March has been set aside to celebrate women’s history since 1987, when the tradition grew out of a small school event in California. This year Women’s History Month has a special focus and theme of “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment”. Special Collections has a large selection of women’s literature, including many feminist periodicals, which we will feature throughout the month.  One example is the 1980’s feminist magazine Spare Rib.

Spare Rib was a monthly magazine focused on women’s rights and the ongoing global struggle for equality, featuring articles, poetry, op-ed pieces, classifieds, and news from around the world. The February 1981 issue featured an article on the actions of a group called “Women Against Violence Against Women.” All across England, supporters of the organization spread graffiti and acted out against corruption in both law and the police force. At the time women were prohibited from carrying any sort of self-defense weapon (pepper spray, etc) and sexual assault against women, particularly within marriage, was often ignored. The police force itself reacted violently to demonstrations put on by the WAVAW organization. The entire UK was under enormous social strife as the WAVAW and other groups battled for their own safety and recognition of their rights.

There is a long tradition of women’s groups being politically active and working to make their voices heard on important issues. The January 1981 issue of “Spare Rib” featured articles on feminists meeting in Bristol to discuss the issue of imperialism and housewives resisting a corrupt Bolivian regime.

With the new presidential administration calling for increases in the (arguably already absurd) national military spending, a particularly poignant article appears in the July 1983 issue. Titled “Politics Without the Punch?” the article contains excerpts from recent literature published by “The Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group” as well as three women’s responses to it. The literature argues that for peace to be realized, the world must not just be without war but also purged of the patriarchal causes of war and violence. However, some of the responses argue that violence can be necessary for the liberation of the oppressed and nonviolence is a continuation of an expectation of passivity of women.

2017 has seen many challenges to gender equality, but has also seen many amazing displays of solidarity and protest in light of these challenges. Events such as the Women’s March in Washington D.C. and across the world in other cities show that the fiery demand for equality represented in these magazines is still alive and well. Throughout the month of March, as well as the rest of the year, it’s important to take time to celebrate women’s history and to continue to fight for a better world for everyone.

-Connor Wurst, student employee