Diana Rigg may have hung up her catsuit years ago but Catriona Smith ﬁnds she is still a big inﬂuence on the Lesbian Avengers, who are featured in Channel 4's Dyke TV season.
It's a drizzly April morning at a house in Devon and
a dozen or so women carrying placards huddle round the front door chanting ‘iimma! Emma? We want to
see iimma!‘ These are no pop-obssessed teenage fans 2
hoping for a glimpse of their idol. The iimma in question is Emma Nicholson MP and her uninvited guests are the Lesbian Avengers.
In just over a year. the Lesbian Avengers‘ brand of feminist ire combined with the kind of feisty in-your- face protest favoured by gay rights campaigners ()utrage! and Act-Up has earned them a great deal of exposure. This weekend Channel 4 is screening the group‘s self-made documentary We Recruit as part of its oh-so-controversial Dyke TV season. The qtrality ofcampaign groups‘ home movies varies enormously. but this one's a corker.
The film documents protests from the past six months. intercut with comments by older lesbian campaigners and the Avengers themselves. The ‘old guard' often dismiss younger dykes as hedonistic and apolitical. btit Ros Ilopkins. co-founder of the London chapter. disagrees.
‘Lesbians have always been active. always been at the forefront ofcampaigns.’ she says. ‘I’ersonally I don‘t feel there is an inertia to overcome ~ l‘ve certainly got gripes with “lesbian chic” but on the positive side. it has helped create a lesbian scene separate from the gay scene.‘ So how does that translate to campaigning'.’ ‘In mixed groups campaigns tend to centre around gay sexuality 7
cruising. cottaging [picking tip men in public toilets]. the age of consent debate - which marginalises trs. Lesbians can only be political about things in their lives.‘
Although the group's intention is to raise ‘lesbian visibility" Hopkins stresses that it is not a solution in itself. ‘Increased visibility doesn't mean that you‘re not going to face homophobia. or know how to tackle it.‘ she says. ‘but it does mean that lesbian issues are disseminated through a wider media.‘ Though as was the case with their visit to iimma Nicholson MP. the publicity is not always favourable and the group were
‘Most gay men come out through sex, through cruising. Lesbians don’t have anything equivalent.’
portrayed as cranks. Nicholson was targetted for her support of Clause 28 and opposed an equal age of consent for gay men. despite being joint president of the llN’s Year of 'I‘olerance. ‘You have to be robust. but the reporting of that incident was farcical.‘ says Hopkins. ‘The purpose of the action was so that the media would report the issues we were concerned abotrt. but the coverage was just annoying.‘
Visibility is not an easy thing to gauge. as any burnt-out activist can testify. On one hand. this year's
Lesbian Avengers: doing it in the media Pride march was the Ill'sl to be Ircaded by lesbians. on the other. glossy. lipsticked femme-dykes (kisses censored) are on primetime telly. ‘It's just so trite.’ sighs Hopkins. ‘Wc're losing our jobs. having our children taken away and all the media are interested in is what shade of lipstick you wear.’
Fortunately visibility isn‘t the only payoff. ‘Most people come to the Lesbian Avengers to get a girlfriend.‘ smirks novelist Sarah Schulman. founder ofthe New York chapter who is interviewed in W) Rt't'l'llll. Ilopkins is less Ilippant. ‘l)on‘t underestimate the social aspect of the Lesbian Avengers.‘ she says. ‘It gives women the opportunity to come out in a meaningful way. Most gay men come out through se.\‘. through cruising. Lesbians don't have anything equivalent. Some peoplejust come for sis months and leave entirely transformed -- feeling stronger and empowered.‘
So the sisters are. after all. doing it for themselves. No one is so hard on lesbians as other lesbians. yet they get a nod of approval from the old guard for their self-bronrotion skills. Interviewed for We lt’r't'rull. former editor of Supp/1n magazine Jackie Foster is impressed: "I'hey woo Lesbian Avengers for interviews. . . that to me is activism working.‘
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The Spin: media insider John Sweeney
It you want to know what British television is going to be like tomorrow, watch American programmes today. It’s a broadcasting cliche, but one a new media magazine show reckons otten holds good. Presented by Observer journalist John Sweeney, The Spin promises to take a ‘sceptical, insider’s view at the media industry’. British media stories, ranging trom tabloids to the Internet, will be interspersed with regular Stateside reports which may well give I an glimpse into the future of our own
According to producer David Okuetuna who has just returned from the US, American networks are currently in a tail-spin about the so- calied ‘V-chip’, a gizmo which allows
3 becomes law, television
% parents to filter out the sex and bad ; language trom their kids’ viewing. It an amendment in a piece at
manufacturers would be forced to put the censor chip in every set. The broadcasters would be required to give every programme they screen a rating; anything that warranted a ‘V’ I would be automatically blocked by the ; chip unless a numerical code is entered into the TV handset.
Bill Clinton has said he backs the idea and the networks are currently 1 lobbying hard against it, arguing the legislation could infringe their First Amendment right at tree speech. ‘I believe the V-chip is a political tool to E deter attention from gun control in
this country,’ Don Kurt, producer at American cop show New York Undercover, tells The Spin. The concern is that television producers will start censoring themselves to avoid a V rating which could deter viewers. ‘The risk is obviously less interesting TV programmes,’ says ABC network vice-president Julie Hoover. ’It may be that we’ll start editing things out that we know in our heart of hearts are 0K.’
And as Okuetuna points out, with so many American programmes shown on British television, the V chip could
have an indirect effect on what we watch too. (Eddie Gibb)
The Spin starts on Wednesday 13 September on 8802.
The List 8-2l Sept I995 77