The UK Press - Time for a change

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

Lorraine Douglas, 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 gone.....

The UK music press has never exactly embraced anything which challenges its "old boys" network.

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 read?

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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