06 March 2017

100 Fat Activists #21: Spare Rib's Classifieds

There are few things I like more than a free online repository of independent radical feminist journals of yesteryear. I have been that woman crouched in a corner of a specialist library, going through the dusty box files. It's lovely to touch and hold these artefacts in real life, but it's also a delight to browse them from home with a cuppa at your elbow, no opening hours or obscure rules to observe, and no dodgy photocopier.

The first 50 issues of Sinister Wisdom are available online, as are copies of Dyke, A Quarterly. Rainbow History Project has downloads of The Furies and I recall seeing a page of .pdfs for The Lesbian Tide recently but now, typically, can't find the link.

The more obscure and lesbian the journals the better as far as I am concerned because this is where you will find roots of fat feminism and activism that are not really documented elsewhere. There is plenty that is problematic about some of these feminisms and navigating these spaces is a complex undertaking but still worthwhile, in my opinion.

There are many radical queer, feminist and lesbian journals that I have not seen digitised or made available online, and their absence is a giant cultural loss. Square Peg, Quim, Gossip to name a few. There are so many more (check out this amazing wiki of lesbian periodicals to get a taste of bygone media). So it's great when collections are made available, as long as their makers consent, and I am fond of resources that are accessible in thought and ideas and which don't demand institutional log-ins or a knowledge of academic language and conventions.

In the UK there are online repositories of Trouble and Strife and Shocking Pink that are particularly great. Of course the muthalode is Spare Rib, which is archived by the British Library. Does an equivalent free online archive of Ms Magazine exist? If not, it should do.

Spare Rib is especially important for people who want to know more about fat feminist activist histories in the UK. Volume 182 from 1987 has a cluster of articles about fat feminism that marks a break from previous discourse that was very much centred on eating disorders. Here fat women finally get to speak for themselves. As I write this, I have gone to download those pieces and am shocked to see that the content has been redacted. What a bummer! A note on the British Library website explains that that material is being investigated for copyright permissions. Hopefully this will be released soon. Meanwhile, The Feminist Library has a full set if you fancy a trip out.

But it is in the margins that things hot up. In issue 184 Susie Orbach refutes the criticisms made of her by fat feminists, which she also did in the Feminist Review two years previously and then 22 years later in Washington DC at the Association of Size Diversity and Health conference. I would love to see more work in Fat Studies and beyond about how particular feminist discourses around fat have persisted, and been seen as progressive, even though fat people consistently say that they are damaging and are ignored! How come those arguments remain obscure? Does this illustrate how talking about fat is usually controlled by thin people?

I also love the Classified adverts in Spare Rib. They give you a fantastic picture of everyday feminist organising and concerns in the period, whaich was, need I even say it, pre-internet. It is here that the National Fat Women's Conference was publicised in 1989, after which there were a spattering of fat feminist groups and resources proposed. I don't know what happened to them but it's encouraging to see how the work touched and encouraged people to have a go, even if they weren't ready to see things through. Later, in 1992, in issue 233, you will also see an ad that I placed, calling for a social and political group for fat women. I'll save that story for next time.

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