One of the classic clichés of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s is that it had a very narrow idea of women’s roles and identities. In academic parlance this is described as ‘essentialism’, a discourse which can lead to inaccurate stereotypes about what the radical women of the 1970s were doing to transform their lives. Rather than women’s liberation presenting a static view of womanhood, it was a time of massive personal and political revolution where the very basis of what it means to be gendered was being radically questioned.
The antics of Pat VT West and Jackie Thrupp, the two people who are often described as the main creative forces behind Sistershow, were absolutely part of that gender revolution. While the types of gender queering actions (or ‘happenings’ as Pat describes them) are usually seen as something that occurs after the resurgence of queer theory/ activism in the 1990s, you can hear Pat talking about a moment when she and Jackie caused serious gender trouble in the heart of the WLM.
Pat VT West and Jackie Thrupp: Gender Trouble & the WLM by DeborahM
This excerpt is taken from the collection of oral histories made by the Feminist Archive South (FAS) in 2000, reproduced here with permission from the FAS. Unfortunately the slides Pat talks about are not in her archive.
Below is the text that was written on the fliers that Pat and Jackie threw into the meetings:
How I left Womens Lib. And learnt to love Jackie.
Fidgeting one day in a Womens Lib. Meeting, I woke up to realise that the revolution is what we do on the way to getting it and that I was involved in revolution that got its highs from and was well on the way towards establishing an alternative life-style based on, meetings. I was tired of sitting on my arse, tired of talking out my ideas until they became harmless playthings instead of a creative force toward change. I got up and left – hand-in-hand with Jackie, the most devastating lady in Bristol.
I was a rag-bag of discarded , fairly fashionable ideas and clothes, Jackie was lady elegant, lady send-up, struggling, like me, the phrases and behaviours and insights straight out of the standard liberation-for-ladies handbook. We said no to the old games and went off looking for other ways to do things.
Life became colourful and full of dazzle.
It didn’t come easy…..
Holding hands in public
Jackie painting my nude body in a public, male-dominated art-society-philosophy discussion
Throwing radishes at a serious but bored poetry audience whilst
I read a radish poem
Dressing as waitresses and bursting in on a Conservative-ladies-meets-Womens-lib. Luncheon and dishing out spoonfuls of pasta letters.
Jackie taught me to have a good time. We forgot about causes and, paradoxically, found we made forays for the cause in everything we did.
Together we are a statement:
If the women’s revolution is about anything, it is about escaping
Big daddy, the whole patriarchal lot that has kept us conveniently
in our place. Men won’t escape their role until we do it; its bound up
together. Women together free men, too. If we can become really close
trusting and supportive, have our good times together as well as our bad,
the revolution will be under way. Perpetuating the lousy system by
remaining separated and bored, begging concessions from it,
doing the intellectual bit, that’s all a rag doll.
Women’s Lib. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, nor would I be here
(wherever that is), without having been through it, but it can’t be
A perpetual stomping ground for anyone into change – the sort of change
That possibly won’t leave us anything of our familiar selves. The great
Thing about Women’s Lib is that it brings women together. Right on!
If the revolution is not personal it is no revolution at all.
We are here to have a nice time together like everyone else, I hope.
We’d love to meet you.
Old times…a lady in a cat suit with
Legs too short and no bra at a dance.
What a mess but an enthusiastic one. That
Was pat. Later I knew her as a serious women’s
Lib.lady and talked on education and the
Cause. Later still we met at parties when we
Were always with other people. Later than that
We drank at lunchtimes in bars and i threw the
Visual and art form thing at her. We played juke-
Boxes. We chatted up and sent up men. We overstated
Our passion for each other. We both knew why and
Always have. We liked reggae dances. Striped socks.
Badges. Oh a thousand things. We saw that skinhead girls
And many other women were untouched by woman’s lib. And
In a way less hung up – what I mean is they could reach each
Other without having intellect and further education get in the way.
mind you, i knew there was something between us when Pat
pressed a poem into my hand in the local pub and I had to run into
the lavatory to read it. Now i suppose we are the poem. There is
no fantasy except the one we live.
The first thing you notice about having fun and trying to translate it is that it is a
serious business. Have a fine old time: dance with abandon. The sort of mad-
ness we are is rather difficult. And catching our magic in note form is pro-ving
hard. This week I am a supermarket lady and paid for it. And the
crazy fun we have for free seems far away. Indulgent hussy…must
get on as pat is typing hundreds for words a minute about me….