In the second part of her testimony, Joanne’s talks talks about becoming politically active, teaching Women’s Studies in Adult Education, the importance of Spare Rib in supporting her developing political identity and how much she loved her Spare Rib Diary.
Do you remember gravitating towards particular features or was it really just a sort of pick and mix approach depending on what caught your attention in that issue?
I think it was. I was probably drawn more to things that spoke to someone of my age so definitely the feminist politics I first became involved in on any kind of activist level were around abortion rights and there were a lot of challenges to abortion law sort of late 70s early 80s and around sexual violence but those are things that perhaps were particularly pertinent to someone of 16 to 18 in a way some of the other issues didn’t really seem to be. The thing I really remembered is, and again I believe I went on to work on these things as an academic, but the reason I went on to work as them as an academic was because that the things I remembered were the adverts and a couple of years on… okay this is getting off track a bit but by the time I was about 23 I was teaching women’s studies in adult education and I kind of stopped buying Spare Rib in the middle because I was a student. I had possibly more fun things to spend my money on but me and my friend both got this job, not having a clue what we were doing, teaching. We had to make up the course ourselves teaching Women’s Studies to adults. And then, Spare Rib became this absolutely fantastic resource because a short article about something is a fantastic way of leading people into debate about anything like women and madness or a whole range of issues, but me and the same friend the thing we were obsessed with was the adverts in Spare Rib, partly taking the piss out of them, and who wears these sort of multi-coloured-handcrafted-hippy-made leather and faux leather shoes but also I think because I’d grown up on conventional women’s magazines, I was used to adverts and I was used to consuming. Possibly the most important thing for me that I remember about Spare Rib, I always had the Spare Rib diary, and I also had a sort of woman sign pendant I’d either sent off for, or asked someone to buy me for Christmas out of Spare Rib so I actually used parts of the magazine. I talked earlier about growing up between popular culture and feminism or feminism across popular culture and more activist forms and I think the story that sums that up is, when I was 18 my boyfriend didn’t know what to buy me for Christmas so he got me a bottle of Chanel number 19 and the Spare Rib diary and that sort of always sums up to me that interplay between feminism and femininity that I think a lot of people were growing up, sort of through, and around here.
That was absolutely brilliant I love the details here of that Christmas present. I think I’d put it like that myself. There’s so much to ask about. I wanted to briefly ask you about the cost of Spare Rib again. Did it feel like quite an expensive thing to invest in when you were a young woman?
I can’t remember actually. I can’t remember the price comparison to things like Cosmopolitan which would have been the other thing I’d be buying. I was definitely someone who bought monthly magazines anyway rather than weekly ones so I suppose they’re always at greater cost but no, I don’t really remember the price.
Because you were talking about your feminist politics and that being a point of interest when you picked up Spare Rib, did that mean that the listings sections were ever of interest you?
Yeah I read that. I read them but my memory is they were probably more London-centric so they were of limited use. Obviously I lived in a big city with things going on there but there was far more stuff about London and far more of the adverts were geared around things like London bookshops as well.
Would you have used any other resources like Wires to sort of keep up to date with events happening in Manchester?
No the only feminist magazines I was reading was Spare Rib and the occasional issue of Shocking Pink which has its own anecdote. After a leaving school I’d messed up my A-levels a little bit and I did an A-level in Sociology at night school and we came to the week on gender and I brought in my copy of Shocking Pink. We had a middle-aged, male dentist in my class and he said “oh that’s really interesting can I borrow it?” And that was the last I saw of my Shocking Pink.
I remember Shocking Pink very clearly although I didn’t buy it regularly. It was so different. It had a strong visual style which, as someone growing up with Punk and Post Punk things, spoke to me far more because it was far more like a fanzine. The sense of humour in it, which seemed very, very different to Spare Rib and a way of having fun with the reader rather than talking at the reader. It seemed a real breath of fresh air, even though I felt at 19 I was probably past its target audience in some ways.
We love Shocking Pink it is such a wonderfully irreverent magazine. Just very quickly to go back to the Spare Rib diary, was that something that you used every day and became part of your daily life?
Yeah absolutely it was my, you know not a write you grand thoughts in diary but a sort of day-to-day appointment diary. Yeah, mine were really, really well used. I used them as my phone book and everything.
We like the idea that Spare Rib really comes into its own once you start teaching Women’s Studies. I think you weren’t a subscriber of Spare Rib… did you ever send in letters or listings
Did reading feminist magazines influence your politics or daily life? I guess we’ve just been talking about that a little bit.
Yeah, I suppose. Despite the fact I’m sounding non-too-enthusiastic about Spare Rib, it was very, very important. You needed supports for developing that identity. I was never a huge feminist activist but I very much identified as a feminist but it was a very, very important support until you moved in circles where that was more normal to maintaining that identity and so despite the criticisms I make of it, it was there as an anchor throughout some very important formative years I’d say, yeah.
And it sounds like in terms of daily life the Spare Rib diary was…
Yeah it was like a badge of belonging but it was more than that because it was sort of woven into everyday practice.
Did you feel like the magazine as well, acted as a as a marker of belonging?
Yes it was… I think I’ve always been someone who thinks their reading material is as much consumer symbol as anything else and in a way, it was about my identity. I can’t remember taking it anywhere and reading it but I do remember it was something very much about self-identity. It was also about the identity you presented to other people and your reading matter is a large part of that I would say. Yeah, I’ll leave that there.
I guess the next question is a bit repetitive really but it’s the question about whether you felt part of a larger network or movement. It sounds like Spare Rib did provide that anchor and that sense of a larger community, even if that community might sometimes have felt a bit far away because of the London centricity. Did you move away from Manchester? What were your movements?
I moved to London [Laughter], ironically but not for long. I did a year of University in London and then moved back to Manchester because I’d had a year out after school I’d started that post, that almost student life really and wanted to continue it and I just became a sort of mad clubbing person and wanted to come home and later went back to London, and a lot of other places.
I don’t know I think there is a particular sense I think I probably did get in some information about abortion marches, abortion campaigning out there. I can’t remember quite how I knew that marches were going on, because I went on them. I don’t know if it’s seeing posters up when I went into Manchester, or I started going to a radical youth theatre in Manchester where I met a lot of people who had, when I was 17 or 18, very similar views. So I started to do those kinds of things with them. So I think there probably was an informational thing that actually got me active but…
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