'd just floated through life without a game plan. I'd given up my autonomy.

And here was a movement about liberating women who were wives, mothers, office workers, researchers, and nurses. We were the support team rather than the doctor, lawyer, reporter, or executive. We'd been held back, and here was a movement that told us how that had happened. The first wave feminist movement was about getting the vote, a tremendous step by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but it hadn't given us true economic autonomy. We were the weaker sex. Action had to occur so we could take control of our bodies and break down the walls and glass ceilings keeping us out. This was where New York Radical Feminists came in. They knew what and how it happened, and they were joining together to put an end to it. I had to meet them. I had to join them.

NYRF women had been activists in the anti-war and civil rights movements. In spite of their extensive educations and talents they'd been limited to grunt work: mailings, flyer distribution, phones. They were smart women who'd fought for others' freedom and saw clearly what was wrong. French writer Simone de Beauvoir's transformative book The Second Sex touched them deeply and their shackles fell away. They quit the male-dominated New Left, bonded with likeminded women, and began to plan an inclusive mass movement.

I called and found they were meeting that night. On the bus downtown to Greenwich Village I worried I was not smart enough, but my fears were allayed at first glance as five smiling women cheerfully welcomed me. Desks were piled high with journals, a mimeograph machine, and stacks of research. The women wanted to know all about me and modeling and, as one of the privileged, what specifically grabbed my attention about what they were doing. I said it was them. They laughed -- two writers, a theater director, graphic artist, and history professor. All were erudite about women's history, psychology, and sexuality. They'd integrated their experiences in other movements to develop a non-authoritarian structure for women. Every woman would have a say.

Ideas for future actions were discussed, violence against women, equal rights. I saw them exchange looks that said "she gets it" as they watched my face light up. I was home.

The remarkable theoretician and writer Shulie Firestone lifted onto a table an organization graph showing lines reaching away from the city. We would form small neighborhood brigades for consciousness-raising. CR, as we called it, was a process teaching us our personal experiences were political. We sat in a circle, and each woman shared her views on marriage, work, upbringing, and sex. In this way we discovered how we'd been culturally hardwired to be the weaker sex starting with that first lacy pink dress we were warned not to get dirty. Seeing our problems really were not "personal" seemed to relieve a lot of neuroses and give us the confidence and skills to move outward educating and organizing other groups who'd requested membership. After CR they too were well armed to go forth, and so on, increasing our numbers.

The media began to cover us with fascination and mockery, but we were no shrinking violets. Men were startled at our directness and confidence. Our actions and speak outs on women's issues introduced new women to NYRF. Soon we required large auditoriums for our full membership meetings. We consolidated with smaller organizations: Redstockings, Media Women, The Feminists. We attracted older women and black women; professionals and housewives. They just came in, and we scrambled for more chairs as we welcomed them. We had no requirements or rules. Ideas were bounced around, and decisions were made. We had plenty of experience publicizing political events, and we used it. Our Fifth Avenue March in 1970, which started with a few hundred, swelled to thousands as women poured out of the offices to march with us.

Now New York Radical Feminists is recognized as the beginning of the Second Wave woman's liberation movement. There are books and scholarly papers being researched to preserve our history while some of us are still alive.

The fight continues. Political attacks are unceasing as the male power structure tries to block and diffuse our hard won freedom. Fortunately, younger, enlightened men are beginning to share the joys of parenthood and cooking. We're still working on the clean-up after. Each generation of young women adopts its own wave of feminism as modern civilization evolves. Feminism, after all, only means being treated equally. Every country must have cultural movements to end bad habits.

That moment, so long ago, remains strong in my being. Together as one, we changed the world, and we are not going back. The rewards are ongoing. Every time I meet a young woman planning her future with fewer or, even better, no boundaries, I think: We did that! We helped make life freer for this girl and all girls.
Holly Forsman, Radical Feminist
Holly Forsman -- Write On! Fact and Fiction | Past and Present, 2018
 
Night Walk on a County Road
It was a fall night in mid-August in 1957 in rural upstate New York. There was no ambient light, but the moon was full and innumerable stars twinkled above. My younger sister Donna and I walked down a single lane blacktop, hoping to catch a ride to town. I was almost sixteen, and she was almost fourteen, city kids from Brooklyn spending our second summer in a rented summer bungalow in NY's Catskill Mts. My parents had left us for the week and were in the city. Most of our bungalow neighbors were friends from our Bay Ridge neighborhood.

We loved being surrounded by nature: trees, streams, waterfalls, wildlife. There was always something new to do, and we'd never, ever seen as many stars as we saw in the country's clear sky. It was an idyllic summer. Saugerties, the only town, was five miles away, but it was safer then and we often hitched to join our friends at the ice cream parlor where we'd dance and drink Cokes. One of the boys always drove us home.

There was no traffic that night so we walked briskly. The houses in the area were few and far between, and there were long stretches with only forest on either side of the road, home to chirping crickets in full voice and hooting owls. there were long stretches of forest on either side of the road, home to chirping crickets and hooting owls in full voice. Suddenly it got very quiet, no crickets, no owls, only dead silence. We didn't think much about it. Maybe it was normal.

Then in an instant, an enormous black mass hovered soundlessly about twenty yards above us blotting out the moon and stars. It was like a black hole or void for we couldn't make out any details. Two very bright lights shone down, one on each of us. We grabbed each other's hands but instinctively remained still. The lights grew stronger, and very slowly we began to rise on the beams like we were on an escalator. We murmured quietly but had seen enough sci-fi movies to know screaming was pointless when dealing with beings from another planet.

We were strangely curious and unafraid. We'd had many adventures together, and Donna knew I would always protect her. Then we stopped inside with our feet on a solid surface but couldn't see with the light still in our eyes. I thought I saw a brief shadowy movement and felt a tingling as though my legs had fallen asleep. We squeezed our hands tighter but remained silent. Maybe it would let us go if we behaved, I thought. Maybe we were small fish and would be thrown back.

Just as suddenly, we floated down slowly on the same light beams. It felt wonderful when our feet touched the road and the lights went out. As quickly as it had appeared, the enormous black craft soundlessly vanished off to the north. The crickets resumed chirping as though nothing had happened. Well, nothing had happened to them, and I don't think I'd know a panicky cricket sound anyway. The stars and the moon shone brightly again illuminating the road. "What just happened?" Donna asked as we turned back toward home. "I don't know but let's hope it got a good look and didn't want us," I said, trying to sound informed. The shock dissipated, and we broke into a full out run, faster than we'd ever run before. We didn't stop until we were inside our bungalow. There we rushed around, turning on all the lights and looking under beds before we decided to call the NY State Troopers.

A trooper answered the phone, and we described what happened as calmly as we could, taking turns to verify the experience. He transferred us to another trooper. We repeated our story. "You kids been drinking anything you shouldn't?" this one asked. "No," I said, "and there were two of us. We're each other's witnesses." The troopers only seemed to care about when our parents were returning. I lied and said they'd be back shortly. He seemed satisfied. "It was probably a weather balloon; people read all kinds of stories into them," he said. I knew we wouldn't be believed and if we told our parents, they might restrict our freedom. That would be the real disaster. "And we don't want to get thrown into a loony bin," Donna observed.

She looked at me for answers as we again discussed what we had seen and felt. Yep, we both experienced exactly the same phenomena, right down to the tingling legs. "Maybe that's why we could run so fast," my sister said, looking hopefully for something good about it. Our eyes met, and I placed my hand over hers. We realized we'd never be believed. We'd shared many adventures secretly and agreed not to report this one either. People would think we were weirdoes, and so we've kept our secret for over 60 years ... that is, until now.
Holly Forsman -- Write On! Fact and Fiction | Past and Present, 2018
 
Holly Forsman Photo
The Marshall Writers' Guild is indebted to member Holly Forsman for her first class photos.
 
The Most Interesting Person I Will Never Forget (excerpt)
At the August Marshall Writers' Guild meeting, the AARP suggested topic of "the most unforgettable person I ever met" presented a challenge to me because, well, I'm not an AARP fan. The first week I turned 50, AARP sent me a loud and clear "invite" to join when I happened to be living with a man who thought I was a few years younger. The more I thought about AARP, the more I wondered why they didn't use their considerable lobbying clout to do more for seniors while raking in big bucks from big pharma advertising for their AARP magazine. Another qualm about the writing topic was one you've all probably had and that is that most people of our years have met so many fascinating, unforgettable people. Lastly, other essays seemed to focus on rural Saline County life and, being born and raised in New York City, I was well out of it. My city experiences differ widely.

But I digress.
Holly Forsman -- On The Street Where You Live, 2015
 
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