Feminist Discussion and Action Group
I was really intrigued when I read about the Bradford feminist discussion and action group in Marion's zine 'Who's That Bitch?' earlier this year. Although the group no longer exists, Marion, Julia, Sally and Judith, all members, agreed to share with The F-Word some more information about it.
Could you give a brief introduction to the
Bradford Feminist Discussion & Action Group, for
someone who’s never heard of it before?
Marion: The group was an idea of Judith’s, who had
been in a similar group in Germany. She wanted to
discuss feminist texts in a small, friendly group, and
to link discussions of patriarchy to racism and
capitalism. The idea was to have a group of people who
got to know each other well and therefore felt
comfortable around each other, but it didn’t really
work out like that, since different people had
different commitments and couldn’t always make it.
The actions came later, when we got so inspired
after reading an extract from Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty
Myth, that we decided to do something about it. (Other
texts we read and discussed included Gender and Nation
by Nira Yuval Davis, and The Drama of Being a Child by
When did the group start? Is it still in existence?
M: Well I don’t think it really exists anymore (except
in our hearts… individually) because a lot of us
left Bradford (including me) and it wasn’t really
practical. But like I said, I think we are all still
members in our hearts and minds!
I can’t remember the exact time it started, except
that it was sometime in autumn 2001, and it tailed
off in spring/summer time 2002.
Where did the idea for the group come from? e.g.
Are there other similar groups in existence (are there
any in the UK?)?
Have you been involved in anything like this before?
we all acknowledge the consciousness raising
groups of the 60s
M: It was Judith and Julia’s idea and they took
their inspiration from a group they were in in Germany
although you’d have to ask them about that! I don’t
know if there are any other groups like ours around
in the UK but it would be good to know about (get in
touch!). We all acknowledge the consciousness raising
groups of the 60s, although none of us are old
enough to have been around to experience them.
Personally I’ve never been in a group like this
Who initiated the group and how did you find members?
M: Judith sent an email out to everyone she knew in
the area. So most of the members were people who
already knew each other (but not me, I only knew
Judith and Julia, and I made a lot of friends through
the group). People brought along other people that
they knew. We also advertised around the University
but only a few people got in touch. There were a lot
of people on the mailing list who received the notes
from the meetings via email, but who never attended.
Did you publicise the group in any way?
M: Yes, we put posters and flyers around the
University and advertised at some events at the 1in12
Club (a local anarchist space), but we didn’t get much
response. I think we could have definitely done more.
I would if I was thinking of organising a group again,
or restarting the old one.
did have a range of perspectives
How many people were in the group and what was the
range of ages? Were there men as well as women in the
M: Yes there were three or four men (three attended
regularly, one only once). Most of us though were
women. I think the oldest person was 36 and the
youngest 18 (me) but I could be wrong. The usual
range was 20-30, so not very varied I suppose. But we
did have a range of perspectives because of coming
from different countries and backgrounds (German,
British, Israeli/American, Swedish, Japanese…) and I
think that was a strength. Also some of us were
parents/guardians and some of us not, some of us
gay/lesbian and some not, some of us disabled and
some not… Although of course we were all similar in
background in the sense that we were nearly all
white… and we all already had an interest in
feminism and anticapitalism, otherwise we wouldn’t
be there I suppose. Plus most of us were students or
How regularly did you meet and where (e.g. someone’s
home, in the pub, etc.)?
M: At first we met every week, but then changed to
every other week because it meant more people could
come. We always met in somebody’s house. We started
by rotating whose house it was, but then decided to
keep it at the same one to make it easier – especially
for Heather because when we had it at her house it
meant she could come after her son was in bed (no need
for a babysitter). The only time we didn’t meet in a
house was when we arranged an action in the town
What happened in the meetings? Were they structured in
any way? e.g. did you plan topics to discuss in
advance, did someone act to promote discussion?
M: Yes, we took it in turns to suggest a text to
discuss for the next meeting. If it was agreed then
that person would photocopy about 10 copies (this is
about the biggest number who ever attended, although
sometimes it was as few as three, but that didn’t
matter much to me). They would leave the copies in a
folder in the Fair Trade Cafe, where a lot of us
would pass regularly. This didn’t always work! For
example, the copies wouldn’t be there in time, or they
wouldn’t be there at all… but when it did work it
was great because it meant we all had time to read and
digest the text before-hand, and hopefully come up
with some ideas for discussion. Anyone who didn’t
manage to do that (sometimes all of us) would read
through the text at the beginning of the meeting and
we would always wait until they’d finished (although
sometimes chatter was distracting!). With one or two
texts that we found difficult, we read them out loud
together (in turns). This made sure everyone
…we would establish a note-taker or two to take
down brief notes…
Then we would establish a note-taker or two to take
down brief notes on what the discussion covered. We
all took it in turns to do this except for those of
us with problems writing eg dyslexia.
Then we would go round the group in turn and each
say some introduction like “i’m feeling tired tonight,
but i really enjoyed the text” or “hi, i’m ….. and
i’m nervous because i haven’t been here before”, or
just whatever we wanted to say. Nobody has to (!!) say
something in the rounds, but everybody has the space
to say something. Then the discussion was thrown open.
When we felt that the discussion had come to a good
end-point (although usually there was far more to
discuss! and to find out), or if it was getting too
late, we would agree to disperse, but not before
having a round like the one at the beginning, and
arranging a time for the next meeting.
After the meeting, somebody would type up the notes
and email them to the group. The discussion was
still open via email.
Our action meetings were similar in structure but
without the text obviously.
What kind of action has the group been involved in
and how did it go?
M: We had all sorts of plans! We wanted to make a
video asking people in the street what they thought
about feminism, and one about George Bush’s mental
health (!). But the only action that actually
happened, was that we made some stickers with slogans
like ‘you’re worth it as you are’, ‘drop the cosmetics
and smile’, ‘this isn’t a woman, it’s a myth’ and
‘someone is trying very hard to make you feel bad
about yourself’ and stuck them on magazines and
billboards in the town centre, that we found to be
propogating beauty myths (discreetly of course!). I
felt that that went really well in that we didn’t
get caught! But I don’t know how people reacted. We
put an email address on every sticker, for feed-back,
but nobody wrote. If just one person stopped to think
though, I think we succeeded. We also made some for
men’s magazines like Loaded and FHM, with applicable
slogans. Sorry I can’t remember them right now! That
was less successful of course because there was only
one man on the action, and us women felt very
selfconscious (and some of us disgusted!) picking up
it’s always good to exchange
and verify ideas… you get so much more out of reading
with different people’s perspectives
Would you recommend that others set up similar groups,
M: Oh yeah, because it’s so inspiring and like,
vindicating to talk to people about these things.
People who are actually listening, for a change. In
my day to day life, if I talk about feminism I feel
like I’m hitting a brick wall. Of course it’s not good
to isolate yourself but on the contrary I don’t think
we were, I think we were breaking down barriers.
Because we were all thinking these things but not
communicating them. And it’s always good to exchange
and verify ideas. You get so much more out of reading
with different people’s perspectives to compare, and
also when you can relate people’s different personal
experiences. The discussions often ended up having
nothing to do with the book but I think that’s good.
I learned SO much more than I would’ve done had I just
read them alone. I started thinking about all sorts
of things I’d never thought about before. And being
around other people encourages you to act on those
thoughts, rather than just think them. It provided a
base for thoughtful organisation and action against
a patriarchal capitalist system, and I think if we had
been together longer we would have done a lot more.
Even without that though, a couple of us have remarked
that it ‘changed our lives’.
Sally: I was a participant who hasn’t found the time
to help put together the rest of this interview, but I
would just like to add to Marion’s commentary that
this discussion group really affirmed me in many
changes I wanted to make, and made me feel like a lot
of my reservations about the status quo were real…In
the aftermath of the discussion group I cut off my
hair for starters, also finally reported an abusive
experience to the police, ended a relationship I was
unhappy with : this wasn’t just academic debate to me.
In fact it was a refreshing change from the
superficial, treacherous reasoning of much
contemporary culture, and I know other members of the
group felt the same way.
Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of setting up
a group? Is there anything you’ve learnt from the
experience that you could pass on? e.g. With
hindsight, is there anything that could have been done
M: Well, see above. There are plenty of things. Advertise, and welcome people from a diverse spectrum (including men, unless you specifically set out not to). But I think it’s good to have a fairly closed membership after the first few weeks, so that people already know each other and feel more confident in discussion. You can do it the other way too though.
Don’t have any kind of hierarchy – we did fine without one. And if one person constantly comes through as a leader, I think that should be
challenged. Some people will always be more confident than others and that’s a problem. But we tried to target it in a number of ways.
Basically just do what feels right and comfortable for you.
Judith: Make a clear beginning and a clear end at every meeting. Although the structure of an end and a beginning circle feels strange for people who don’t knew that method before, it is quite important for a
non hierarchical structure. Also important – (and that is one of the reasons I think, why the group wasn’t continuing in the end) – is to meet continuously and that people are reliable. That means that they say
reliably if they are coming to the next meeting and if not that they tell the group. That goes together with Marion’s suggestion to have a relatively closed group – so that you know who is coming.
Anything else you want to say about it:
M: I think you’ve exhausted me for now. I should mention that these are only my views and not neccessarily the rest of the group’s (most of whom
are too busy to write but were excited about the interview!).