Joy Marshall: Full Interview

Duration 12:26


Joy Marshall
Interviewed by Rachel Larman
23rd July 2015

JM: [Unclear] Um, yes, for me it was the opportunity to go to further education/higher education, to go to polytechnic, to do a degree that made a real difference in my political awareness. It gave me the opportunity to debate a number, lots of different issues, partly because I did a history degree which opened up all sorts of issues around women’s role in society and in the past and in political movements.

Is that enough?

I think a lot of the people who went to work at the new universities were very radical, so there would be Marxist lecturers, Maoist lecturers. People who were very overtly political, teaching and then influencing us in terms of making us think about issues in a new way.

Also, they were also involved in some of the groups that were set up; so the first women’s group I went to, one of the academics who taught me, his wife was involved in that group, looking at issues to do with violence and domestic violence against women and how that fitted in with socialist politics, women’s politics and looking more directly at women’s role in history and the influence of women on history.

I think in terms of women’s politics, I got involved in socialist politics but I didn’t initially particularly want to be involved in separate women’s politics and that was because I didn’t really, when I was growing up, rate women that much, because I wanted to be a man and do exciting things that men did, have adventures, run the world, do things, whereas women seemed to mess around with dolls a lot. That’s what I always felt. I went to university and I met women who were very influential, very dynamic, had wonderful ideas, who were really inspiring, I started to think, ‘Ooh, wow’, women can be not just little women, they can be and have been real influences, women who have made a real difference, unacknowledged and also where they haven’t had the opportunity to, they should have the opportunity to influence events.

RL: The Communist University…[unclear]

Part of that was I went to the Communist University in London which was run in the ‘70s and ‘80s every summer and a lot of women historians, sociologists would speak at a lot of those various seminars and workshops run. So from Sheila Rowbotham to Bea Campbell to, I don’t know, other people I can’t remember the names of, who were very inspiring and…

JM: [Shout from upstairs] I’ll have to go

I moved to Leeds in 1981 having been in Hull for three years and got very involved in issues there, women and violence and the women’s centre there. We’d have big talks and at that time Sheila … what’s her?... Jeffreys came over to give a talk about revolutionary feminism, because there was a very, well the first revolutionary feminist group in the country was in Leeds and Leeds was seen as a very important radical centre of feminist movement at the time. A lot of things were going on in Leeds so it was the place to be, so getting a job in Leeds at a Trade Union resource centre meant that I could be involved with the Trade Union Movement and with feminist politics. And that was reflected in the work we did, we did work around sexual harassment, issues to do with women at work and women and trade unions, and I got very involved with the stuff going on at Trades Council and with all the social side that went alongside that, all the women’s discos and campaigning groups. Events that went on in Leeds, including quite a lot of national conferences that were held here, either around certain themes or around broad issues or just generally a conference and different workshops on different issues.

That was, it was very stimulating to come here and live here at that time.

At the time there were a lot of issues being looked at and there were big debates around, between women, around the sort of women’s space and whether in a women’s space we could have boy children. How heterosexual and lesbian women related to each other and, you know, how women should live their lives. A lot more about the way that we lived our lives, the relationships whether they were open relationships or marriage; marriage was seen as obviously oppressive to women. Being married was a problem to some women and there was a lot of discussion about the way we lived our lives and how we lived, so that’s one of the reasons I lived in a housing co-op, which although it was not women only, a lot of those issues were involved.

I mean obviously there were a lot of debates around issues to do with violence against women, rape and issues to do with safety on the streets, pornography. And then there was the whole Yorkshire Ripper thing that went on. And so that made safety and violence even more important in the discussions that were going on, and the threat of violence and how men used violence to keep women in their place really, and how we respond to that. And support for women who’d experienced domestic violence.

There were all sorts of issues between women about feminism and how we lived our lives and I think it… there were often conflicts and tensions between lesbians and straight women around what we could do, work together around, and where there was a separate issue. And really… there were issues of trust I think as well, you know, whether we could trust each other, whether we could work together effectively, and I think interestingly, early on that was around having children. But as more lesbians wanted to have children, then the issue of how you incorporated children into your lives and your politics, as well as the issue of male children, became more transparent really and more practically… they were there but you couldn’t, it wasn’t just a theoretical debate, it was how you actually incorporated them into your lives.

And women living a whole mix of relationships, I mean, you know, people living in more open relationships or having a number of partners and then people being, you know, very clear that they only wanted to be in… a partner… and have only one partner and how you actually managed all that, and what was the right thing to do and how did you… In a way quite exciting and quite dynamic. I had friends who were lesbians and then suddenly they would get married to a man, out of nowhere it felt like. It was… it felt like people were dipping their toes in the water a lot more and women prepared to take risks, a lot of risks taken, in their own lifestyles, living in co-ops or living in different collectives and things. So it was all very dynamic.

I think women’s groups at the time worked in lots of different ways. [Shout from upstairs] You could have…

Yeah, I think the organisation depended on what it was, so if we were campaigning against something, then issues of raising money, doing posters, how you actually organised it and people had different views about that. And then on the other hand there was the whole growth of consciousness raising groups, so at different times I was in different groups where I, in different towns, which were more informally organised or had started originally around let’s debate all these issues that there are to debate, read articles and talk about them. That would then degenerate into a much more personal consciousness raising type group, but you know, you could do everything from self-exam to… Marxist politics. It was quite a lot of diversity in the sort of things you did, depending on where people were at at the time as well. Noticeably childcare became an issue when everyone started having children, then that was ‘oh right’, how do we keep on having our lives and have children too, and share them, and all those sorts of things, different roles that people played in each other’s children’s lives as well.

Yes, so one of the things obviously for me was I came from socialist politics and worked with a lot with straight men and had involvement in the campaigns. In the campaigns I was involved in there were less gay men, or men who were less obviously gay, involved with those campaigns up until, really up until the late ‘80s, early ‘90s I think, when gay men seemed to become more involved in those broader issues. Although obviously they had been involved all the way through, and around the miner’s strike, there were a lot of gay men involved in those campaigns, but I was less involved personally with campaigns where there were ‘out’ gay men involved.

Looking back it was an amazing time because there was so much opportunity to be involved … in such a diversity of campaigns and organisations and discussions about every aspect of life, and the sort of society that we wanted. Interestingly, I feel that some of those things were less effective than I like to think they were and, you know, what changes have come as a result, particularly for young women today, and I’m much less involved in anything overtly political now. And yet I see there are things going, happening, action taking place around a wide range of things which I think are really important but I’m not actually very involved with and I think… it’s very inspiring to think that people are willing to take those things on in an environment that’s much more difficult… much less open in a way, even though we weren’t aware of it at the time. It seemed to be OK to do all these, to be involved in things which were quite risky in lots of ways, to get involved in big demonstrations with thousands of people, with the police involved and horses and all sorts of things, whereas now I think the police have got techniques which make it much more difficult for people to actively get involved in demonstrations for example or, you know things like, Greenham Common, you know that, to just be able to go somewhere and camp out, just outside this camp and do things… I don’t know whether you could get away with doing that now. You know, how, maybe people do, they take all sorts of risks around power stations… camping in the middle of town, I would never have thought of that.