Lin’s testimony (part 2 of 2)

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In the second part of Lin’s testimony she talks about her working class upbringing, her grammar school education and experiences of going to university. She talks about women’s hidden histories, class and the joufulness of solidarity.

We didn’t necessarily think about it much ourselves, we just get on with things. That time was really important. We fought for abortion, contraception, equal pay (which we still don’t have), changing Women’s Health provision. 

We were involved in making a lot of very significant changes. None of which have been completed. Women’s lives are still not marvellous but at least you don’t have to get a bloke to sign if you want to buy a bloody sewing machine! I had to have a hand cranked one. If I was doing a curtain or something I used to make the kids stand and turn it, faster, slower… because I couldn’t bloody buy one! But I wasn’t going to get married in order to get a bloody sewing machine. I never wanted to be married and people don’t understand that now either. 

Where did that come from? You talked about being involved in left organizations before feminism how did you get out, become active? 

I came from a working class background my parents were absolutely vile. I had a very, very nasty childhood and when I went to University I never went home again. But I got a full, nearly a full grant. I think my parents were supposed to give me something like £10 a term. You got a full grant, you got your fees paid, they would pay your train fare to and from home at the beginning and end of every term, you got £30 a year book allowance… I’d gone to heaven when I went to University. We didn’t have a bathroom, or hot water, or an inside toilet at home. I was like “Yay!!!” I was having three baths a day. My skin was all shrivelled up and I loved it. I hadn’t realized because I lived in very difficult circumstances. I didn’t realize that I was quite able academically, and I went to a middle class Grammar School where my working class accent was ridiculed. I had to stand in front of the class in English lessons and go “how sir? Now sir” and “blue moon” and you know. I was humiliated. It didn’t bother me but I do remember it now and think “Jesus Christ, what were those people doing?” I know it was about being acculturated into the middle classes but it didn’t work with me. Anyway I had decided I was going to be a probation officer. I didn’t really know what they did but my brother had a lot of problems related to the way we were brought up and a probation officer had helped him, so I was going to be one of them. I discovered you had to go to university and do something called Sociology (about which I knew nothing). 

I went off to Swansea. You did six subjects in the first year and I got absolutely fascinated with Social Anthropology which of course, was taught in a very racist way in those days, but was fascinating nevertheless. So I did Sociology and Social Anthropology and in my last year, what happened was, we were very small group, there was only 12 of us doing both subjects. In the last lot of holidays before the final year we had to do a project. It didn’t count towards your degree or anything and I was like, “bloody hell!” So I thought “I’m not bloody spending all summer on this”, so I did content analysis of Stan Barstow’s book A Kind Of Loving, looking at issues of class, which didn’t take me very long. I just read the book, wrote this thing, fine. There was a woman in the group who went and lived with the Gypsies in some Kent wood for a month but she had a sort of exam phobia. It was so unfair. It was just so unfair, I thought “God Almighty, look at the commitment she’s got!” I knew how to get away with things and I was really, really good at exams. I had really good exam technique and she didn’t and she was anxious. So I didn’t sit my finals. I went in every exam and I wrote why I wasn’t sitting them. That the exam system was completely unfair and I wasn’t prepared to participate in that. I can’t believe I did that. 

So what happened?

Nothing. If I hadn’t gone in them all I would have had to pay the grant back. But I can remember trying to talk to my tutor about it saying “you know I don’t think I can sit these exams it’s so unfair” and all it tests is memory and your skill in sitting exams. It didn’t test anything. There’s this woman who was really committed and hardworking and clever and you knew she wasn’t going to get the degree that she should have and we’ve been three years on this. I think because I was from a working class background I don’t think I realized what a massive thing it was not to sit your degree exams. I mean I wasn’t having any contact with my parents anyway. I wasn’t under any pressure. I’d already got involved in some protests about getting a bridge over the main road that runs along the seafront. Swansea University’s on the seafront and there’d been a protest about getting the bridge over the road because someone got run over and I went on that, and through that I got sucked into this sort of anarchist thing. I went on the radio talking about why I wasn’t sitting the exams but every time I’ve applied for a job I had to put “did not sit finals”, but no one ever asked about it.

Some of the criticism of so-called second wave feminism is that it’s predominantly middle class. It’s dominated by middle class perspectives, middle class women.

That’s true and it’s not true, because people like me, I was working class but I had a middle class education. 

So you could say it was middle class and I have a problem now, if people ask me what class I am I think well, I am middle class… but I’m not. I used to say to my daughters, if I have a funeral (which I’m not going to have) if I have a funeral I want pickled onions and ham. I don’t want any avocado.

Do you know? There’s something about class that, for me my loyalty has always been, and I think there must have been a lot of people who look middle class whose origins were different. And the idea that middle class women (I have a problem with this because the issues that affect us are the same) control over our fertility, being listened to by doctors, equal pay, people maybe women may be middle class but they still have to get contraceptives. Do you see what I mean? A lot of the issues are Universal. And it was predominantly white, but then there were things like Southall Black Sisters, an amazing organization. We did have a Justice for Women group up here at one point that was hard work. Do you know about Justice for Women? It’s to do with supporting women who’ve killed their Partners following domestic violence 

Right

Oh my God, some of those women were not easy! Yeah

We were very connected to Southhall Black Sisters and we used to have an asylum support group as well called NECFAR, Northeast Campaign for Asylum Rights, so there were lots of interconnecting things so yes it was predominantly white but again things are very similar and most of us were very committed anti-racists involved in anti-fascist groups. There was a very strong group here Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association and we used to go and leaflet the football ground. The National Front used to leaflet outside my daughter’s school and things. So yeah, there was a whole interconnect. Most of us were interconnecting things. I’ll always be a feminist, and I’ll always be a socialist, nothing could take that out with me. It’s in my bone marrow. And I think to pick on middle class women because they’re involved in feminist activity is really unfair, because a lot of those women did reach out to working class women, and did want to involve working-class women and still do, and do stuff to do with tenants’ associations and all sorts of things. Middle class women are involved in a whole range of things and you can’t tell what class people were born into really. 

Yeah

And even if you even if they were all born into the middle classes so what, but they can’t all have been because the middle class has expanded exponentially, really. When I was a child you were middle class if you were a lawyer, a doctor, maybe a teacher but there weren’t any computer scientists and stuff. So, you know, so there must be a lot of middle class people who come from a working class background. Yeah so yeah people did criticize it and you know that magazine that’s come out recently Radical Notion?

No? Oh my God where have you been?

[Laughter]

We’ve been reading the ones from the 70s!

So, it’s called Radical Notion? And it’s a printed magazine?

Yes, it’s beautifully produced. It contains artwork and poetry and stuff and it’s all gender critical women. It’s produced by… oh bloody hell, I can’t think who’s involved in it? Is it Julie Bindle and people? No Kathleen Stock? I don’t know and I got the first issue of it and I didn’t get a second one because it’s very… to me it’s very academic. It’s not all academic but it’s… I can’t be bothered I think, No, I’ve already worked all this out only, this is terrible, I don’t want to work anything else out, my brain is tired but you should have a look at that because that came out in the last year and it’s all gender critical women and it’s in response to the silencing of women and the erasure of lesbians so that’s like a new wave of something. You might like it actually because you’re still having to read weighty tomes and things.

I like something with a cartoon in it. You should have a look at that because that is quite interesting

Yeah we will. It’s interesting that it’s print as well. 

Yes it’s beautifully produced with a beautiful coloured thing on the front. It’s not shiny, it’s matt strangely but yeah it gives it more… a more arty look in my opinion

I know what you mean, a lot of periodicals printed now, do are quite high have got a high production value. By the time you get to the point of being printed, it seems like they’ve had some money. 

No that is really beautifully produced and it… I mean I did I did enjoy some of it. I just don’t know, some of it was just too academic for me but then I’m not an academic anymore and I don’t really… just give me something… what’s the reading age of the Daily Mirror? It’s nine isn’t it? And that’s another thing when we produced our stuff in Swansea we bore that in mind. The average reading age is nine so if you want to reach people you’ve got to use the vocabulary and spelling that a nineyear-old can do, an average nine-year-old. Yeah Well Radical Notion is not a reading age of nine. 

A lot of those magazines though, from the 70s have such a lot of writing in them. Yeah they’re very dense. Yeah very theoretical a lot of the time. You’ve got to be prepared to sit down and read… Yeah

But we were. We were, because a lot of the ideas were, they were new, they obviously weren’t new because the Suffragettes. I didn’t know anything about the Suffragettes growing up. We weren’t taught anything about them in history. I never knew that a suffragette threw a bomb! You know, I was like “oh my God! They chained themselves to railings”! That that whole part of women’s history was hidden from us, so second wave feminism was recreating something that was already there but we didn’t know. So those weighty things, we did read them. We might have fallen asleep, or whatever, we did read them and we did debate those issues… but not in that language.

Like you were saying before, a lot of these issues you can track them right the way through we’ve taken the magazines into a few schools and colleges.

Oh, right

And that’s usually the first thing the students say that, oh well you know we’re still talking about this today and yeah and they can see it.

Body image yeah, yeah.

So it’s all still very, very relevant

It’s amazing really patriarchy and capitalism. That sounds a bit airy fairy but we are under the cosh a lot of the time. I’m glad I’m old well. I think we lived through the best. I would never have gone to University if we hadn’t had grants. 

Yeah 

That would not have been a possibility.

But women’s magazines they were great, all of them were great, even the ones that were just… they all did something, they brought us joy, that’s part of it. We were all joyful. We had fun.

It sounds like fun doesn’t it?

It wasn’t all fun obviously, you know, but there was a joyfulness in it, there’s something about standing up for yourself that is joyful. 

And being with other people who feel similarly

Yeah, yeah.

I mean that’s a nice that’s a nice way of finishing isn’t it? You know the idea of it being joyful.

 If you go on a picket line, you feel connected to other people don’t you?

 Yeah.

In a way but no we had loads of fun. We had socials. We had knees-ups. We shared food. We cried together you know. We moaned together but we also really enjoyed ourselves.”

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