Lin’s testimony (part 1 of 2)

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Lin talks about her involvement with a radical bookshop in Swansea in the 1970s called Revolt which was where she first encountered feminist magazines. She remembers attending Women’s Liberation conferences and talks about sexuality and political lesbianism, women’s health, self publishing and distribution and the importance of support networks.

So I suppose we might start with how you first encountered a feminist magazine can you remember where you were or how old?

Feminism came to Swansea in August 1972 in the person of some women from London. I’m trying to think, it must have been around about 1973, 74. It was probably something like Trouble and Strife. Was that around then? We had a Bookshop called Revolt in Swansea which was run by a group of volunteers some of us were anarchists, some were in the IS I can’t remember what that [was] Socialist Workers Party Etc. and we used to stock magazines. I loved it because I had two very small children then and when I did my shift in the shop I could sit and read them because hardly anyone came in when I was in it was lovely. So that would have been when I first encountered feminist magazines yeah.

In Swansea we had a claimants Union, we’d been involved in Vietnam War and anti-war things and a lot of that was London-based but it did trickle out. It did reach the far reaches of everywhere, so we were not isolated we were already active, so it was an extension of our activism really, and that was an awful lot of women and I know a lot of women came into feminism from other routes but we were already active in trade unions, in anything where there was political activity on the Left women were involved, and a lot of those women became feminists of one sort or another.

Yes the women’s movement magazines drift into this network that’s already in existence

and partly came out of that Network.

Yeah yeah

You know the people who created those magazines, a lot of them were already politically active, so it was and it wasn’t a drift really it was more a coming together, a meshing; I would call it a meshing rather than a drift.

Yeah, okay that that makes a lot of sense I think. You’ve mentioned Trouble and Strife, what other magazines do you remember reading

Well obviously Red Rag when that came out, and that was kind of local. Spare Rib. I think at the time, I found Spare Rib a bit glossy. I think once you touch feminist ideas your life changes very, very radically indeed, very, very radically. The thing about Spare Rib and the other magazines was they advertised the conferences and things. Oh God those conferences were wonderful!

Which conferences did you go to?

Well there was one at Sussex University that was all about sex. That was amazing! There were workshops where people talked about their sexual fantasies and how their sexual fantasies weren’t particularly feminist and people discussed where that had come from and where they could go with that, and how could you develop sexual fantasies that didn’t involve the oppression and exploitation of women. They sat in this room with all these women talking about it. The socials were amazing people threw their tops off and danced all night! It was just amazing, it was. It was truly amazing. There were other [conferences], that’s the one that sticks in my mind the most because it was just so extraordinary. There were quite a few that were about women and health and we did things like… we all had speculums, we all looked at our cervixes. It was like, well I mean it was just another world, it really was another world. And it was all quite… there were loads of disagreements, arguments, bordering on fights sometimes.

Those of us who came out as lesbians because we didn’t want to put any more energy into men. Political lesbians. Then you know, that we were kind of not seen as particularly good by the people who saw themselves as born that way. So there was quite a debate about sexuality, um are you born a lesbian or can you become a lesbian. I’d always like women I thought well if men can fancy women so can I. It was quite simple really. Then there were all the things about having your kids taken off you and there are women up here who lost their children and those children are still around and those women are still around you know. We haven’t disappeared.


I know it’s history but it’s our lived experience!

So I was threatened with having my kids taken off me. So I went I came I left [Swansea]… I lived in a women’s house with my kids it was great, sharing everything. I can remember one woman telling my kids she was going to take them to get their hair cut like a fairy and they came back with these pudding basin haircuts they looked hideous but we had to convince them that that’s what fairies look like. But I left all that behind and came up here. I got a job here in a therapy centre and I went straight for nine years. My kids’ dad wouldn’t have taken them off me. He just wouldn’t have done it but he did threaten it and the threat was enough but I mean we always joke that I would if our relationship came to an end it would be because I’ve gone off with a woman and everything I did up here was with other women. We set up the Rape Crisis Centre, The Refuge, every Tuesday night there was a disco in The Courtyard you know I mean it was just inevitable really that I would come out again. But yeah, they were hard times in some ways. That was really hard I had to leave everything behind but I couldn’t, I did put my children first.

So when you came up here were you getting involved in women’s groups or something straight away?

Yeah straight away, yeah. But I was… I did live with a man for nine years. But I had him well trained. He was in the men’s group, there was a men’s group here and I was in a Consciousness Raising group. They were interesting times.

Have you read Jane Traies’s work? She’s written is it Now You See Her? It’s kind of post-World War II histories of lesbians basically. One of the things she talks about is the business of many lesbians having their children taken away from them.

It was really, really bad… it was really, really bad and we all knew about it. I know quite a few women who had that. They’re in their 60s, oh no 70s now but their children are still there and their grandchildren are still there you know it’s not something that disappeared. It is history but it’s a kind of living history it’d be quite interesting I think to find out what happened later on to those women and their children yeah

A lot of those cases are covered in the magazines I’ve I couldn’t remember coming across things like that.

So were you still reading feminist magazines when you came [here]?

All the way through, yeah yeah

And what kind of uh a reader where you? Did you ever subscribe to things or write in?

I did write in occasionally. I didn’t subscribe because I didn’t have any money because of the kids basically. Yeah, I might have responded to an article or written something on the letters page or something I was very engaged with feminism but it wasn’t… That’s what I found strange about your presentation because for us it was activism. You talked a lot about feelings but when you think about the Grunwick women and the fight for equal pay, it all grew out of feelings of anger and inequality. Was it was it 1967 when abortion became legal? I was 19. I couldn’t buy a sewing machine in 1972 on higher purchase without my husband’s signature and I never got married. I always had this critique of marriage and one thing and another, so I never married, so I couldn’t buy a sewing machine. We lived through that, when I was a student in Swansea. I was at Swansea University there was one doctor called Dr Shivco who was practicing in a part of Swansea called Morriston which wasn’t anywhere near the university, who would prescribe the pill. Because, I think, you were supposed to get your husband’s signature to get the pill. We lived through all that. I mean it was shite really so it’s no wonder we wanted to change things I would use the word “connectedness”. We were already connected with each other. I belonged to an anarchist group at the time but not proper anarchism. We discussed Proudhon them Bakunin and one thing in another (there was an anarchist commune up here actually. But I didn’t know about that obviously) and we were connected with groups elsewhere that had women in, so we already had connections that were then developed that spread out to include other women so in Swansea we produced a little duplicated magazine. Did it come out… I can’t believe it came out every week. It’s possible… And we had a “Women In Health” group that involved quite a few local women health workers. There were some really serious issues with the local maternity hospital, such that the midwives who weren’t there went to Neath to have their babies. I had my first child in there and insisted on having the second one at home come hell or high water sort of thing. So we produced a thing about giving birth in Swansea and the issues around it. Women contributed to it but so did some men. Somebody produced that, but it was all duplicated. We did have a hand duplicator, the anarchist group we did acquire an electric one by devious means, which I won’t go in to, but it was all like drawing pictures on stencils you know and the one about giving birth… did you ever see well you will have seen that thing which is midwives nurses? It’s got a picture on the front we reproduced that on the front believe it or not, painstakingly, with all that pink that pink stuff you put on mistakes and we did cartoons and things. It wasn’t… didn’t look anything like Shrew I can tell you but yeah, we produced our own magazine.

And we produced another thing called… this is hilarious really when I thought about it afterwards. This was right at the very beginning when we had a very small group that was mainly drawn from the women who were involved in the Bookshop who were all involved in different political groups and we called it “Women Come Together”.

Looking back, that was hilarious, hilarious. I can remember meeting somebody years later, we cried with laughter. We cried with laughter. It was good. We produced that for quite a long time, it was local but we raised national issues but with a local slant and we had cartoons in it and stuff but we were already involved in producing something for the Claimants’ Union and that was every week. That was called The Dole Express and we used to sell it at the unemployment place and stuff for a penny that was really good. That drew in a lot of women.

In those days you could appeal against decisions and we represented people in appeals and there were a lot of women involved in that. Very ordinary women. We used to have “claim of the week” which we’d been very successful with and then there was another column it was… I can’t remember. I wish I could remember what it was called but it was like the worst dole Clerk person that you’d come across that week and the bad things they had said. Once we had the manager, we held the manager hostage in his office. It was great. We were outrageous but I wasn’t working then and I was living on that money, but you could claim for things and you could appeal. Usually they turn people down and then on appeal you often won, a bit like Asylum claims really. So we were active in a number of arenas where there were women and where women were bearing the brunt of poverty and exploitation.

It was great. I don’t know how I found the time but I’m sure my kids would say “she was never at home!”

It does sound like a very busy and thriving political life though and where the magazines are coming out with activism that was already happening and feeding back then into that activism

It was only a penny the Dole Express so producing a magazine about women was not entering a new arena for us women because we’d already been involved in things and also we did feel that things were very London focused and Swansea then… I mean you get to Swansea really quickly now I’m amazed you go from Cardiff to Swansea I’m like “no this should be taking longer”. It was quite isolated then in terms of geography. So we produced these things that had a local focus and the national focus.

There were men men would be going “you’ve taken it too far” and all this, that and the other and “oh well, we’ll do women later. We’ll have the revolution [Laughter] sort of thing”, that was really common.

That that is coming up so often

“Let’s deal with the important things, that’s not you it’s anything to do with you. you just back us and we’ll do the class war, the anarchist publication, and then we’ll sort you out later. This is what led to the end of the Bookshop with arguments about feminism and we were like “no you’re not having that without us. We have to be sorted out as well”.

So that would have been around the same time then, because there’s quite a lot about that in Red Rag. And a lot of cartoons, “yeah luv, we’ll deal with that later”

Yes exactly. There are a lot of women still up here now who were involved in Red Rag. I wasn’t. It’s still there really isn’t it? It’s still the marginalization of issues that are really important to women; in trade unions, in political movements.

[Laughter] but you know, it’s good isn’t it that you can disagree with people. You might not really like people on a personal level but you can still work with them.

But you can fight with them, and I think that was true with all the feminist things we had some terrible arguments about all sorts of things. There were some quite big splits between women and sometimes the differences weren’t respected and sometimes people were nasty on a personal level which was completely unnecessary. But yeah, I had loads of support from women in bringing up my kids, loads.

I think we’ve we that’s something that’s quite different now actually

Yeah, well we have the myth of motherhood now yeah. I wouldn’t let anyone in my house who refused to change a nappy for example

I like that rule

And they weren’t disposables in those days!

Yeah loads and loads of women helped bring up my kids, right across the whole of their time when they were living at home.

In the Northeast there’s a long history of women and activism. Look at the miners’ strike and the women at the miners’ strike. There’s things I get annoyed [about].  You know the film Pride? Totally underplayed the contribution of lesbians. Completely. I loved it and it made me laugh, particularly the scene about the dancing and the men come after dancing lessons and it brought a very important piece of History to light but the part that lesbians played was downplayed. Then there was that thing on TV, it was about the AIDS epidemic, there were no lesbians in that and that! I didn’t do any of that running around looking after men because I just didn’t do it, but a lot of lesbians in London were really involved in nursing and caring for and taking them bloody food and changing their sheets and all the rest of it. Nothing!

I think the thing about those magazines and things that was really important was, it made us visible.

Yeah absolutely.

and there isn’t anything since then that’s done that.

I think but it’s fantastic that they’re there they’re there still they’re in the libraries and it’s just making people aware

But they are historical documents and we are living people

Yeah, yeah.

I don’t want to be a historical artefact. I’m 75 but I’m not a historical artefact. Yet I am in a way, well… because it’s our lived history, and there isn’t much recording of it.”

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