Friday, June 28, 2013

From the June Mazer Lesbian Archives: WAVAW

Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW), a feminist activist organization, was founded in 1976 in Los Angeles by anti-pornography activist Marcia Womongold. The Los Angeles chapter of WAVAW was formed out of an ad hoc coalition of feminist groups who joined forces to protest a film called Snuff and the advertising campaign for the Rolling Stones album, Black and Blue.

WAVAW first began as a reaction to the Los Angeles debut of Snuff in March of 1976. This film was advertised as having been made in South America where "life is cheap" and falsely claimed to show the actual murder and dismemberment of a woman. In Southern California this film opened in 22 theatres in Los Angeles and Orange County, including the Mann Theaters. Due to WAVAW protest over the ad and the film, Snuff was withdrawn from circulation in the entire Southern California area one week after it opened.

In June of 1976, Atlantic Records-a Warner Communications, Inc. (WCI) subsidiary-put up a billboard on Hollywood's Sunset Strip to advertise the Rolling Stones' album Black and Blue. It depicted a beaten, bound young woman saying, "I'm 'Black and Blue' from the Rolling Stones and I love it!" WAVAW, in cooperation with the California state chapter of the National Coalition for Women (NOW), protested, and the sign was subsequently removed during the night before the group held its press conference beneath the billboard on Sunset Boulevard and picketed at the site.

In response to pressure from WAVAW, Atlantic Records scaled back its Black and Blue advertising campaign but did not eliminate it. In light of this, WAVAW's campaign to stop the use of images of violence against women in advertising began. When Warner, Elektra and Atlantic Records—subsidiaries of Warner Communications, Inc.—failed to reply to demands that they cease and desist in the use of images of violence against women, and sexual violence, as an advertising gimmick, WAVAW, in coalition with California state chapter of NOW called a boycott of all WEA labels (Warner Bros., Reprise, Elektra, Asylum, Nonesuch, Atlantic, and Atco) in December 1976. The boycott generated letters from thousands of individuals and organizations such as NOW chapters, YWCAs, and rape crisis hotlines demanding that WCI companies institute a responsible advertising policy. The letter-writing campaign developed as a follow-up to WAVAW's slide show, a presentation of offensive album covers and advertisements that had been shown to hundreds of women's groups, schools, universities and community organizations across the country.

In 1979, after three years of national protesting, presenting community slide shows, letter-writing, phone-calling, attending shareholders' meetings, leafletting and boycotting, WAVAW secured a policy from Warner Communications, Inc. stating they agreed to cease and desist with the use of images of violence against women and sexual violence in advertising. As a result of the agreement, WAVAW and California NOW ended a three year boycott of WCI Records. On November 8, 1979, WAVAW and WCI made joint statements to the press at dual news conferences in New York and Los Angeles announcing that an agreement had been reached. The agreement, announced on November 8, 1979, was presented to the public in the form of a joint press statement, which was negotiated by representatives from WAVAW's national coordinating committee and from the office of David H. Horowitz who is in charge of WCI's record division.

Subsequently, the Los Angeles chapter of WAVAW turned to local projects involving protests against films and campaigns against advertising including The Story of O (1975, D: Just Jaeckin), Bloodline (1979, D: Terence Young), Windows (1980, D: Gordon Willis), and Dressed to Kill (1980, D: Brian De Palma). They also regularly protested violence in pornography (with other organizations), and Playboy's First Amendment Awards in 1982.

The Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) Collection is a mixture of papers and organizational records, publications, ephemera and audio-visual materials collected by organization member Dani Adams (from the national office in Los Angeles). The collection includes a range of materials, beginning with minutes from early meetings establishing the organization, and continuing to document all of the group’s activities until it disbanded in 1984. 

Of particular interest are the internal memos and complete run of national newsletters produced by the Los Angeles Chapter for national chapter distribution and slides and scripts from the WAVAW slide show, the presentation that chapter members showed to audiences nationwide. There is also extensive coverage of WAVAW's actions against the film Snuff and various other films, the Rolling Stones' Black and Blue advertising campaign and national boycott of Warner Communications, Inc., including background research, press releases, correspondences, and protest pamphlets. 

This collection is useful to researchers on several fronts.  It provides a comprehensive portrait of a feminist organization that had substantial influence on the social and cultural institutions of its time.  It provides rare archival documentation of the film and music industry’s behind the scenes efforts to grapple with (or try ignore) feminist issues, and respond to feedback from social groups.  It also serves as a potent reminder of the serious misogyny that permeated advertising from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.

–Ben Sher

Ben Sher is a doctoral student in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and a graduate student researcher at CSW.

The finding aid for this collection is available for viewing at the Online Archive of California ( Digitized materials from the collection and the finding aid will be available for viewing on the UCLA Library’s Digital Collections website. This research is part of an ongoing CSW research project, “Making Invisible Histories Visible: Preserving the Legacy of Lesbian Feminist Activism and Writing in Los Angeles,” with Principal Investigators Kathleen McHugh, CSW DIrector and Professor in the Departments of English and Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA 
(on sabbatical from April to June, 2013) and Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA. Funded in part by an NEH grant, the project is a three-year project to arrange, describe, digitize, and make physically and electronically accessible two major clusters of June Mazer Lesbian Archive collections related to West Coast lesbian/feminist activism and writing since the 1930s.

For more information on this project, visit For more information on the activities of the Mazer, visit

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