About m/f a feminist journal

m/f a feminist journal was self-published in London by its unpaid editorial group, with ten issues appearing between 1978 and 1986. Its printing and distribution costs were covered by sales and subscriptions. Print runs varied between an initial 1,000 copies and later print runs of 1,500 and 2,000.

The idea of the journal developed following the ‘Patriarchy Conference’ held in London on 15/16 May1976, which was organised by a collective of women from a number of feminist study groups - primarily in London but connecting widely across Britain - who had begun to see a need for a larger forum to discuss the development of theoretical ideas within the Women’s Movement. Several of us who later became the m/f editorial group helped organise the conference and contributed to the subsequent publication of papers given at the conference in a collection, The Patriarchy Papers, published by the Women’s Publishing Collective in December 1976. Following the conference we felt the need for a new journal that would develop debate, and m/f was created with Parveen Adams, Rosalind Coward and Elizabeth Cowie as editors, later joined by Beverley Brown, with the first issue appearing in February 1978. Rosalind Coward left the journal later in the same year, shortly after the second issue, We continued the practice of editorials till number 5/6 in 1981. In 1983 Beverley Brown took up a post in Australia.

In our first editorial in m/f no 1 we stated that:

m/f sees its work as a contribution to the development of political and theoretical debate within what is loosely called the Women's Movement.

Further that:

We are interested in how women are produced as a category; it is this which determines the subordinate position of women. Some feminists have taken up psychoanalysis as providing an account of the process of the construction of the sexed subject in society. This is seen as important because it is with the construction of sexual difference and its inscription in the social that feminism is concerned. But psychoanalysis has had little to say on the relationship of this construction to particular historical moments, nor the effect that considering the historical moment might have on psychoanalytic theory itself. Thus psychoanalysis is not a sufficient theory for understanding the construction of women as a category.

The particular historical moment, the institutions and practices within which and through which the category of woman is produced must be addressed. This is not a problem of origins but of the continual production of the sexual division within those institutions and practices.

The problem of the production of sexual division has been addressed in this issue in a number of ways: through an examination of how psychoanalysis constructs the category of woman, how marxism conceptualises the sexual division of labour, and how discursive practices such as film produce the category of women.

We hope that m/f will be open to questions which will advance theoretical and political considerations of women today. m/f places itself as a predominantly theoretical journal and we believe that at this moment this work is of major importance for feminism. But we also believe that a politics cannot be read off from theory and that theory can never be a substitute for politics. One of our foremost aims therefore will be the development of a theoretical debate on women's politics; a debate which must take place in relation to existing socialist and feminist politics.

In m/f no 2 we published a number of articles by men, a decision that was addressed in the editorial:

A central tenet of the politics of the Women's Movement has been autonomy, from the established male-dominated left (or any other) political groupings, and autonomy as a women-only movement. Nevertheless there are notable exceptions, where feminists have worked together with men and with specific left groupings- the NationalAbortion Campaign, or the Working Women's Charter Campaign. The problems this has thrown up, on precisely feminist grounds, have been discussed extensively in the Women's Movement. The necessity for collaboration and its difficulties remain crucial issues. Thus autonomy, while at times constructed in terms of a sex war, as a response to 'essential antagonisms' between men and women, is also more pragmatically a recognition of the effects of sexual difference as sexual division.

This is especially relevant to m/f’s project as a theoretical journal inasmuch as theory has been the traditional preserve of men, with rare incursions by women. Our political response to these problems has been to work as a women-only group with a commitment to encouraging and developing work by women. Yet we are also publishing work by men.

That is, within m/f we are drawing on and developing theoretical work by men as well as by women. Theory is not sexually differentiated, is not male or female. But we wish to emphasise the importance of the appropriation and production of theory by women for women. Hence the basis on which men contribute to m/f raises a number of difficulties both for the editorial group and for the journal's relation to the Women's Movement. It raises the question, in what way men can, and should, contribute to the elaboration of the strategies and objectives of the Women's Movement. What would it mean to confine any contribution by men to the area of theory, the area of their traditional dominance? Or, on the other hand, to publish direct interventions by men in feminist politics? The balance being held within m/f is, we hope, one between autonomy as isolation, and a collaboration which subsumes and submerges the specific problems of women.

With m/f no 7 the editors were joined by an advisory group: Diane Adlam, Maud Ellmann, Mary Kelly, Chantal Mouffe, Constance Penley, Nancy Wood.

In m/f no 10 1985 we published papers from the conference we organised in London in June 1984:

Conference Issue

The papers and discussions in this issue are from the m/f conference held in London in June 1984. There were speakers from Britain, France and the USA and women from Holland and Italy also attended. The aim of the conference was an interchange of work between French speaking and English speaking feminists; we knew of the existence of work in France with which we were not familiar and guessed that some of the work in English was relatively unknown there. Genevieve Fraisse, who does research at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique is working on the relation of feminist thought to philosophical
texts. Her approach, given the French philosophical tradition, raises questions that are new to us. Françoise Ducrocq researches and teaches at the Université Paris 7, UER Institut D' Anglais Charles V. She takes up the issue of state funding of feminist research and projects. This is a question which has emerged for feminists in many other countries but it was elaborated in the specific context of the first Socialist government in France. Catherine Millot is a practising psychoanalyst and she teaches at the University of Paris at Vincennes. She belongs to the Lacanian school and her recent work has addressed the question of the specific nature of the feminine super-ego. Constance Penley teaches film at the University of Illinois and is an editor of Camera 0bscura, a journal of feminism and film theory. She presents a powerful critique of the cinematic apparatus as a 'bachelor machine' and explores the issue of woman's place in current theories of cinema. This kind of feminist engagement with film theory is little represented in France. Bea Campbell is a freelance journalist, and a news reporter on City Limits and has written and spoken widely on feminism and socialism. She discusses issues of employment in the context of trade union struggles, women's struggles in trade unions, and the relation of these to the women's movement in Britain. The nature of these relations is very different in France.

We would like to give specific thanks to a number of people: Chantal Mouffe, whose knowledge of women's research in France and whose efforts in contacting speakers made the conference possible. Jacqueline Rose, who made the discussions possible by her impromptu and brilliant translation of French contributions into English. Nancy Wood for her help in planning and organising the conference. Hilary All en for her spectacular catering effort! Our thanks also to Claire Buck, Celia Cowie, Judith Druks, Laura Marcus, Emilia Steuerman. And finally, but not least, our thanks to all those who contributed to the discussions which helped to make the conference such a success.

In 1986 we published our last issue, m/f nos 11/12, which included an interview for the Dutch women’s journal Tijdschrift voor Vrouwen Studies and was conducted by Mieke Aerts and Saskia Grotenhuis. Beverley Brown was by then in Australia when this interview took place. The interview was published in Dutch in 1985 in no 21 of the journal. Although the interview was not produced for m/f we thought it was useful for our last issue as an explication of our view of m/f’s work that emerged from the well-informed, probing, yet sympathetic questions of Mieke Aerts and Saskia Grotenhuis.

In 1990 a selection from the 12 issues of m/f , including all our editorials, was published as The Woman in Question, as an October book by MIT press, Cambridge, MA, in hardback and by Verso, London, in paperback. Edited by Parveen Adams and Elizabeth Cowie, it included the following acknowledgements, many of which had earlier appeared in our last issue, m/f nos 11/12. We would like to include these here in recognition of the help of so many in the project and publication of m/f.


First we would like to thank the women who worked with us on m/f's editorial group: Rosalind Coward, who made it possible to plan and publish the journal in 1978; and Beverley Brown, who joined us later that year and made an invaluable contribution to shaping and sustaining the journal over the next seven years.

We would like to acknowledge the support we drew from our advisory group between the years 1982 and 1986: Diana Adlam, Maud Ellmann, Mary Kelly, Chantal Mouffe, Constance Penley, Nancy Wood. We thank them for their help and advice.

We offer thanks to those close to us personally: Parveen Adams to Mark Cousins for all the forms of his allegiance, especially his wit and criticism; Elizabeth Cowie to Anne Cottringer, Celia Cowie, Nancy Wood, and Glenn Bowman for their help, support, and encouragement.

We thank many other people for their moral and material support of m/f those who made the first issue of m/f possible through their donations; our subscribers, both personal and institutional; the purchasers of single copies; our contributors and translators; those who have helped at conferences, workshops and with sticking down envelopes; our printers, Billing and Sons of London and Worcester. To Norma Kitson and Red Lion Setters, our typesetters from the beginning, we have always felt a deep gratitude. We owe many thanks to Ben Brewster for his help and for the translations, which he was always ready and willing to do for us.

Joan Copjec and Ernesto Laclau encouraged us to pose some questions again and so made The Woman in Question possible. We thank them both; and very special thanks to Joan for looking after this book.

We are grateful to the holders of copyright to the French texts for permission to print translations: Michele Montrelay, "Recherches sur la femininite," L'Ombre et le Nom, Editions de Minuit, 1977; Moustafa Safouan, "L'Oedipe est-il universel?" Etudes sur L'Oedipe, Editions du Seuil, 1974; Moustafa Safouan, "Les hommes et les femmes," 1983; Catherine Millot, "Le surmoi féminin," Ornicar? no. 29, 1984.