The UK Press – Time for a change

Lorraine Douglas scans the shelves of WH Smiths but fails to find anything of interest.

, 16 January 2002

For me, one of the most important barometers of feminist activity is the

state of the written media. For some time now, I’ve felt that the UK’s

magazines have neither reflected any feminist action nor suggested any hope of

imminent change. In fact, it’s reached the stage where I don’t think there’s a

single UK magazine on the shelves right now that doesn’t offend me, or at least

make me feel marginalised.

Believe me, as a former magazine junkie, I’ve tried to find something to

read. I’ve stood in WH Smiths scanning each and every title; the multitude of

mens’ magazines, soft porn for the post-Playboy generation; the vacuous

celebrations of celebrity; the womens’ magazines that promise so much with

their “Be Happy with Yourself” articles, only to betray you with the twenty

pages of breast implant ads at the back. Casting a glance backwards, I can

scarcely believe there was a time when I didn’t buy and treasure each and every

issue of Spare Rib, Harpies and Quines or

Everywoman; talk about not knowing what you’ve got until it’s


The UK music

press has never exactly embraced anything which challenges its “old boys”


Until recently I could, at least, buy a music paper or two. The UK music

press has never exactly embraced anything which challenges its “old boys”

network; I remember when Riot Grrrl bands came to the fore in the early 1990s,

a couple of weekly music papers put Riot Grrrl bands on their covers, eager for

the hype. When they discovered that there was genuine feminist intent behind

Riot Grrrl and that the bands wanted to destroy rather than become part of the

rock music hierarchy, Riot Grrrl was suddenly discredited, criticised and

quickly edited out of view. Nevertheless, there were always a few strong

female journalists in the music papers, ensuring that if nothing else, you

could at least find out about important new releases.

Recently, the state of the music press has reached an all-time low in terms

of feminist interest, as well as a general decline in readership. Only one

weekly music paper survives, the NME. I finally stopped buying/reading the NME

after two important features:

(1) The NME’s “Ten Best New Guitar Bands in Britain” feature, all

ten bands comprising exclusively of young, white males (approx. 40 musicians in

total). When criticised by readers, the NME argued that it held no

responsibility to be politically correct, just to find the best new music. I’m

sure that any degree of investigative journalism, rather than just lazily

buying into whatever new “scene” was being touted, would have resulted in a

more diverse selection of bands; furthermore, I’d argue that the NME should

maybe start to think about the large sections of its readership that are

currently feeling unrepresented or excluded, and are losing interest in an

increasingly irrelevant music press.

(2) The NME’s reaction to the news that Darren Weir, a member of the

band So Solid Crew (who had been heavily endorsed by NME) was convicted for

breaking the jaw of a 15 year old girl who spurned his sexual advances. Despite

readership criticism, the NME insisted that it would continue with its

financial backing of So Solid Crew’s UK tour, but would pose difficult

questions to Darren Weir next time the band was interviewed. A few weeks after

this, So Solid Crew were featured on the NME’s cover; I do not know whether or

not the “difficult questions” were asked, because I felt that by continuing to

buy the NME, I would be contributing to So Solid Crew’s financial success and,

realistically, helping to pay Darren Weir’s fine.

Aside from the “quality” monthly music magazines (such as Uncut, which does

review a diverse selection of music, if you can bear to plough through the

20-page homages to almost invariably all-male rock bands), then, what to


For me, the most positive thing about living in a cultural recession is

that, somewhere along the line, undercurrents of feelings reach a critical mass

and it becomes time for, “if it’s not out there, create it yourself”. There are

small, but sure, signs of unrest again leading to innovation, most recently for

myself witnessed at Ladyfest Scotland, the first UK version of the

US-originated festivals celebrating female talent. Having witnessed some

excellent new bands, poets and female artists at work, I came home clutching a

bunch of zines and feeling as energised and inspired as I have for a long time,

promising myself that I would revive my own zine (currently in production!).

Having discovered a few useful and inspiring websites recently, it’s finally

starting to feel like things could change again. It’s time for some DIY!

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