Feminist frenzy in media is not a nowadays offspring – Spare Rib, launched right in the middle of Second-wave feminist boom, claimed to be one of the most revolutionary magazines of all times.

 

Beauty, sex and cooking – equivalents for ‘woman’?

Spare Rib history began 45 years ago, in 1972, the time when feminist ideas came to a new level of development. While first-wave feminism mainly concentrated on political women’s rights, the second step of Women’s Liberation Movement aimed to raise other acute issues such as ‘mother-wife’ foundations, domestic violence, reproductive rights, equal pay, and, generally, traditional perception of woman’s role.

However, the situation with women’s publishing was very miserable: the majority of existing media represented an image of a woman like a creature whose life purposes are skincare, cooking and reproductive activity. The sphere of media industry strongly needed a revolution – and it began with a decision made by British journalists Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott. They wanted to create an alternative stereotype-breaking magazine in opposed to all the meaningless, divorced from reality media that only encouraged consuming of inappropriate women’s model by society.

“The concept of Women’s Liberation is widely misunderstood, feared and ridiculed. Many women remain isolated and unhappy. We want to publish Spare RIB to try to change this. We believe that women’s liberation is of vital importance to women now and, intrinsically, to the future of our society. Spare RIB will reach out to all women, cutting across material, economic and class barriers, to approach them as individuals in their own right”, – the Spare Rib Manifesto claimed.

Photo: The founders of Spare Rib – Marsha Rowe (on the left) and Rosie Boycott. Link to a source: here

Women for women

Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott were concerned about the fact that this misunderstanding and wrong representation of women’s gender role was spread by press that was mainly concentrate in men’s hands. In order to deal with it, Spare Rib’s founders aimed to create a magazine both for women and by women.

Photo of Spare Rib office in 1978. Link to a source is here

What has feminism to do with ribs?

‘Spare Rib’ is a self-moking name that refers to a story of the Creation. According to the Bible, Eve was created from Adam’s rib. A woman has been discriminated in her rights and dependent from a man from the very beginning and it must be changed – this witty idea had come to Marsha Rowe, after what the words association was appreciate by her co-founder, Marsha reminded. Thus, a name of a magazine was chosen. 

Teamwork instead of hierarchy

By fighting for equality it seemed to be contradictory to work in hierarchical system. Since a publication of the 18th issue, Spare Rib’s organization changed completely. In 1973 the system was replaced by collective where everyone had equal rights and responsibilities. On the one hand, it responded the main feminist principle of independent. On the other hand, some Spare Rib’s workers admitted that working in collective was very hard.

“A major frustration for some collective members was the issue of recognising and acknowledging expertise among the team; you could work with the organisation for years and know it inside out, but still have no more recognition or responsibility than a relative newcomer”, writes Louise Kimpton Nye, a volunteer of Spare Rib in 1990-1991.

Photo of Spare Rib collective members in the magazine’s offices by Martin Ward. From left to right: Marsha Rowe, Rosie Parker, Rose Ades, Marion Fudger, Ann Scott. Link to a source: here

Inequality among the fighters for equality?

“While I was there, the collective, because of discussions around race and racism taking place in the women’s movement, took a decision that they needed to diversify as it was all white women”, – explained Roisin Boyd to Broadly telling about Spare Rib’s expansion tendency. In 1980 she became the first Irish woman taken participant in Spare Rib’s activity.

However, not everything went smoothly. The first black woman joined Spare Rib was Linda Bellos. She told to Broadly about her attidute to Spare Rib’s activity and described it as white-oriented. “They were pretty good women but they just didn’t have any politics of where we stood in London, in England, with feminism in the world. I didn’t share the kind of cosy view that they had”. Nevertheless, Spare Rib’s contribution to women’s publishing is difficult to overestimate.

Discussion encouraged Movement

One of the main principles of Spare Rib was to be a platform for discussion. Spare Rib’s authors did not want to supply one-direction materials, they were looking forward to get a feedback from their readers. “It became seen as the public face of the women’s movement, but it was a magazine, – writes Marsha Rowe for the Guardian.It was not synonymous with the movement”. But it was a huge stage that gave an opportunity for women’s voice to be listened to. Spare Rib raised sharp topics included educational, health and low obstacles, family and work relationships, black women and lesbians’ rights discrimination and so on.

Furthermore, the magazine’s collective was never isolated from current events. They were real feminist activists who aimed to be in step with the time. The miners’ strike of 1984 and 1985 in Britain, 30-thousand women’s protest against nuclear weapons at Greenham Common in 1982 — Spare Rib not only documented these and many others historically important campaigns, but also was an active participant encouraging its readers not to stay aside.

“Spare Rib was never the casual bystander. Campaigning was at the heart of Spare Rib’s mission, galvanising the movement to take action and demand better lives for all women”, Louise Kimpton Nye writes.

Photo: Spare Rib collective members on a march. From left to right: Ruthie Petrie, Rosie Parker, Sue O’Sullivan. Link to a source is here

Political is personal

Politics and private life always were inseparable in terms of feminist movement. The reason is that all women’s private troubles were connected with global disorders in the political sphere.That is why widespread feminist issues were often discussed through real case stories. For instance, while coverage a topic of rape, Spare Rib appealed to stories of Karanjit Ahluwalia, Amelia Rossiter and Sara Thornton. These three women were united by one terrible event – being unable to resist several-years domestic violence anymore, they have killed their husbands. Spare Rib showed up double standarts in British justice system: when the same murder was made by a man, he was justified and called ‘long suffering husband’. At the same time, all these women were sentenced to imprisonment inspite of a fact that the murder was an act of self-defense. In result of public respons, which was caused by Spare Rib mostly, the women were freed.

Photo: a cover of Spare Rib issue № 33. Link to a source is here

From Verbal to Visual

It was essential to think over all the detailes from content to its form in order to grab people’s attention. Spare Rib’s covers are excellent examples of visually-materialized main idea and principles of the magazine. The covers were provocative, rule-breaking and anti-establishment in the same way as the message of authors.

“The design of Spare Rib had to support the aims of the magazine on several levels. It had to look like a women’s magazine, yet with contents that did not reflect the conformist stereotyping of women. It had to suggest the familiarity of women’s magazines – like a good friend, intimate, loyal, supportive – while also being challenging, questioning, exciting and radical”, Marsha Rowe writes.

First issues of Spare Rib and its logo were designed by Kate Hepburn and Sally Doust, who previously worked in Vogue Australia.

Photo: provocative covers of Spare Rib intended to be different from mainstream women’s magazines. Link to a source: here

Nowadays

In spite of the fact that Spare Rib finished its activity in 1993, nowadays it continues to be an important iconic media to follow its example of insistence, social orientation and originality. Lots of researchers are interested in this platform’s experience that allowed thousands of women to find a defense, express their point of view and make a big step on the way on becoming a standalone person. For instance, all of the 239 editions were digitized by British Library which is a constantly must-look for everyone interested in feminism publishing or unusual visual content.

Subscribe to WM Daily. Be In Touch With Rebellious Voices