Feminism Friday: Nineties Woman

This week’s Feminism Friday post is about an award winning comedian’s new show – the intriguingly titled “Nineties Woman: from activism to relative apathy”. Rosie Wilby has been busily tracking down the collective of women she produced a feminist newspaper with at York University in the 1990s, and she has created a show all about what they’re doing now, what happened to the newspaper and what has happened to feminism since then. Starting with her treasured old copies of Matrix (apparently it’s Greek for ‘womb’), Rosie peeks through a kaleidoscope of cultural history and personal activism including poll tax riots, Reclaim The Night rallies, political lesbianism and same sex wedding demos and wonders how on earth we ended up with ‘Girl Power’? Was she partly to blame when she put a frivolous ‘Celebrate Women’ cartoon on the cover of Matrix instead of a Rape Crisis logo? Or perhaps when, during her tenure as Student’s Union Women’s Officer, she dressed up as Kylie Minogue for a publicity stunt?

Channeling a riotgrrrl-like DIY energy, the Matrix collective would cut and glue an issue together each month – once daubing a wall with splendid green and purple ‘Sisterhood is Powerful’ graffiti on a guerilla midnight mission just for the cover photo. In this part documentary, part detective story and part unrequited love story of a show, Rosie traces the original collective and investigates what happened to feminism… and the woman that everyone had a crush on. Twenty years on, the Matrix women have diversified into all kinds of work – some have remained in journalism, others are authors, academics and playwright/poets, one a clinical embryologist and another a former barrister now running a successful vintage hair company styling hair on film sets and more. Talking about the project, Rosie says:

I started reading books and articles by some of the younger feminists coming through, like Kat Banyard, and started wondering again about Matrix – what our legacy had been, whether it was still going and what my fellow writers were doing these days. I found my dusty old copies up at my Dad’s among all my old stuff and, once I started reading them again, found myself on a detective mission to find out. It turns out a later group of York students started up a new feminist zine, Matrix Reloaded, in 2006. They were still featuring a lot of the same issues which, in some ways is frustrating as it demonstrates that we haven’t come very far over the last decade, but it was great to meet them and know we’d inspired them to create something. That meeting wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t started making this show.

Nineties Woman was commissioned by Shout LGBT Festival at Mac in Birmingham in March 2013 and is supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Creation of the piece was supported by: Ben Walters, Time Out London’s cabaret editor; Carolyn Reid, writer, director and editor of feature documentary film Jan’s Coming Out; Naomi Paxton, actress, character comedian and writer (The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays); and Colin Watkeys, producer of several internationally touring shows with performer Claire Dowie.

Experience an intimate work in progress performance of Nineties Woman (plus Q&A session) on Thursday 16th May 7.30–9.30pm at The Exhibit cinema, 12 Balham Station Road, London SW12 9SG. Tickets cost only £3 and must be booked in advance via WeGotTickets.