By the mid seventies, Feminism was still often referred to as “Women’s Lib”, and was depicted in newspapers, as something that was run by a bunch of kooky, dungaree-wearing, man-hating, hairy-lesbian, cat-ladies, whose message seemed to be something to do with burning their bras. It was all quite puzzling. I’d recently seen some pictures of a Women’s Equality March in the Sunday Times colour supplement, but I still didn’t know what it was about. Why would anyone want to burn their underwear? And why should anyone else care? It sounded both fringe and pointless, which looking back on it, was probably the intent of the reporting, rather than any of their important or interesting ideas.
By the time I got to secondary school in 1976, there was access to slightly wider concepts. Trendy Humanities teachers used the word “Feminism” rather than “Women’s Lib”, and occasionally copies of the feminist magazine “Spare Rib” could be found in the school library. Even a cursory flick-through Spare Rib confirmed that it was nothing like the Woman’s Weekly; no knitting patterns, fashion (hand-woven Peruvian ponchos don’t count) or recipes for starters. This in itself made it intriguing, along with the hand drawn graphics, the limited use of colour and the unfamiliar layout. Although it was quite wordy, and written in what seemed like a new language, I liked how it looked and would often find something that I wanted to read – usually the pages that were dedicated to music.
“Spare Rib” which ran from 1972-1993 was very concerned about something called “sexism”, that was allegedly rife in the music business. They openly condemned acts who simply relied upon their good looks and snappy tunes to be successful, and instead encouraged the sort of musicians who were engaged in a limited range of totally unheard of “Feminist Collective” bands. These bands or “collectives” were often based around a loose line up of feminist sympathisers (or “sisters”) and the quality or style of the music, wasn’t seen as important as the dogma that they were all subsumed in. Some of the articles were just plain confusing;
From Spare Rib 46 – May 1976 “Feminism and Rock Music. Can they be combined?”.
This was not a question I had ever asked myself, but reading this terrible new bombshell from the sisterhood, I worried that it meant that girls like me, would never be able to be in anything other than one of these “Feminist Collective” bands. I’d never heard anything by these bands, but I was fairly sure that if they were any good then they would have been on Top Of The Pops by now – such was my deep understanding of both Feminism and Rock Music. “The need is growing for non-sexist music…” I had no idea what “non-sexist music” was, I hadn’t seen a section for it in the local record shop, but I was slowly starting to feel that all the talk of oppression and the endless intellectualism, was just missing the point of what pop music was supposed to be. It made me think that this kind of doom-mongering was not helping, but hindering their cause; or maybe they just needed to write a good song. This is not to say that any of these bands were devoid of talent, but the laundry list of “isms”, that they were either for or against just sounded like self-inflicted trip-hazards to pop greatness. I wasn’t a fan of rules in general, and 70s feminism seemed to have an awful lot of them.
I was 11, I had no idea of the wider issues being covered and talked about, but when Punk happened the following year it seemed to instantly steamroller these concepts into oblivion, and instead of feminism’s sense of dread, Punk delivered hope and inspiration via The Slits, and Siouxsie and Gaye Advert and others who, like me, saw no sense in these rules, so weren’t afraid to break them.
Punk rules = no rules. Problem solved.
By June 1979, even Spare Rib had almost caught up, and issue 83 carried an interview with Siouxsie and the Banshees, by Jill Nicholls and punk girl and fanzine writer, Lucy Toothpaste.
Spare Rib 1972-1993 in pdf format can be read via the British Library HERE.