Sue’s testimony (part 3 of 3)

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In the third and final part of Sue’s testimony she talks about how feminism helped to forge links across different groups and sections of society, about the power of collective experience in the 1980s and 90s and how it differs from today, and the rise of Lesbian Feminism.

“We certainly in the 80s partnered up with a lot of women youth workers who were in a different department. They were in Education and we were in Recreation and blimey people did not talk across departments never mind work together so that was a feminist thing to do in itself, just to partner up with other people. They were working with a slightly older age range and in a different setting and they came through from a different training and qualification background. It sounds odd to people outside but that’s how separate it was, but there were women who were feminists who got together and then who were, you know, I wasn’t responsible for those things but came in behind other women who led the way in setting up new projects in this city like StreetWise, which was a national beacon of collaborative working when it was first established. Nobody else had managed to get Public Services into a neutral youth-led, run building and get the Public Services to go in there, so that young people could go in anonymously and no one would know what service they were accessing. Everyone was still expecting they were sitting around going, why don’t young people come to the Sexual Health Service? Why don’t young people come and talk to the drug service about drugs? Well some of their youth workers in this city thought why don’t we bring the services to a young people’s agency and then young people will come in the door; and they did, and StreetWise is still running. It’s very successful project, but the people who set that up were feminist youth workers. And the people who set up some of the long-standing projects in this city that supported women (mainly but also young people) like Outpost which doesn’t exist in the way that it did but it was a housing service for young lesbians and gay men who’ve been kicked out their homes which was happening all the time but there was very little specialist provision and somebody thought well we need something here so they set something up but it was informed those things were informed by feminism and feminism at the local level is always informed by what other people are doing because there were all these networks and some of that was all passed around through magazines and newsletters. That’s where you heard about things I mean obviously some people had connections to other cities and they were actually talking to people but in an era where most people didn’t have a phone not even a landline never mind mobiles were unheard of in the 80s but well they were just beginning to be heard of I guess but you know they were the size of bricks and very expensive and nobody could have one and most people I knew didn’t have a phone in their house or flat because we lived in rented accommodation and when you didn’t have a phone you, had a phone in a public phone box down the street so how you got information was very different how you found out about what was going on and got inspired by things that other people were doing or felt supported in what you were doing to hear that someone else was trying to do something similar somewhere else.

When I think about that whole thing about reading the magazine it reminds me a bit of talking about waiting for films to come out back in the day and we all went to see the film at the same time so me and a bunch of friends watched Thelma and Louise together at the Tyneside so we had that anticipation in the same way of  similar to waiting for the next Spare Rib to come out or something and then and then you had that shared experience because you had it all you all read it or saw it or did it at the same time and then you talked about it together and then you had those conversations that went backwards and forwards and not that everyone thought the same thing at all but there was, I think that was more, well, to me that was very productive that was useful in a way that everyone’s sort of in the same kind of you read or see something together or very close to each other at the same time. I don’t think that’s what happens now the impression I get is that someone mentions I mean you know it was something I can’t remember what it was and I was going I don’t even know what that is, well of course because it all happened and the whole fuss and the dust up and the die down had all happened in the space of a week on Twitter and then it’s all gone. So it’d be really interesting wouldn’t it to think about how people understand ideas now because of the way that they receive the information so it’s not just that it’s very immediate but it amplifies minority voices which can be a good thing but it can also be a terrible thing and we were talking about something the other day and I said yeah but you know that point of view on Twitter or whatever would have been the crazy person sitting in the corner of the pub 10 years ago who no one would listen to and only eight other people in the pub would ever hear them say it and they just go it’s just them you know they’re off on one and that would be the end of it and they’d be muttering to themselves and you know blah de blah but now that person has this huge voice and it gets picked up internationally and then you get this because all those people in the corner of the pub all over the world are now joining up with each other and so they sound like there’s a lot of them and that they’ve got a big thing to say but it’s still the same…

Yeah that’s just the voice in the corner you don’t really have to listen to it but it gets amplified in this way and I think it’s hard it must be hard to know who’s making a useful point Who’s genuinely making a point. Who’s even an actual person on in a lot of social media but also you’ve got all this other stuff going on so you get videos and you get photographs and you get all these things that seem to that have the appearance of supporting a version of events or a point of view but equally you don’t actually know if they’re authentic.

And yet lots of people just accept whatever they read or see as real as true as authentic. And some people are discerning obviously but a lot of people aren’t because they’re just scrolling through so they’re making very quick decision and so there’s a lot of selection bias so people read the things that already fit with what they think the world is like and I think where do people get the time to explore ideas in a way that we used to and to I’m not saying you know that we magically had lots of different um points of view because it would have been our own kind of echo chamber we were friends because we agreed about things by large. But we weren’t only talking to each other, like everyone does we live in the real world we’ve all got relationships with different people not everyone thinks the same thing but I think there’s something about the way arguments have got polarized very quickly now and of course there was dissension and disagreement and huge fallings out, as we know in feminism and that played out in some of the magazines as well so it was useful to read some of that and just before we got cut off in the last recording I was starting to talk about the lesbian sex Wars but they were feminist Sex Wars in a way because you know questions about power and control in relationships and questions about race and questions about disability and questions about symbols of oppression being used in sexual scenarios and questions about pornography and what constitutes pornography, these are huge questions for feminism they’re not just about lesbian sex they’re about underpinning facets of feminism so there was “off your backs” but there was also “on your backs” and I’ve got a collection of some of the lesbian sex magazines that were produced at the time so there was a British one called Quim and there was an American  On Your Backs and there was a couple of other things and they all came out in the 90s and so it was a particular moment in time when it felt like feminism got split over something that could be portrayed as a bit of a side issue from the main things about male violence and domestic violence and rape and unequal pay and all those but actually pornography speaks to all those topics. If you’re going to talk about an issue that’s split caused a lot of fracture let say rather than split and I think these issues do create fractures or they make fractures that are already. I did warn you that I could I would talk until you stopped me.”

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