Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights

BOWW has made a significant contribution to the British Library’s new landmark exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, which shows how feminist activism in the UK today has roots in a long, complex and compelling history of struggle.

The BOWW principal investigator Margaretta Jolly, Professor of Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, co-edited the exhibition book, working with Dr Polly Russell, lead curator at the British Library.

Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, British Library Publishing, 2020

The book features sixteen new essays exploring topics as disparate as gender fluidity, Black women’s access to education, and the right to sexual pleasure. It showcases the work of activists, artists, academics and thinkers, some with Sussex connections:

  • BOWW research fellow, Dr D-M Withers, wrote ‘Recovering Traditions, Inspiring Actions’ for the book.
  • Former BOWW research fellow, Dr Zoe Strimpel, wrote ‘Liberating Pleasure’.
  • Writer and filmmaker Dr Juliet Jacques, who completed a PhD at Sussex in 2019, wrote ‘On The Malleability of the Body’.
  • Professor Jolly wrote the book’s afterword ‘Finishing the Business’.

But BOWW’s contribution to Unfinished Business doesn’t stop here. Dr Withers significantly contributed to the research and curation of the exhibition, and the BOWW team were members of the Advisory Board.

Drawing on the British Library’s digitised collection of the feminist magazine Spare Rib, the BOWW team also worked with the British Library to develop an interactive map, uniquely charting UK feminist activism and entrepreneurship in the 1970s-80s.

Led by the vision of BOWW co-investigator Dr Lucy Delap (Reader in Modern British and Gender History at the University of Cambridge), the work was started by BOWW research fellow, Dr Zoe Strimpel, and brought to fruition by Dr Eleanor Careless, who succeeded Dr Strimpel early in 2020. Dr Simon Wibberley from the Sussex Humanities Lab built the software to make the map possible.

The map is based on a data sample of letters and listings taken from Spare Rib and dramatically reveals the reach and style of a movement famed for its decentralised and domestic activism.

Interpretations and guides to support the map include Letters from a Young Feminist, by Eleanor Careless; Mapping Provincial Feminisms, by Lucy Delap & Eleanor Careless; Listings and the Feminist Marketplace, by Zoe Strimpel; Mapping Spare Rib: How and Why, by Zoe Strimpel, Eleanor Careless & Simon Wibberley, Discussions of Race in Spare Rib Letters by Charlotte James and Women’s Accounts Of Reproductive Healthcare Provision in Spare Rib Magazine by Alice O’Driscoll.

An analogue version of the map features in the Unfinished Business exhibition, and the online version will be hosted on the British Library’s website as part of its rich Spare Rib resource. BOWW will also deposit the data and open source code in the British Library’s research repository.

Spare Rib map in Unfinished Business exhibition
With thanks to the British Library. Photograph © David Jensen

The BOWW team has also helped the British Library to develop a map of women’s resistance, plotting over 60 stories of women’s lives, rights and activism from the 18th century to the present, with each entry linked to a British Library collection item and further reading.

Meanwhile, the ground-breaking women’s liberation oral history project, Sisterhood and After, led by Professor Jolly and hosted online by the British Library, is integral to the free, educational website just launched by the British Library to accompany Unfinished Business.

Articles on the British Library website written by BOWW team members to support the Unfinished Business educational resource include:

  • Feminism, by Eleanor Careless.
  • Men’s responses to women’s liberation, by Lucy Delap.
  • Music as protest, by D-M Withers.
  • Women in Publishing, and Feminist Futures in Science Fiction, both by Margaretta Jolly.

Margaretta Jolly says:

“The BOWW team has been delighted and honoured to support the British Library’s Unfinished Business exhibition.

“This helps tell of the vital, vivid and transformative struggle for women’s rights and equality, both in the past and today. It invites us to recognise and celebrate the courage and resilience of the innumerable women who have given so much to the struggle, and who continue to do so.” Details of all the associated programming inspired by Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, including digital events, podcasts and educational resources, can be found on the Library’s website.

Posted in Events, Uncategorised

Selling ‘books that change lives’: Talking to Gail Hewison of The Feminist Bookshop, Sydney

By Rosa Campbell

In the oral history interviews I have recorded with those involved in the Australian Women’s Liberation Movement, The Feminist Bookshop, Sydney, comes up again and again. Jane Bullen, active in Canberra Women’s Liberation, spoke of coming to Sydney for a weekend “part of what you did was go to The Feminist Bookshop and pick up a little pile of books which were not available anywhere else.” Gail Shelston, the first Women’s Officer for The Teacher’s Federation – the NSW teaching union- remarked that this bookshop “was there for me at every stage of my life. It was there for me, you know.”

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Posted in Feminist Bookselling

The commerce of romance: from Edwardian to Second Wave feminism

The talk I gave on Friday 14 June 2019 at the National is about courtship and forbidden love in the Edwardian period (mostly) and is linked to the theatre’s showing of Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son (1912). It’s a fascinating play for its contribution to one of the hottest debates around marriage and society at the time: the way patriarchy, capitalism and the logics of family finance and consolidation all conspired to make marriage a ‘trade’ in which women, essentially property, inevitably got ripped off. 

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Posted in Feminist Business, Uncategorised

Feminist Maps and Mapping Feminism

Feminist Maps and Mapping Feminism: Lessons from The Women’s Atlas

Sussex Humanities Lab with the CLHLWR

With legendary geographer Joni Seager

Thursday 23 May 2019, 15.00-17.00pm

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Posted in Uncategorised

The Virago Story – an interview with Catherine Riley

Earlier in the summer D-M caught up with Catherine Riley whose new book The Virago Story: Assessing the Impact of a Feminist Publishing Phenomenon was published this year by Berghahn Books.
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Feminist Book Fortnight 1984 and 2018: An interview with Jane Anger

Jane Anger is a feminist who has worked in the booktrade for 40 years. She helped found the legendary Silver Moon Bookshop and was an early member of Women in Publishing, a feminist network for women in the book business. This year she is coordinating the revival of an iconic initiative of the 1980s, Feminist Book Fortnight. As she explains:

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Posted in Feminist Bookselling

‘Academic dyke, 25, feminist, non-scene, seeks similar’: Personal Ads in Spare Rib

Spare Rib – the iconic magazine of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s and 1980s, offered a small pleasure to readers looking for ‘love among the small ads’, despite its complex relationship to both advertising and romantic relationships. It started out with a minimal classified section and no personals (SR’s early classified pages ran to about half a page), but by the 1980s the classified section was a double-page spread, with ‘relationships’ the longest and – of course – the most eye-catching category.
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Researching Feminist Business

The first women’s liberation movement (WLM) activist I interviewed was the proprietor of a small business. In 2009 I met Caroline Hutton who ran Women’s Revolutions Per Minute (WRPM) as a sole trader from the late 1970s-1990s.
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Posted in Feminist Business

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