Spare Rib and Zombie Feminism

Posted: May 14, 2013 in Feminism, Identity
Tags: , ,


I must say I was a little bit surprised to hear recently that Spare Rib, the feminist magazine that began in 1972 and ceased publication in 1993, was about to make a comeback.  It is one thing that a lot of contemporary feminists spout a kind of souped-up retro  mumsy cupcake version of  70s feminism. It is another that an actual relic of that era has come back to haunt us.

Or haunt me, should I say. For I don’t know many women of my generation (in our 40s) who both had quite as strong a feminist-influenced 1970s childhood as I did, but who have also rejected that part of their heritage. I remember seeing Spare Rib lying around my family home, and as I got old enough, picking it up and reading it. It is not really possible to recall the actual process of what? feminists might say ‘consciousness raising’; I might call it indoctrination. But I know that Spare Rib was part of my early education about gender politics, that has taken quite a lot of soul-searching and pain to begin to ‘unlearn’.

The resuscitator of Zombie Spare Rib, Charlotte Raven,  is only about a year older than me. I met her when I first went to university. I found her a bit severe and scary. Charlotte lives in a ‘big, beautiful house in north London’ and is married with two kids. I can’t help but feel as I read about her rediscovery of Spare Rib, that Raven’s  view of 1970s feminism as rebellion, and radicalism, and fighting ‘oppression’ is a romantic and nostalgic one, that doesn’t relate to the reality of the 1970s or of the 21st century. And that her enthusiasm for that period and this project,  may be borne in part from getting older and ‘settling down’. Some people buy fast cars, others try sky diving. Could this be the signs of a mid-life crisis?! Is my rejection of my feminist upbringing the mirror opposite?

Because if I am completely honest, whilst I haven’t ‘settled down’ like Raven, and also would not go to a ‘consciousness raising group’ if you paid me, I can relate to that desire to bring something back to life, to feel urgent and angry and right. Looked at through a different lens to my usual one, I can see some of my ‘anti-feminist’ fervour as a (subconscious) attempt to rekindle some of my youthful passion and energy.

But maybe I’m a bit too self-aware to start thinking I can put on my pixie boots  and leg warmers and go back to the 1980s with its demos, parties and political meetings. And actually, I remember some pretty grim things about those days. Youth is attractive if you wilfully forget the confusion, anxiety and terror that goes with it (don’t tell me that’s just me I know I’m not alone in that).

I am happy to be where I am and who I am now. I don’t need Zombie Feminism to drag me back to where I’m from.

  1. redpesto says:

    I suspect nostalgia is a strong driver here: the women who remember and read it at the time (even though no-one is able to explain why it never had enough readers to survive); the women too young have read or bought it thinking ‘Fuck yeah! Feminism is back!’ when they already have The F Word, Jezebel and – ahem – Vagenda, etc. And that interview with Cochrane doesn’t give one much hope that the ‘new’ Spare Rib will actually have anything new to say.

  2. Dean Esmay says:

    What drives any of us who are outspoken or do any sort of activism? Certainly the righteousness of the cause matters, but we all have personal motives as well. The big question is, are you genuinely advocating for (or against) something that is real and matters, or are you chasing phantoms for the rush it gives you to be self-righteous?

    It’s the difference between an incoherent “I want to be loud and brash just to be loud and brash” and “I like being loud and brash and can put it to good use.” Major difference, IMNSHO.

  3. QRG/ Elly says:

    @redpesto – yes it does sound very retro in themes, and as for Raven’s plan to resurrect ‘consciousness raising’ groups too, that just made me lol. I expect they will spend some time talking about the feminist revolution and some time comparing brownies recipes and knitting patterns!

    @dean – I agree. But I would say that wouldn’t I? 😀

    • redpesto says:

      I thought the ‘consciousness raising groups’ were already happening – maybe they’re the new book clubs? – so Raven doesn’t have to include a handy cut-out-and-keep ‘how-to’ guide in the relaunch issue. But then my idfea of a CR group would kick off with Gayle Rubin’s ‘Thinking Sex’ rather than, say, Caitlin Moran (I’m assuming yours would start with either Foucault or Metrosexy).

  4. QRG/ Elly says:

    but yes book groups are a contemporary form of feminist grouping sometimes. I was in a women’s book group once and one of the members wouldn’t let us read Ian McEwan because he was a ‘bastard’!

  5. Henry says:

    God save us from what goes on in book groups.

    2 of my sisters used to read Spare rib. I think we can safely attribute part of my dislike for feminism to this self same magazine. I wonder if there are any examples of it’s ‘journalism’ on line for me to enjoy..

  6. elissa says:

    Speaking of brick houses and BDSM – one of my favorite “sex” thinkers weighs in with earth scorching analysis on modern brain bondage:

    • Fascinating. I agree with Camille about BDSM becoming mainstream.

      Not quite so sure about her critique of Foucault/Butler. Incidentally I saw Butler give a talk yesterday! I do have some issues with her work but maybe not the same ones Paglia does. but having seen them both speak now I prefer Paglia – she’s warmer and more naturally enthusiastic.

  7. The Black Fedora says:

    The most striking thing about the magazine cover (apart from its ugliness) was how absolutely predictable all its articles were. Was there a sort of ‘ugly atheistic’ in the movement at that time?

    The high contrast black and white photography made everyone ugly.

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