Rock & roll of the 1960s broadcast its socially transformative message, building on protest music of earlier eras. One woman who saw the revolutionary potential of this new music genre was Barnard alumna Ellen Willis, ’62, whom Princeton professor Daphne Brooks spoke about at a Girls Rock! panel this fall.
Willis was a “rock & roll loving radical feminist intellectual,” said Brooks. Willis sought to “locate, interrogate and write about and through the utopian moment in rock & roll,” and capture “the eternal moment, the moment of pure pleasure.” She believed that, “rock & roll lit at its best records what led up to that moment and holds out the possibility that it can happen again.” 
Willis wrote about music for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The Village Voice. She also was a founder of Redstockings, a late 60s radical feminist group, and No More Nice Girls, a 1980s street theatre and protest group that sought abortion rights. 
She got her start at Barnard where in 1960 she won a competition to become guest feature editor of Mademoiselle magazine’s college issue. In it Willis interviewed playwright Lorraine Hansberry who wrote the classic drama A Raisin in the Sun. Brooks saw in that interview a brief collaboration of two women, both writers and radicals, one a Black feminist at the height of her creative career, and the other a white Jewish feminist just starting out.
Mademoiselle, August 1960
“All art is a bit political,” editor Willis quotes Hansberry. “When you deal with human relationships you are dealing with social relationships.” Willis then writes, “The ‘apathy’ of today’s young people is imposed on them, [Hansberry] said, noting that the same college authorities who decry the ‘silent generation’ stifle dissent on their own campuses.”
For Brooks the dynamics captured visually and archivally in that exchange depict the challenges and possibilities of early Second Wave feminism and hold out the promise of two women who “envisioned art as a means of social agitation and uplift.”
Willis, Brooks said, believed the miracle of music is rooted in “mutual freedom and mutual pleasure,” qualities essential to the Willie May Rock Camp experience and to the Riot Grrrl zines of the Girls Write! exhibit.