Female Voices from Half a Century Ago

The New Woman’s Survival Catalog

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在這個前途不明,氣氛令人惴惴不安的年代,可以多讀一點老書和歷史,不是說可以找到什麼希望,但至少能體驗前人如何熬過苦難。最近逛書店時,遇到這本由Primary Imformation復刻出版的《The New Woman’s Survival Catalog》。這本書首刷在1973年,而顧明思義地,就是一本「新女性」的生存手冊,而光是書名就很不得了,加上那饒有革命意味的紅色封面,感覺就是一本充滿野心,想打出歷史缺口的著作。

During these uncertain times where anxiety fills the air, reading an old book or a history book might bring some wisdom. Hope would be a bit of a stretch but reading about how people overcame difficulties might give us some guidance and inspiration. I came across this facsimile edition of The New Woman’s Survival Catalog published by Primary Information in a bookshop recently. The book was first published in 1973 as a survival guide for the “new woman”, just as the title describes.  The remarkable title together with the bold revolutionary red cover exudes ambition, an attempt for change and breakthrough.

在1970年,本書的編者Kirsten Grimstad剛畢業後不久,受到委託要製作一個關於「婦女研究」的參考書目,而且委托方還叮矚她說,最好可以包含社會運動類的進步內容。Grimstad於是跑遍全美國的女性組織,像是由女性經營的書店和印刷廠,或者是以女性為本位的健康中心、反強暴組織等等團體。

In 1970, Kristen Grimstand – the editor of the book – just graduated and was commissioned to assemble a reference catalog about women. Her commissioner specifically requested to include progressive content like social movements. From then onwards, Grimstand travelled across the whole of United States visiting women’s organizations, such as bookshops and printing houses, wellness centers catered to women, and anti-rape organizations et cetera.

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旅途中她在一間婦女中心,遇到本書的另一編者Susan Rennie。Rennie很喜歡Grimstad的計劃,還建議這目錄應該出版成書。而受到當時的非主流刊物《Whole Earth Catalog》(也就是Steve Jobs很喜歡的那本),其出版人打出「獲得工具」(access to tools)這句口號,Rennie和Grimstad則期望本書能成為「所有女性的自救工具」(a self-help tool for ALL women),而雖然口氣都不小,但相比起前者是「全地球」的概覽,後者也不過想為「所有女性」謀福,聽起來還是謙虛多了。

At one of the women’s centers, she met Susan Rennie, co-editor of the book. Rennie became interested in Grimstad’s plan, and suggested that she should publish the catalog. Inspired by the publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog – an alternative publication back then (and also one that Steve Jobs was fond of) – whose slogan was “access to tools”, Rennie and Grimstad wanted the book to become “a self-help tool for ALL women”. Although it seemed like a rather ambitious goal, supporting all women is slightly more modest than the global goal of the Whole Earth Catalog.

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The New Woman’s Survival Catalog is arranged in themed sections such as communications, self-defence, work and money, and activism. Similar to a Yellow Pages or mail order catalog, the book is a record of various businesses and non-profit organizations led by women. Although most of the contact information is out of date, there are still plenty of thought-provoking columns to read though and fascinating 70s illustrations to look at.

例如在「健康」一欄就有避孕藥的健康資訊,也有教女性自我檢查乳癌的方法,放到今天或許微不足道,但再多翻個幾頁,就是令保守人士人觸目驚心的墮胎資訊;而不要說是那個年代,即使在今天仍有許多國家禁止人工流產。而在「孩子」的章節,有文章教導家長避免性別定型孩子,另外有童書的介紹,略略看了幾本的封面,有《Girls should be equal too》、《Firegirl》、《Little Miss Muffet fights back》⋯⋯等,光看書名已經感到,作者們意欲為為女性、女孩充權的強烈動機。

For example in the health section, they gave information on birth control medication and also instructions on breast self-exam for cancer. It may be ordinary to us today, but it was pretty progressive back then. In the same section, they talked about abortion, something that still frightens conservatives. Even to this day abortion is still forbidden in many countries, let alone in those days. In the childcare section, an article encouraged parents to avoid gender-stereotyping children. They also recommended some children’s books, such as Girls should be equal too, Firegirl, Little Miss Muffet fights back. From the titles alone you can feel the authors’ desire to empower women and girls.


為這本書復刻出版的Primary Imformation,長年出版藝術界、學術界的古怪著作,出版物的主題往往離經叛道,像這本《The New Woman’s Survival Catalog》,雖然是七十年代的舊著,但選在2020年的今天出版,許多觀點倒不覺得過時,甚至依然有激進的味道,但想到這裡時倒是又擔憂了起來;原來五十年過去了,有些人的苦難仍然無法度過。

My favourite section is self-defence. Apart from research articles on anti sexual harassment, methods to fight back male assaults were also illustrated in detail. For example hitting the attackers’ jaw with the palm, or kicking them in the groin after breaking free. The illustrations were so lively that the beaten character almost gained sympathy. The learning section is pretty similar, where they covered practical topics such as DIY fixing home appliances, and how to use different kinds of tools. We can tell from all this concrete content, the intention of the book comes from all kinds of real life scenarios, and covers way more than literary and intellectual discussions.

Primary Information – the publisher of this facsimile edition – is known for publishing peculiar books that deviate from the norm in the art and literary world. Even though The New Woman’s Survival Catalog was published in the 70s, many of the subject matters don’t seem dated in 2020. Even on this day, some aspects of the book are still progressive and radical. Which leads us to think, have we progressed and improved lives over these 50 years?