'Rock Against Sexism' in Spare Rib (April 1979)
The article ‘Love Music, Hate Sexism’ features in the eight-first edition of the mass market feminist periodical Spare Rib, published in April 1979. Spare Rib took an active role in Women’s Liberation during the late twentieth century, and was a popular magazine written both for and by feminist activists to further feminist ideas in the UK. It started out as part of the underground press movement, but gained momentum and popularity for its discussions of everyday sexism, offering advice and support to women and identifying the oppression that faced half the British population in hope to find realistic solutions.
This article represents only one of thousands within the catalogue of Spare Rib. Feminist magazines had grown over the course of the sixties and seventies, with both local and national audiences they ranged in their outlooks and perspectives, but united in their stance against female subjection to men. These magazines were not only important for raising awareness and activism for contemporary feminist issues, they gave a dialogue to the movement offering women to exchange ideas; share personal experience; exhibit the art of their exploitation; hear news from across the UK and globe; and to be awakened to patriarchal power structures in aspects of life they might not have noticed before. It is in relation to this last purpose that makes this article of particular interest, as it delivers insight into a feature of Women’s Liberation that has up to this point be glossed over – rock ‘n’ roll and the music industry. We can assume that the readership of an article such as this would be predominantly regular readers of Spare Rib, particularly those with a keen interest in music. Magazines are an interesting and valuable historical source, although we cannot analyse exactly how these magazine articles were received or absorbed, Laurel Forster explains how their multi-vocal and essentially opinionated nature makes them rich texts that create a window into the discourse of Women’s Liberation and its defenders.
The article discusses generally the sexism that continued to exist within rock music, not only within the lyrics and ads it created but in its attitude and patronisation towards female musicians. It articulates how rock, traditionally dominated by men and their experiences, reflected the engrained patriarchy and sexualised nature of the male psyche and society – so that its products were extremely derogatory and harmful to women. Toothpaste mentions the works of the Rolling Stones and The Stranglers as two famous but clearly sexist bands. Furthermore, it articulates how campaigns, ‘Rock Against Racism’ and ‘Rock Against Sexism’ were set up in opposition to the oppression that rock music sustained and perpetuated. The article discusses that the reason they were set up was because there were still many activists who enjoyed rock music and believed it held the power to be a force to rebel against and challenge the status quo.
Furthermore, the article not only explores the difficulties for women facing the world of rock music, but raises a number of significant points about the state and perception of feminism in Britain in the late 1970s. Perhaps the most illuminating is that the article makes several references to the need to increase awareness not only of key feminist principles, but of simply what the terms ‘feminist’ and ‘sexism’ actually mean. Indeed, Toothpaste admits that ‘there will no doubt be lots of people at RAS gigs who aren’t at all clear what sexism is’ and that rock offers a way to introduce their ideas to people, especially teenagers, who ‘wouldn’t otherwise hear these points of view expressed’. Considering Women’s Liberation had begun in the mid-1960s the fact that this article implies that still a majority of people did not understand these basic ideas more than ten years on is surprising; and it articulates a potential difficulty for the movement, simply getting their voices heard and understood by a wide audience beyond close nit feminist circles. Moreover, there are moments in the article that reference the stigma that surrounds those that identify themselves as a feminist. In a quote from one member of the RAS band ‘Spoilsport’ Angele states that ‘You’ve got to make sexism that isn’t just what nit-picking feminist go on about’. Moreover, at the end of the article a promotion of feminist slogans such as ‘Feminists can be fun’ is mentioned – a phrase which surely indicates a retaliation to popular discourse. Both these instances seem to indicate that Women’s Liberation and feminists had a PR problem, associated with ‘nit-picking’ and being dull. The article then offers insight into both sexism within rock music and the wider battles that the British feminist movement were combatting at the time.
The article in many ways represents a sigh of exhaustion at this point in the movement. Toothpaste ironically at one point mentions how bizarre it is that the campaigns should have to introduce a clause to ensure their bands are not being oppressive to either women or the gay community – she notes the irony of ‘(It didn’t oughter be necessary to say it in so many words. But it is.)’. There is a sense of frustration that still the most basic and undeniable exploitations of women seem to be falling on deaf ears. However, ‘Love Music, Hate Sexism’ is also representative of the core of Second Wave feminism. ‘Rock Against Sexism’ a campaign set up by ‘intrepid musicians and optimists’ just chatting amongst themselves generated consciousness raising, a key feminist tool, to make waves of awareness and change. Their positive step marks another in this movement in which feminists tackle patriarchal power structures by creating new platforms to be heard, and continuing to fight for the right to express ‘our own experiences, our own hopes and struggles’, this time in rock.
Looking for more sources:
The Hypatia Collection also houses a vast collection of other feminist periodicals from the period of the Second Wave, including an extensive collection of Spare Rib, and supplementary editions of magazines such as On The Issues; M/F; The Female State; Enough and Trouble & Strife.
For more articles written on this specific topic of Women and the music industry there are other articles that were published in Spare Rib that continued its discussion. For example, Lucy Toothpaste also produced an article ‘Women and Popular Music’ in the 107th issue of Spare Rib in June of 1982.
‘Rock Against Sexism’ also produced its very own magazine, Drastic Measures
- For more source and information please follow the link: https://womensliberationmusicarchive.co.uk/s/
For more information concerning campaigns such as ‘Rock Against Racism’
- The movement produced a magazine called Temporary Hoarding
- More information can be found on the Women’s Liberation Music Archive website: https://womensliberationmusicarchive.co.uk
- There will also be an exhibition in London open until the 1st of May 2018 about ‘Rock against Racism’
Written by Sarah Hough