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Spare Rib

Title: Spare RibDates: 1972-93
Periodicity: monthlyPrice: 17 1/2p (first issue); £1.60 (final issue)
Circulation: 20,000-35,000Place of Publication: London
Spare Rib logo


Spare Rib was the best-known and longest-running publication of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Founded by Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, Spare Rib was a national magazine that aimed to ‘reach all women’ and offered an alternative to commercial women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan (which launched in the same year). It became a collective at the end of 1973. Publishing 239 issues over a twenty-year run, the magazine’s style and politics underwent many changes, from a close affiliation to the consciousness-raising feminism of the 1970s to an increasingly international feminist outlook in the 1980s. Due to its longevity and reach, Spare Rib became a forum for often turbulent debate within the women’s movement and between different strands of feminism. Contributors included internationally known feminist writers and activists from Nawal El Saadawi to Angela Carter.

‘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.’

Spare Rib manifesto
A drawn pencil from the letters page of Spare Rib
Artist Unknown, ‘Letters page header graphic’, Spare Rib
  • Body image, advertising and the media
  • Women’s strikes, including the Grunwick women’s strike and the wives of striking miners
  • The Greenham Common protests; articles on women in prison
  • Domestic and sexual violence, including the campaign to criminalise rape in marriage and Reclaim the Night marches
  • Lesbian rights and campaigns, including lesbian mothers’ right to custody
  • The family, housework and childcare
  • Women’s health
  • Women and the visual arts
  • Girls and education.

More ‘commercial’ in format than many of its sister magazines, Spare Rib‘s irregular, constantly changing formatting also shows the influence of the sixties counterculture from which it emerged. As Marsha Rowe put it: ‘It had to look like a woman’s magazine, yet with contents that did not reflect the conformist stereotyping of women’ (Design and Spare Rib, British Library). Spare Rib was always attentive to the power of the visual, with striking covers designed to stand out on newsagent shelves (WH Smith’s refused to stock issue 13 due to an expletive on the back cover) and an always-critical assessment of images of women in the media. In the 1970s, the column ‘Tooth and Nail’ deconstructed the semiotics of sexist advertisements. By the 1990s, the regular page ‘Images’ assessed the ‘whiteness’ and racial politics of photography and portraiture. In July 1978, the publication of a special ‘visual issue’ marked a turn towards more formal experimentation with layout, format and language. Aesthetic decisions, such as the early use of three-colour printing and text-heavy issues, were often driven, as for many feminist magazines, by cost.

Header graphic for "Spare Parts"
Artist unknown, header graphic for “Spare Parts”, Spare Rib 1, p38.

The period from the early 1970s to the 1990s was one of dramatic social, economic and cultural change in Britain, from the sexual revolution of the 1960-70s to the erosion of the welfare state under Margaret Thatcher. Spare Rib continued to publish throughout this time, from the start of Thatcher’s premiership to its end, documenting two decades of unprecedented industrial action, the mobilisation of new social movements, the rise of the City and entrepreneurialism, the birth of modern British dance and drug culture, and the retreat of the Left.

Founded by Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott; from 1974, edited by changing editorial collectives.

As the SR collective put it in November 1981:

Something like sixty women have worked on the Spare Rib collective since its first issue ten years ago, and many hundreds more have written, drawn, photographed, designed and helped out in the office. In these ten years, the way the magazine looks and the issues it covers have changed in as many ways as the women who make it, on and off the collective, have changed. And with another 100 issues it will be different again. But we think whichever women come together to bring our Spare Rib, and whatever the limitations of the vision we’ve all shared, they will still be saying, this magazine is for women, directed towards changing all our lives.

Spare Rib Collective, November 1981, Afterword to the Spare Rib Reader ed. Marsha Rowe (Penguin, 1982)

Initially distributed by Seymour Press; from 1973 by New English Library; from 1975 by Moore Harness; and from 1976, split between Moore Harness and the alternative Publications Distribution Co-operative (until it went into liquidation in 1983). Typesetting initially by community enterprises Bread n Roses and Dark Moon but later brought in-house. See Lucy Delap (2021) Feminist Business Praxis and Spare Rib Magazine, Women: A Cultural Review, 32:3-4, 248-271 for more detail on this.

Header graphic for "Natural Earth Drinks"
Artist unknown, header graphic for “Natural Earth Drinks”, Spare Rib 2, p25

Initially funded with £2000 in capital from private sources, and paid contributors at a rate of £1.00 per hundred words (this commitment was withdrawn in 1974 due to debts). Finances were always strained throughout the magazine’s run. SR relied on sales, subscriptions, donations, small grants, and classified advertisements. The question of which advertisements and products were acceptable to a feminist magazine was a thorny one, and generated much controversy. Merchandise, including baby slings, tea towels and the Spare Rib Diary became an important source of income. Collective members were never paid more than a pittance – many either had other jobs or family wealth – and this became another point of controversy. Received Greater London Council funding briefly in the 1980s which enabled the magazine to raise wages and expand staffing, but this state funding came with its own difficulties including political meddling. For more see Delap (2021).

Founder Rosie Boycott had worked for counterculture magazine Frendz, and Marsha Rowe for Oz. Spare Rib helped to foster the flourishing network of feminist periodicals of the 1970s-80s through supportive advertising and references/interviews with other magazines in its published content. Links were also material: Outwrite borrowed Spare Rib’s offices on weekends for a period; SR helped support the Shocking Pink collective launch their first issue.

See the British Library’s collection of articles and digitised images from Spare Rib.

See also:

Lucy Delap and Zoe Strimpel (2021), ‘Spare Rib and the Print Culture of Women’s Liberation’, in Laurel Forster (ed.), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1940s–2000s: The Contemporary Period,(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), pp. 46–66;

Joanne Hollows (2013), ‘Spare Rib, Second-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Consumption’, Feminist Media Studies 13:2, pp. 268–87;

Angela Smith, ed. (2017), Re-Reading Spare Rib, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan;

Melanie Waters (2016), ‘“Yours in Struggle”: Bad Feelings and Revolutionary Politics in Spare Rib’, Women: A Cultural Review 27:4, pp. 446–65.

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Where to find Spare Rib:
British Library;
Feminist Archive North;
Feminist Archive South;
Feminist Library;
Women’s Library
Digitised copies:
The full run of Spare Rib was digitised by the British Library in 2015, but was taken down in 2021 due to changes in copyright law following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. The Spare Rib map, based on a selection of letters and listings from Spare Rib, provides access to some of the magazine’s content online:

In addition, a version of the Spare Rib archive can be found here:
A repeated "HELP" stamp from Sappho

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