Emily Greenhouse in The Nation:
When Stephen Gaskin passed away last July, his local paper eulogized him as a “tie-dye-clad hippie philosopher, a proud ‘freethinker’” with “crystalline blue eyes.” Those of my generation who are familiar with Gaskin know him as the founder of the Farm, the 44-year-old intentional community in Summertown, Tennessee, where Gaskin’s wife, Ina May, started a movement of authentic midwifery and female body-empowerment. The Farm has 180 residents today—in the early 1970s, between 200 and 300 people traveled to Summertown in a caravan of painted school buses to create it—and maintains a focus on green community. Beyond its Ecovillage Training Center, the collective’s furthest-reaching project is a “woman-centered” approach to childbirth. Last year, a doula in Santa Cruz who runs the blog Yogini Momma posted a TEDx Talk by Ina May and praised her as midwifery’s “grandmother guru.”
I e-mailed the news of Gaskin’s death to a friend from college, a professional nurse-midwife. She replied, “When I was training at the Farm it was fascinating to see how everyone treated him with such deference.” Gaskin, the commune’s patriarch and source of “spiritual revelation,” had been in a flexible group marriage when both he and a partner began to be sexually involved with Ina May, who was still married to her first husband. Gaskin would later institutionalize monogamy on the Farm. “We think of Ina May as such a powerhouse, but really Stephen was the cult leader!” my friend noted. “When we would eat dinner he would always be served first.”
What to make of a man whose lessons as well as beliefs, it would seem, were unabashedly feminist, but who lived a life that clashed with them? This is the question posed by Jill Lepore’s invigorating and perplexing The Secret History of Wonder Woman.