I carried Spare Rib everywhere with me in the 1970s. I worked as a theatre stage manager then and fought for the right to dismantle stage sets like the men—and to earn overtime like the men. Once I even had to threaten to resign for the privilege. We were on tour and every woman on the set, even Hazel, the slight wardrobe assistant, lifted the steel girders down from our West Side Story set and trotted out to the lorry with them. The theatre manager watched in amazement and boasted about how proud he was of 'his girls.' I really liked him, but the complexities of our victory were not lost on me.
Spare Rib gave women a language to talk about how the world treated them. It gave them facts and ideas and I loved it. Perhaps too much. Once, when I was furious at a work colleague, I hurled the worst insult I could think of at him. 'You're so... so... patriarchal,' I yelled.
So the news that the iconic magazine is being re-launched by Charlotte Raven is thrilling to me. I long ago stopped reading women's magazines as they seem to be full of eating disorders, recipes, fashion and shoes. Even Marie Claire, which under Glenda Bailey was both exciting and glamorous, became tired and predictable.
Women today don't understand just how backward things were in the days of the original Spare Rib, particularly outside London. On the day my brother got married, there was a gap between the service and the reception and I went to a Glasgow pub with my two younger brothers, one of whom was under age. I was in my mid-twenties by then. As we walked in the door, the barman shouted at me. 'You get out. We don't allow women in here.'
So when I hear people criticising today's young women for their drunken binges I don't agree that it's a misuse of women's equality for them to behave in a laddish manner, I'm simply grateful that they have the choice. I rejoice that the deadly concept of being a lady has been tossed away with their bras, their decorum and anything else they care to dispense with.
Many of the issues we fought for then have been resolved, but many are still with us. Sometimes it feels as if each generation has to learn anew that men and women are equal. Up until a few years ago I taught a journalism course in a Glasgow university. One day I heard the students talking about a woman as a slut, a term I thought had disappeared about two decades ago.
'I suppose you mean sexually active,' I said, but they just shrugged.
'No, a slut,' said one of them.
If we're still so wedded to the idea of female continence as one of the bulwarks of our civilisation, then we haven't come as far as we think we have. Actually, we haven't come as far as we think we have anyway. More men may wash the dishes or change the baby's nappy, but women still do the bulk of domestic work and their wages are still lagging behind men's. The UK is only 18th for gender equality among developed nations and women's unemployment is currently rising towards a 25 year high. Men's, on the other hand, is decreasing. Sixty percent of new jobs in the private sector since the beginning of 2010 went to them.
These continuing inequalities are basic and obvious and the reporting of them in the end just blurs into more of the same. What the original Spare Rib used to do was explore why things happened and put them in a context, whether philosophical or political. They told you about women all over the world, helped you understand the world. There was none of the metropolitan smart-mouthing that you get in today's broadsheets, none of the liberalism lite that's so prevalent in the formerly left-wing qualities. The writers were earnest and passionate and angry and full of life. They weren't distanced or cynical. There was no irony and they didn't pose as cool. They cared about women's equality and they were right.
No magazine can re-create itself in its original form and I wouldn't want it to. I may have great nostalgia for the Spare Rib of old but I don't want it back. The world is a more sophisticated place and it needs a more sophisticated women's magazine. We all absorb information from all sorts of different sources so what's needed is not more information but a more intelligent way through it all. I'm sick of articles casting women either as victims or super-achievers—life for most of us does not fall into such simple patterns. I want us to admit the ambiguities, acknowledge that not all women are saints and not all men are bastards.
I'm so excited I've pledged money I can't really afford to become a founder member. Bring on George Galloway serving drinks at the opening party, bring on the Raven razzamatazz and the dancing feminists. But above all, bring on that first issue. I just can't wait to see what the new Spare Rib will be.