Women beware women

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How many feminists does it take to relaunch a magazine? None, it seems. I was excited when I heard that the radical feminist magazine Spare Rib was going to be relaunched with the respected journalist Charlotte Raven at the helm. Not just as a magazine, either, but also as a ‘campaigning grassroots movement’, which presumably means a website and digital sharing etc, all impossible back in the 70’s when Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe had their big idea.Raven contacted Boycott and Rowe and told them about HER big idea. They were both “entirely supportive” (Boycott) and “very positive” (Rowe), writes Raven. But The Sisterhood is not a many-splendoured thing of female encouragement. It tends to be a horrid bitch-fest.  And when she found out that the name Spare Rib was untrademarked, Raven should have acted. Because on June 3, 20 years after its closure, Marsha Rowe decided,  in her infinite variety and wisdom, to trademark it.

Raven, (who inter alia, has recently discovered she is suffering from the incurable and degenerative neurological disorder Huntingdon’s Disease, and who has spoken movingly about how the relaunch was helping her look forward in a positive way), was served a writ from Rowe’s lawyers who threatened her with legal action, including an injunction, if she used the name Spare Rib.

According to a statement from Raven,  widely circulated on Twitter, what really stuck in Rowe’s (and presumably Boycott’s) craw was the ‘grassroots movement’ character of 21st Century Rib. Well boo-hoo. So nobody was online back in the medieval era of the 1970’s. So what? Rowe and Boycott have, it seems, dumped their original support, in favour of legal action which would of course squander the financial resources of the new magazine.

In their defence, they said they were seeking answers about the business plan. “We wanted to know how it was going to be funded,” Boycott has said. Rowe claims the trademark is a red herring as they owned the public lending rights, and had been told that any attempt to use the name without permission would be treated as ‘passing off’. “Women gave blood sweat and tears for that [name]” Rowe said.

Raven has since decided to abandon the relaunch, and will simply start a feminist magazine/movement with a new name. Does this matter? Not really. It makes me laugh (in a hollow way), that the row is centred on feminist expression, which should be championing the female ability to work in the world. It moves on from what Spare Rib was. But maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps the notion of ‘The Sisterhood’, which never really worked,  needs to be replaced by a more general encouragement of working women who are already beset by issues such as lower pay rates and anxieties about ageism and parenting.  Who don’t necessarily feel themselves as politicised, but would just like to get on in life. Who feel anxious about calling themselves a ‘feminist’.

I don’t know Charlotte Raven, but I wish her luck in her new venture. Anyone who has a good idea for a new title should contact her on sparerib.nationbuilder.com/makingachange.

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