Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Southwest Feminists in the Media: Interview with Lydia Breen and Leslie Carlson

Dublin Core

Title

Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Southwest Feminists in the Media: Interview with Lydia Breen and Leslie Carlson

Subject

lesbian, Tucson, activism, history, feminists, 1970s, collectives, media

Description

Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Southwest Feminists in the Media: Interview with Lydia Breen and Leslie Carlson, 32:09

Southwest Feminists Reunite celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Southwest Feminist Festival Retreat held north of Tucson. That powerful experience in March 1973 and the dynamic creativity and political action that followed sparked feminists and lesbian feminists to reinvent their lives and organize for change over the next four decades. This collection consists of oral histories and digital scans of photographs from the past 40 years.

Creator

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives
Anastasia Freyermuth, video producer

Source

MiniDV tapes recorded on Panasonic DVX-100A digital video camera

Publisher

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives

Date

16 March 2013

Contributor

Southwest Feminists Reunite, Lavina Tomer, and Deborah Dobson

Rights

Rights given to the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project and the Arizona Queer Archives

Relation

Southwest Feminists Reunite

Format

H.264 300Kbps streaming QuickTime movie, 320 x 240

Southwest Feminists in Media: 32:09 and 71.2MB

Language

English

Type

MovingImage

Alternative Title

Lydia Breen and Leslie Carlson interview

Date Available

12 December 2013

Date Created

16 March 2013

Rights Holder

Rights given to the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project and the Arizona Queer Archives
Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives

Scripto

Transcription

Transcription by Courtney Martinez
Interviewer:
So, let’s see I have enough pads…so I know you…will you both just state your names for the camera?

Leslie Carlson: Sure, Leslie Carlson

Lydia Breen: Lydia Breen

Interviewer:
And uhm…tell me a little bit about how you got started…did you start the Southwest Media group?

Leslie Carlson:
We have this group called Tucson Feminist in Media and it probably began in uh…the (inaudible) 1973 or maybe 1974. And it was about 8 or 10 women and they are...were...uhm...interested in media and communities and some of them were particularly interested in video and others were more uh…print journalists or people interested in print communications…and we were especially interested in everything that was going on that feminist were doing in our community…and wanting to be able to document that or write about it or make videos about it.

Lydia Breen:
I think it was also a reaction to women in the media which was our of our themes; Uhm…that we felt that women were poorly represented their image but also as people they were poorly represented, there were…you know…very few news anchors...uhm on TV or the radio, etcetera all the way down the line…so uhm…the image of women was one of our concerns.

Leslie Carlson:
And that’s important to remember back…uh…because it’s now- it’s so different but it back then, forty years ago, there were almost- you almost would never hear a female voice as an announcer on the radio like a DJ, or the announcer and it was very rare, it was something to remark upon if you saw a female uh…news reporter on TV.

Interviewer:
You think the media has been one of the largest like regulators of women…like, I don’t know it feels like they’ve kind of lead the way in so many super structures, you know…suppressing what women were able to do?

Leslie Carlson:
It’s always hard to know whether the lead- media leads or reflects…but you know it’s always abound between those two.

Lydia Breen:
It’s a huge, it’s a huge shaper I think of what our internalized expectations about ourselves and still is.

Leslie Carlson:
And the image of women in the media that was one of the thing- I mean in the movies, that was one of the things we discussed, there was a…a book called, Popcorn Venus or was it…or something and so uh…I don’t know if you’ve ever read that, that was a something else we were concerned with.

Interviewer:
And how did you, were you already started in media when you formed this or…?

Leslie Carlson:
I had always been interested in photography and I was doing a still photography in the early ‘70s and had some…scattered some dark room equipment and had a dark rook, so I would always…taking pictures and doing that. And then, then one day I was somewhere in Tucson uhm…and it was…I don’t know when it was…maybe 1973…and I saw this person that I knew…uh this man that I knew at some event and he had this new video equipment that was portable and it was a video camera and a portable video cassette recorder, video tape recorder I guess and this was…this was completely unknown…it was brand new, it was revolutionary and for me…it was love at first sight. I was like…it was almost like in a cartoon or something where my eyes went on it and it’s like I want to do that.

Interviewer: That’s kinda cool…how about you Lydia?

Lydia Breen:
Uhm…I think that around 1971 or ’72 I was doing uh…half-hour a week women’s radio program. I got out of graduate school and didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, which is a luxury we had back then that young people don’t today. And so I volunteered to work at a radio station in the news…and I was a Asian Studies major but I volunteered to work in the news room for free and then finally got fifty dollars a week and then finally was able to do a half hour radio program a week on women’s health.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s cool…

Leslie Carlson: What radio station?

Lydia Breen: KTKT AM station

Leslie Carlson: So what commercial and….

Lydia Breen:
Commercial AM station…they had probably just…you know they probably had to do…uhm what do you call…public affairs programming…and so was like…”it’s a throw away, you can have this,” nobody ever stopped me you know…from doing anything…so I did it.

Interviewer:
And how many…how many people did you get involved?

Leslie Carlson:
Well we kinda formed our group and our group was uh…our group…we enjoyed our group because it was women we liked that were our friends and they were delightful, interesting, very intelligent women from…who were interested in uhm…like a cultural critique like we were talking about a minute ago and…but actually creating our own media and learning how to do that. But then you know…we were also sometimes…we would be asked to cover something or we…or we knew something was going on and we wanted to write about it or get a hold of this new video equipment and record it. So we…we just started doing things together and one of the women in our group, Jane Kay, was a journalist working with…a fulltime journalist with the Arizona Daily Star, so she was a print journalist. So Jane was a wonderful resource because she could also sometimes finagle a way to write about something in the feminist community and have it published in the morning newspaper. But then…it…we…I think it was 1974…this…this interesting medi- -in –feminist interest in media hence learning to speak in our own voice in media was so—not just here it was a phenomena all over the country and so we heard about this conference and it was actually a conference that was done twice and it was done first on the East Coast in New York and I believe it was called the Feminist Eye or something like that…and then it was done a second time in Los Angeles. And this was so…you know…people could go to either one. And so some of us from Tucson went to the Los Angeles conference and it was very wonderful to be there and to listen to - -hear about what everybody was doing, tell them what we were doing…and one of the things that came out of---and then people wanted to stay in touch and and be able to know what one another was doing and so they came up with idea that we could produce video newsletters for each other. And of course now e-news is like you know…it was a brand new idea…it was a very innovative idea to make a newsletter in the form of a video; and so we wanted to do it and so everybody signed up and wanted to do it…these different cities that…were represented and then…and then they decided, they kind of grouped...uh...cities together who would exchange these video letters so not all…many dozens of cities. So we thought it was hilarious that the Tucson group was grouped to exchange video letters with the women from New York and the women from Los Angeles…because like little ‘ol Tucson right? Uhm…and so…but that’s what we did and so that uh...resulted in us probably producing more video uhm...segments or video stories than we might have otherwise done because we were…we were committed to doing these video letters. And so the way it was suppose to work was every other month you produced a video newsletter…a video letter and made copies and put them in the mail to your sisters in New York and Los Angeles and on the other months they were producing and mailing to you and then you were also suppose to organize...uh...showings so that people could view these video letters from the other cities.

Lydia Breen:
Yeah, and…uhm...Leslie can talk about some of the topics that we choose and she has footage…you could use also if you…you wanna insert into your video…since we’re all video people. Uhm…She has those video letters.

Interviewer: Oh nice….

Lydia Breen:
But of course on of the funniest ones that I always remember, we uhm…because we…we did something out of Old Tucson…I mean we wanted to spoof on that we were in a Podunk town…you know…cowboy town, so we we took on that persona. And so we shot once and once out in Old Tucson, but then one time in the middle of the summer…you know when it’s 105 always…you see the temperature…we decided to uhm…show that you can- -you know can you cook an – fry an egg on the sidewalk…so uh…we were pretending to be uh...street vendors and we cracked a couple of eggs out on the sidewalk and wanted to see how long it would take to fry and right at that point a police man came along…”Oh Officer,” and you now he’s like, “Oh no this is not an (inaudible) to have an egg,” or something like, “oh no…due to the health regulations this is not allowed.” So we played right along with our Podunk image and it it worked for us.

Leslie Carlson:
We…we…we were sure they had this image of us and so we decided to play into it with a straight face. But one of the…the video that Lydia was mentioning that was shot at Old Tucson, we uh… we wanted to interview…we didn’t…we had never had a woman as a city council member in Tucson, but that year, the very first women was…became elected to the city council. So these…this is the kind of things that were happening and so we asked her if she would be willing to be interviewed by Tucson Feminist Media and so she agreed and then she was also willing to drive out to Old Tucson and we opened our video letter that was…uh…we opened that particular video letter with a welcome message to our sisters out in LA and New York…and we all galloped up to the camera on stick horses wearing cowboy hats as though…you know in this western town a scene at Old Tucson as though this is actually what Tucson looks like and how we…

Lydia Breen: …and here was our city council person, she had a cowboy hat on

Leslie Carlson:
Yeah, so then we interviewed her and gave her a cowboy hat and uh…sitting on the bench in front of some old west town set and…but then she talked about what it had been like for her and uh…the difficulties and the incredible sexism and also even death threats that she got...uhm due to the hostility that she would be elected to this office.

Lydia Breen:
I would also like to go back to the conference that we were talking about because it really was quite amazing and one of the people that spoke there was Barbra Koppel, who was a very well know…she was kind of an up and coming…she was ahead of us in her filmmaking but was very impressive to get a workshop from her and other...I forget what her…they were starting women’s collective for filmmakers to help them distribute, produce and distribute films, so it was extremely exciting. And I think that she gave us, she gave me tips and I imagine Leslie…you know…we were just starting out as documentarians uhm…that was very very empowering, encouraging, motivating. It was an extremely important event for us.

Interviewer:
And then when you came back did you train more people to use the equipment?

Leslie Carlson:
We probably did. I remember our group was very busy shooting these videos and remember we didn’t have any equipment that we owned…

Lydia Breen: Oh that’s right…

Leslie Carlson:
We didn’t own any equipment to shoot with or microphones or tripods. We also didn’t have any access to editing and in the mid seventies we didn’t have public access TV stations, we didn’t have KXCI radio. And so we knew a couple people, including the Tucson Public Library, where this friend of mine that -where I had first seen this video equipment and they were very generous to let us…you know…our ragtag group borrow their equipment all the time. So we were constantly like figuring out what we wanted to do, lining things up, like the city council member, organizing ourselves. Many of us did not have cars, borrowing cars, borrowing video equipment, getting some money together to buy the videotape but then you had to view the vid-where are we going to view it, log it, and then decide how we would edit it and then somehow borrow that, like line up some time in a place that had editing equipment. And the editing equipment back then was not very fancy, but we learned how to use it. So it was mostly I think that all of that work ourselves were trying to do it every other month, which was pretty hard to pull off, but we did.

Interviewer:
And how did you keep sticking in the media industry through all of these years?

Lydia Breen: Oh, it’s addictive.

Leslie Carlson:
Well Leny and I later became independent producers and the media evolved a little bit more and we were hooked and so we formed a production company in the early eighties called Southwest Reports and made several documentaries together and….


Lydia Breen:
…and we still worked with these women, I mean Jean K, she was the pre-person was/is a pre-person but she was writing stories before we even met her; very important stories about the environment and her work. So her feminism, like all of us, went into other areas you know. And so she would write about the environment but she would also challenge…her writing lead to challenging corporations, you know, “You make a mess, you clean it up, you have to pay for it.” I mean I don’t know that there were other journalists around the country kind of pushing that stand but she certainly was right in there in the forefront. That was a whole new concept. You know we had people polluting, dumping things, I forget what company, out by the airport and it just sat out there, it was like, “well how come the public doesn’t demand that they clean it up…why should we pay for it?” So uhm…her feminism was put to use in many ways and she was a very important person to us, as a journalist, in terms of her standards and uh...her enthusiasm and motivation. I think she encouraged, I think she insisted on a lot…I think she did a lot of things that worked. For example, one time she did a story about women who earned their living dancing in topless clubs but it…they way she did it of course was very respectful and uhm…then she asked, because I was doing still photography, she asked me and she got the newspaper to allow her to take a non staff worker with her to the topless club to get some photographs with the permission of the women who worked there. And so we did and when the story ran the photos I had taken ran, but the Star didn’t want to acknowledge...didn’t want to give me a by-line on the photo. So Jane demanded that their be such a thing, so that’s just an example.

Lydia Breen:
So I think another role that we played was to encourage women to get into the media, I know we had, at the time, in the beginning there were no women videographers for the TV stations…or production people. Leslie was a very early production people…I was wasn’t really, I was one of the only second broadcast engineer in town to work here. Leslie was early on in the production company. And so women would come on as videographers and it was hard; continues to be hard struggle for those women. We would encourage them and so I think that we played that role as well.

Leslie Carlson:
That’s true we worked for the regular stations. Lydia studied and became a licensed broadcast engineer in TV and radio and I worked as a production crew person on a local television stations on a couple of local stations. And I was the second person hired, not the first. So one of our other sisters was among…so we were breaking into these TV stations as women and it wasn’t easy back then. They kind of thought they were being really liberal to hire us, but then once you were there it was not uhm…a very pleasant environment all the time.

Lydia Breen: I mean, really rough on you…

Interviewer: And how do you see how it’s changed?

Leslie Carlson:
Well…nobody thinks…you see women anchoring news programs all the time. What it’s like for them, I don’t know uhm…it’s probably still really tough to break in and be taken seriously, but it’s just much more common place for women and girls to see other women uhm…speaking anchoring or reporting on TV. Or it’s commonplace to hear female voices on the radio whether they’re a dj playing music or a female voice on NPR.

Lydia Breen:
I uhm…was ay an occupy demonstration last year and in the rain at the port, it was awful weather all these police men around and there’s these news trucks and then the demonstration moved on and I had no way to get there it was far, so I jumped into one of the trucks of the news…I hitched a ride (inaudible) how is it for you women you know? “Well,” she said, “they always give us the worst assignments, they always put us in the back of the line...you know,” They were these two very cool women in the truck one was the camera and the other was the engineer and they were doing it…so…it was nice.

Interviewer:
And what inspired you both to be activist or feminist…like was there a moment that you remember…or was it just engrained in it when you were growing up?
Leslie Carlson:
I did not grow up with activism, I grew up in a somewhat conservative family that would never dream of being an activist, so I wasn’t brought up with it but, I think I am fortunate because my generation was the generation of the Viet Nam war and working against war and racism. And along with those movements was the feminist movement and so it was kinda of just a natural…it just was like, “Oh Yes,” uhm…I was active in some of the anti war work and the anti racism work but when I had the opportunity to be with women and w talked about our experiences with everything…uhm…it was exactly the right place to be, not abandoning the other work but it was exactly the right place to be. And following the revolution of the early consciousness raising groups towards all different kinds of activism that has taken so many forms in Tucson and elsewhere; I’m very proud to have been…you know…played my part in this work and continue to do so. For me it was partly just being of a certain era where this was happening and…yeah.

Lydia Breen:
I think this is a really interesting question what makes somebody and activist and I have actually not talk to a lot of people about this. Uhm, for me my parents were…my father was republican but he was the mayor of a town…both my parents were involved in the community…so they had a commitment to their community. Uhm...and for me I think it just had something to do with feeling for the underdog uhm…there seemed some unfairness and feeling that it really wasn’t right…uhm...and I don’t know what that is, if that’s a personality type. You know I have no idea. So it’s an interesting question to me.

Interviewer: Did you ever feel like an underdog?

Lydia Breen:
I guess I probably felt that way in my own family, so that would be family dynamics…would be a question that if I were interviewing people I would ask...you know. Yeah, I guess I probably did, I felt like there were some you know injustices that I didn’t feel like I was being treated fairly…course all kids feel that way. So then when you see someone else being treated unfairly it’s…

Leslie Carlson:
But I think there was something going on all over the place and I hope it still goes on for young people…really all ages, were you have this…your eyes become open to something and in early feminism we had these groups called early consciousness raising groups and you…you know…it’s a time to look at things in new ways including yourself and the way you frame things shifts. And then another word people used back then was radicalized, so that there’s not just that frame shift through processing and talking but there’s also a critique…there’s an analysis and a critique where you can look at things in a critical way instead of just buying into all these the line that you’re getting through the regular media or through the way that you’ve been socialized through school or family…you’re offered this other critique and so when you hear it and you suddenly think, “Oh yeah…that is completely unfair…oh yeah those people have all the power and they’re telling us what to do,” whatever that is. There’s something that gets triggered that’s; what Lydia was saying that sense of injustice and wronged, and then you…can’t go back.

Interviewer:
How has Women Making Media impacted the feminist or lesbian feminist movements?

Lydia Breen:
Well, I would like to speak for Leslie, what Leslie does and I don’t know that I am directly answering your question, but uhm…you’ll see here work, I imagine-I hope you’ll archived a lot of her films that document our work. And she has always been extremely respectful and listens you know and gives people the space to tell their stories and to speak from their heart and that’s who she is as a person. So I think that, that’s what happens when you get to tell your own stories; you tell them with respect and with a sense of empathy…so I don’t know if that answers your question?

Leslie Carlson: Well that’s what you do to Lydia.

Lydia Breen:
Well, I think we all have, I think that’s Leslie’s gift is that she…yeah I think that’s her gift.

Leslie Carlson:
I don’t, I wish I had a better answer to that question in terms of how Women In Media has made a difference but I think when, I think there are opportunities certainly through our efforts, back then the things that we did in community media, but then as time went on…more and more women are writers, you know…become writers and filmmakers and..g.et all there and you know…become involved with radio and so when I think about just our Tucson community…we now have community radio through KXCI, we have women journalist in radio and in print media and on TV and so…it…I really just think it makes a difference because women really do see things in a different way than men. They are perhaps, not always but often will approach a story in a different way and they can be successful. You can call up a reporter that you know as a woman, “and listen we’re doing this thing,” or “this story hasn’t been told right, we’re angry.” Lydia got very angry a day or two ago because there was a very disrespectful headline in the morning newspaper in regard to a story about women who work as sex workers. And so they had this very disrespectful headline word and so she immediately…you know…told the paper they were wrong and other people. I can imagine contacting a woman and explaining to her, “You have to make sure this never happens again,” so sometimes when you have women that are working in the industry and can talk to them or they already know and would never had done that headline, unfortunately, not in this case…uhm but that is a way for change to happen that’s not very visible.


Lydia Breen:
Yeah to me…one thing it seems that you know thinking about the work that you’re doing, is not only about the voice but about listening and a whole practice of communicating in ways that has never been done.

Leslie Carlson:
It’s true including as we were just saying, use of language, cause that’s a very important…

Interviewer:
What advice would you have for future, or the young feminists on using and knowing media?

Lydia Breen:
Uhm…get out there and talk to people, I’m sorry if I sound like an old person, but I see these anchors and these women are gorgeously dressed uhm….for a party...you know…not for the street, not for you know…walking down alley ways, talking to homeless people, going into shelters or wherever…where real people are getting on a bus; they’re just like paper cut-out dolls…you function and as I say, I sound old but yeah…take your high heels off, put your comfortable clothes on and get out in the street and talk to real people about their real lives.

Interviewer:
One thing, our youngest is interested in maybe looking into journalism and I said, “One thing if you do get into it, you can’t compete with the other women you have to learn,” …you know…just from being at a TV station where the newsroom would walk in and you could see that they were totally trying to keep the stories and it didn’t feel like you know…the empowered stuff that you talk about it. I was like, “How do we change the paradigm in that.”

Lydia Breen: It’s not easy…

Leslie Carlson:
I think the advice I would give for women that want to work in the industry is be sure to very honest to yourself. But an even better way is to have other people that are part of your support community that you can process with about whether you are staying authentic…how you can navigate being authentic. Sometimes you do have to be that one that dresses up in high heels and but then there are other days that you aren’t doing that. That way you can make sure you’re not being coopted more than is necessary, there’s probably a little bit that is sometimes necessary. But try to stay true to yourself and to the other women that you’re there for but maybe you need other people to help you do that.

Lydia Breen:
That’s probably very good advice, there might be a whole lot of many, many stories that you don’t wanna do but there might be something that one story that your hearts really in and go for it, do that one to the max, don’t compromise on that one story.

Interviewer:
Is there anything else you think that the archives should now about the formation of your group?

Lydia Breen:
I have something I would like to say and it sounds a little bit like I’m talking about myself, but it’s something I’m really proud of because of where I came from…that uhm…cause the work I did with Leslie and the other women, and then I got a job in Switzerland and was commissioned to make a film about the particular effect of war on women…women refugees. This was for the United Nations and they had developed a policy before. So I do work with other women as a filmmaker...they sent me…there was nothing to say, the organization had nothing to say so I had to kind of find other women to figure out what to say and make this film and uhm…so it was the first film ever on that subject and the first time the UN ever tackled that as a polic-…it became help form policy for the United Nations that later on I think twenty years, thirty, maybe ten years ago…rape when used systematically is categorized as a weapon of war. And so I’m really proud that I was able to kind of participate in that process but what enabled me to do that you know…what helped form my perspective on that subject was the work I did here in Tucson with Violence against Women, it’s what helped drive me.

Interviewer: That’s awesome…thanks. Maybe you have something…?


Leslie Carlson: No, I think that’s a good way to end.

Interviewer: Great, well thank you…

Lydia Breen: I hope you didn’t mind me throwing that in there…

Interviewer
& Leslie Carlson: No that’s great…that was really important….

Interviewer: And what year was that?

Lydia Breen: That film was in 1989

Interviewer: So necessary


End of Interview

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Jamie A. Lee

Interviewee

Lydia Breen and Leslie Carlson

Location

Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, Tucson, AZ

Files

Citation

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives Anastasia Freyermuth, video producer, “Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Southwest Feminists in the Media: Interview with Lydia Breen and Leslie Carlson ,” Arizona Queer Archives, accessed July 22, 2018, http://azqueerarchives.org/items/show/12.