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A Call to Arms : Feminism: With books, workshops and educational forums, Revolution's mission is to politicize women.

February 09, 1992|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA MONICA — For 15 years, clinical psychologist Gail Stevenson has listened as her clients, mostly women, echoed each other's complaints of loneliness, alienation, lack of community and impotence in the world at large.

But instead of suggesting more therapy to assuage their emotional aches, Stevenson, a longtime feminist, decided on a different approach. She opened a bookstore.

"A lot of women in psychotherapy cannot find the words to express their anger and feelings, and they often get sick because of it," said Stevenson, whose bookstore, Revolution-Ideas for the 21st Century, opened last fall on Main Street in Santa Monica.

"What I am trying to do," she said, "is provide a place with materials from a woman's perspective that really reflect what women think, feel and say and that you wouldn't find anywhere else."

But Revolution isn't just a bookstore with a feminist slant. It's a bookstore that, well, wants to change the world.

Doubling as a community outreach center with educational forums intended to politicize women, the store adheres to the feminist party line that "the personal is political."

Consequently, there are discussions on: feminist environmentalism, goddess history and archeology, political activism and letter-writing campaigns, financial planning for single women and divorcees, and exhibitions of local women artists in the store's community room.

There are also workshops that are not gender-specific, and ones specifically for men and for children, such as multicultural men's discussions, safe-sex talks by AIDS Project Los Angeles, workshops on herbs, poetry readings and children's art workshops every Saturday.

Many of the gatherings are free. Some are put on by a nucleus of feminists and psychologists who are associates and colleagues of Stevenson and her husband, psychologist Carl Faber. A former teacher of psychology who taught at UCLA in the '60s, Faber's discussions have a faithful following among former students.

The store is in the Edgemar complex, the hip shopping center designed by Frank Gehry on Main Street north of Ocean Park Boulevard. Tenants include the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Rockenwagner restaurant, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and the Santa Monica Gallery of Functional Art.

Physically, the glass-faced bookstore is the vision of Venice building designer Topey Schwarzenbach. Taking his cue from Gehry's raw industrial signature style, Schwarzenbach gave its interior 13-foot ceilings, exposed light-gauge raw metal, plywood and wood particleboard. The bookshelves are tilted in a drunken Alice in Wonderland fashion. A large saltwater aquarium fills the front window.

There is a large children's reading area with diminutive chairs and a built-in couch, where a Cheshire-like wooden cat sits. One recent day, the coffee bar was staffed by young people wearing black on black, the current literary fashion de rigueur, serving Peet's coffee and an assortment of sweets. "I believe Anita Hill" buttons and bumper stickers atop the counter are a dollar apiece.

"This is a very political place," Stevenson said, adding that the educational adjunct of the store is critical to "help women get more (politically) active."

"I got a lot of angry calls from women after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, and I think women do not know how to translate rage into constructive action," she said. "A lot of what I want to do is educate women about how to translate rage into effective action and how to impact the media."

Some of that education took place last month on the 19th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. Two agitprop videos produced by the Fund for the Feminist Majority called "Abortion Denied" and "Abortion for Survival" were shown all day in the community room, with the intention of enlightening and enraging viewers to political action.

Further prodding came that evening when Peg Yorkin, co-founder of the Fund for the Feminist Majority, gave a spirited, expletive-laced talk to about 25 people about the possible overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

"I am sick and tired of begging these (profane description of politicians) on this," Yorkin groused. "And I don't think the answer is guns, like it was for 'Thelma and Louise.' "

As always, she urged her audience to vote for women candidates in the '92 election for any county, state and federal offices.

Stevenson then alerted the group to an April fund-raiser at Revolution for Barbara Boxer, a candidate for the U.S. Senate. The event will be sponsored by Stevenson, the Fund for the Feminist Majority and Linda Burstyn, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Revolution differs from traditional feminist bookstores, Stevenson said, by carrying a broader range of topics, including some that are often absent in traditional feminist bookstores. There is a large cooking section, for example, and one on women and architecture.

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