Because the hippie movement accompanied a revived awareness of feminine energies throughout society, it also attacked patriarchal repression. For male hippies, this demanded a lot of adjustment, if they expected to get laid.
To say the movement was essentially about the hippie chick raises the crucial question: What was it like from her point of view? Which, of course, leads into a host of subsidiary questions: How liberated and empowered did she feel? How did the balance of sexual relationship reestablish itself? How fulfilling were the hippie males as partners? What were the economic expectations? And so on.
I remember a young friend’s reaction, in the early ‘90s, “I wish I had been alive then.” As if she would have fared any better than she was. Wild was still wild, after all, and a beautiful woman was still desirable.
For that matter, just what were they seeking? I think of a housemate one summer who came home later every night with a different woman, how fine they all appeared; last I heard, he was happily married with a half-dozen children and working as a warehouse supervisor. Maybe there was the power of saying, “You look like fun, tonight. I pick you,” without any further complications. (Although I also remember one who returned, some several hundred miles and however long later, with a sense of some other anticipation and subsequent disconnection.) There was also an aspiring surgeon who became the lover, in succession, of both of my housemates and later two brothers, yet spurned my attentions. The same summer my only loving involved a visit by my ex-girlfriend, our final time together, in a bizarre weekend facilitated by her parents. Admittedly, my housemates were in the middle of summer break, while I had to be at the office before dawn. But something else was transpiring.
I think, too, of a scene that summer when we stopped in briefly at a farmhouse where a festive dinner was occurring, an event in a darkened, candle-lit room with heavy sexual vibrations, male and female. The scene could have come out of a Fellini movie or an opera. Only later was I told it was a gay and lesbian enclave.
Still, what I saw the next summer was heavily coupled, and the women were intensely possessive. More so, in fact, than the males. To some extent, it must have been a reflection of the circle where I was living. The next summer, incidentally, I would be in a celibate, monastic household.
When I look back at the photos, I’m surprised how little change there is in the appearance of the young women then and now. Natural hair – especially long, flowing hair – is still in style. Most of the models on the covers of the Brautigan volumes could still be found on the streets or campuses today. It’s the appearance of the males that’s changed drastically.
When I keep trying to come up with the iconic male hippie, I’m at a loss. If Cher and Tina Turner were female incarnations, Sonny and Ike were soon booted. Maybe even unmasked as right-wing impersonators. Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin? (They sold out.) Ram Dass? Wavy Gravy? (You get the picture.) Go back to Walt Whitman? Peter Max. Phillip Glass. Ken Burns. Dennis Hopper. (Look them up, if you must.) Jimi Hendrix. Jerry Garcia, most likely. Definitely not Mick Jagger. Not Alan Alda, though he’s come to symbolize the soft, fuzzy male of sensibility bull. Jerry Brown? The governor turned mayor. Hunter Thompson, or any of those who rolled, paranoid, off the right-hand side of the bed? (The far-right side.)
Jesus! (Forget the free love and drugs, though.) Or the prophet Elijah, off talking to a raven.
Were we gullible! No, the hippie male remains frustratingly elusive. Just who would embody him?
Yes, this thing has turned grassroots. I keep seeing the photo of John Kerry, back from ‘Nam, turned angry antiwar spokesman. The one castigated for speaking truth from experience, despite paying the price otherwise demanded of war critics, while George W. Bush gets a free ride while doing all the despised things supposed hippies did then – the self-centered indolence, arrogance, spaced out existence. (Only “W” knows where he was through all this; he ran for cover, and even he won’t say where.) Maybe we are left with Cheech and Chong.
So what were the hippie chicks expecting? (Especially in an era of “Do your own thing.”) What was the connection, invoking explosive intensity in an already explosive atmosphere (drugs, the war, confrontation). Was it simple pleasure? Or something more serious, hoping there really was a future after a history of one-night stands? Or were carefree nights more realistic alternative to long-term commitment? Here we had all of the adolescent confusion of sexuality and love, on both sides of the equation. Some participants desired companionship; others, excitement and freedom. In the midst of it all came this infusion of Shakti energy, as the spiritual release of feminine power.
But was this really free love? What was hoped for in return? Were these males fit to be sufficiently satisfying partners or providers? Protectors? A refuge? Understanding? Most of the hippie guys weren’t. We came out of this with a confused slate of expectations, on both sides. Besides, all of the calculations shift once you begin having children.
In other words, the era ended as women insisted, “I’m not a chick.” Meaning, “I’m through with hippies.” No one had yet addressed the trap of masculinity here, but there was an awareness that something was missing. Eventually, Robert Bly would dissect the shortcomings in Iron John, lending his voice to those calling for an end to male passivity; just think of all the men getting together for an evening of drumming and renewal. There were earlier examinations, such as Herb Goldberg’s 1976 The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Male Privilege, which looked at many of the seemingly no-win dilemmas men find themselves facing. (Not just hippie men, either.)
The late ‘70s also saw the emergence of incurable genital herpes, followed by the outbreak of HIV and AIDS. Unlike crabs, clap, or the drip, these were forever. Penicillin and the Pill had opened only a grace period in the sexual revolution.
I remember hearing a friend come back from a singles mixer in the late ‘80s, where he overheard three women reacting to a man’s description of himself as an “incurable romantic” – “Sounds like a venereal disease,” they scoffed. Or the common identification of “walking wounded” in the aftermath. Or the “fifty-year-old flower child” who really needed to grow up.
If the hippie experience began with flight, we might ask, flight from what? Not just lives like those of their parents. The males, after all, were in flight from the military draft – a threat not facing the females. In later years, we would learn how many females, especially, were in flight from abusive households.
Flight, as in getting high. Getting away. All the same, coming back to earth at some point. The airy element, needing to become grounded, as in taking root for nourishment.
I’ve wondered where everyone came from. It always seemed there was a much higher proportion of kids from the suburbs. Even when they came from a large city, they were more likely to be from Brooklyn or out in the Queens or even Staten Island than Manhattan. It’s just a lingering impression. There also seemed to be an uncommon number of children of lawyers or doctors, as well as a large number of “army brats” who had been dragged from base to base growing up.
It seemed, too, there was a disproportionate number of Jewish kids in the hippie circle. Not just the ones from the families of doctors and lawyers, either. I’ve wondered how much was a consequence of coming from a tradition that has required standing apart from the larger society, as a minority of choice, an action that also carries a critical identity and an aspiration for peace and justice.
Surprisingly, there were few from the Deep South. Maybe because there were few large cities, meaning fewer suburbs. Fewer academic enclaves of note. No major symphony orchestras, outside of Texas, or notable art museums, either. Maybe there was something in the Southern nature that was already laid back or sexually permissive. (Even visiting Quakers complained of their Southern relations, before the Civil War, while; historian David Hackett Fischer, detailing the predatory nature of the Virginia planter gentlemen, in Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, notes, “An old tidewater folk saying in Prince George’s County, Maryland, defined a virgin as a girl who could run faster than her uncle.”) By the time the hippie movement took root across the country, the South was already scarred and divided from the civil rights campaigns. In addition, it was more militarized than the rest of the country; it had a disproportionate number of military bases, as well as military careers. Its religion, too, was more likely to be emotional – Baptists and Pentecostals – than the versions to the north and west. (In the South, the Methodists were the pale alternative.) The Southern belle, in fact, stood as the antithesis of the hippie chick.
Nor were there many blacks in the hippie circle. Somehow the quest for economic advancement didn’t square well with the “tune out, drop out” laid-back hippie style. And back-to-the-earth philosophies could be troublesome for the grandchildren of sharecroppers who knew all too well the difficulties of farming.