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.