Download All 239 Issues of Landmark UK Feminist Magazine Spare Rib Free Online

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The fem­i­nism we asso­ciate with the myth­i­cal­ly bra-burn­ing six­ties and seventies—with Bet­ty Friedan and Glo­ria Steinem—falls under the so-called Sec­ond Wave of the move­ment. And it has some­times been cast by its crit­ics and suc­ces­sors since the 1980s as over­whelm­ing­ly white and mid­dle class, exclud­ing from its canons work­ing class women, women of col­or, and the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty.

Advo­cates of intersectionality—the term coined by law pro­fes­sor Kim­ber­lé Cren­shaw in the 80s to describe, writes the New States­man, “how dif­fer­ent pow­er struc­tures inter­act in the lives of minorities”—have made con­cert­ed efforts to broad­en and diver­si­fy the move­ment. But as Cren­shaw her­self admits, the con­cept is not a new one. Its antecedents are “as old as Anna Julia Coop­er, and Maria Stew­art in the 19th cen­tu­ry in the US, all the way through Angela Davis and Deb­o­rah King.”

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We can see many of these dis­cus­sions and debates around inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty in Sec­ond Wave fem­i­nism and beyond first­hand in British fem­i­nist mag­a­zine Spare Rib, which is now ful­ly avail­able online. Every one of its 239 issues, from its 1972 debut to its final, 1993, pub­li­ca­tion, can be viewed online and down­loaded by any­one for free through a web­site called Jisc, a “char­i­ty,” writes the British Library, “which sup­ports dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies in UK edu­ca­tion and research.”

Addi­tion­al­ly, the British Library hosts a “curat­ed Spare Rib web­site fea­tur­ing 300 select­ed pages from the mag­a­zine, along­side arti­cles writ­ten by aca­d­e­mics, activists and for­mer con­trib­u­tors about how Spare Rib was run, its his­to­ry and the issues it tack­led.” The Guardian offers a con­cise sum­ma­ry of the magazine’s attempts to “pro­vide an alter­na­tive to tra­di­tion­al gen­der roles” by cov­er­ing

…sub­jects such as “lib­er­at­ing orgasm,” “kitchen sink racism,” anorex­ia and the prac­tice of “cliterec­to­my,” now called female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion. Cov­er head­lines includ­ed “Doctor’s Nee­dles Not Knit­ting Nee­dles” and “Cellulie—the slim­ming fraud” and arti­cles fea­tured women such as coun­try and west­ern singer Tam­my Wynette and US polit­i­cal activist Angela Davis.

Found­ed in ’72 by Mar­sha Rowe and Rosie Boy­cott (pic­tured below), and run as a col­lec­tive, the mag­a­zine fea­tured a “breadth of voic­es.” Ear­ly issues “involved big-name con­trib­u­tors includ­ing Bet­ty Friedan, Ger­maine Greer, Mar­garet Drab­ble and Alice Walk­er, but along­side these were the voic­es of ordi­nary women telling their sto­ries.” As we see in hun­dreds of pages of Spare Rib, the often very heat­ed argu­ments around issues of race, class, and sex­u­al­i­ty in the fem­i­nist com­mu­ni­ty were no less heat­ed in the past than today.

Marsha-Rowe-and-Rosie-Boycott-in-the-Spare-Rib-offices-1972-Photograph-by-David Wilkerson

One woman who helped push the bound­aries of the con­ver­sa­tion before Spare Rib’s “con­scious effort to diver­si­fy the col­lec­tive mem­ber­ship” was Roisin Boyd, an Irish broad­cast­er and writer who joined in 1980. Boyd describes some of the magazine’s chal­lenges in a British Library ret­ro­spec­tive essay, “Race, place and class: who’s speak­ing for who?” “Over the three years I worked on the col­lec­tive,” she writes, “I was often puz­zled by the fact that although we were all women and all fem­i­nists, how dif­fi­cult it was for us to nego­ti­ate our dif­fer­ences, let alone recog­nise them.”

Boyd found that “some col­lec­tive mem­bers were upper class and wealthy” and “dis­tanced from the real­i­ty of post colo­nial­ism.” Like­wise, The Guardian describes many of the debates in the mag­a­zine as “acri­mo­nious,” giv­en its rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “so many dif­fer­ent threads of fem­i­nism.” Spare Rib “reflect­ed the some­times ‘painful’ dis­cus­sions between the col­lec­tive on how best to tack­le issues such as sex­u­al­i­ty and racism.”

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In spite of, or per­haps because of, these dis­agree­ments, the mag­a­zine “was a high­ly vis­i­ble part of the Women’s Lib­er­a­tion move­ment,” says for­mer col­lec­tive mem­ber Sue O’Sullivan, “and a tool for reach­ing thou­sands of women every sin­gle month for over 20 years.” Now with the dig­i­ti­za­tion of its entire cat­a­log, it can be “a won­der­ful resource for younger his­to­ri­ans and fem­i­nist activists, researchers and all the women (and men) who won­der what their moth­ers, aunts, grannies and old­er friends got up to all those years ago.” Known for its irrev­er­ent humor, intel­li­gence, and eye-catch­ing cov­ers, Spare Rib pre­serves a record of the many ways fem­i­nist issues and debates have changed over the decades—as well as the many ways they haven’t.

Update: In ear­ly 2021, the afore­men­tioned archive was tak­en offline (for rea­sons appar­ent­ly hav­ing to do with Britain leav­ing the EU). In the mean­time, you can find dig­i­tized copies of Spare Rib over at the Inter­net Archive.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

11 Essen­tial Fem­i­nist Books: A New Read­ing List by The New York Pub­lic Library

Simone de Beau­voir Tells Studs Terkel How She Became an Intel­lec­tu­al and Fem­i­nist (1960)

The First Fem­i­nist Film, Ger­maine Dulac’s The Smil­ing Madame Beudet (1922)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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