Radical feminist collective See Red Women’s Workshop was ahead of its time in the battle to fight sexism in advertising, marketing, and the media. Now more than 40 years since the wittily designed images were created, London-based publisher Four Corners Books has released a paperback collection of posters by the group.
Written by former members, See Red Women’s Workshop Feminist Posters 1974-1990 explains how the group was set up by three former art students in 1973 who produced powerful silk-screened posters that examined the oppressive nature of domesticity and the corrupting effects of a patriarchal society.
45 women joined See Red during the years it ran. Together they produced posters, illustrations, postcards, and calendars in London’s South East End and Camden district, funding the venture from sales and community donations. Working collectively was central to the group’s ethos: they shared skills and knowledge, produced work that explored personal experiences, and never credited one sole member to a print. The works express opinions on housework, childcare, and sexuality as well as everyday sexism and racism. By using the poster as a way to promote women’s empowerment, the pictures actively and provocatively challenged the negative impact of stereotypes that distort image culture.
As social theorist Sheila Rowbotham writes in her introduction to the book, its publication is a reflection of the resurgence of interest in See Red’s poster designs—recently, galleries, museums, and design festivals have been featuring the artwork, and a new generation of feminists has found that the drawings and slogans articulate contemporary concerns and frustrations. “The posters seem able to speak to different generations,” writes Rowbotham. “Although it indicates […] that the struggle for women’s freedom and equality is far from over.”
For this month’s Poster Picks we’ve selected five See Red Women’s Workshop posters taken from the new book. With captions written by the See Red Members, these examples exemplify the movement’s message, their approach to the medium, and the variety of techniques that were used.
Which One Are You? (1974)
An early See Red poster, made using an actual, unretouched, Letraset art sheet depicting women in various roles: wife, girlfriend, mother, out to dinner with hubby, shopping, etc. Letraset was used widely by graphic designers at the time and could be bought in individual sheets. We just added the question, as we didn’t recognise these representations of ourselves in these images.
Disc Jockey (1973)
One of three posters (along with Protest and Women Unite) that were designed and printed by Pru Stevenson at Camden Road before See Red was founded and subsequently adopted by the group. Many women, in particular mothers of small children, spent long hours and days at home on their own with a radio as their companion and link to the outside world. If you wished to listen to pop music and the latest hits, you had to endure the insidious and overtly sexist male disc jockeys dominant at that time.
Don’t Let Racism Divide Us (1978)
A hand-drawn version had been made for the 1976 calendar and we went on to sell it in a new form as a separate poster. Later, we saw a photo by Syd Shelton taken at the 1977 Lewisham demonstration against the National Front and changed the design to use this image—it seemed the most active and relevant illustration of our ideas. We wanted to show that women were fully involved in these protests and campaigns.
Girls are Powerful (1979)
Around this time, we also started to develop images that presented a positive and celebratory angle to Women’s Liberation. With this aim, we wanted to show that girls can do anything and are powerful in their own right. With the advent of young women’s youth work in the late 1970s, young women began participating in activities such as pool, previously the domain of young men, and this was a new image to play with. Young women’s groups, activities, events and projects grew and, despite some resistance, became an integral part of youth work, and the poster was also used in youth clubs to encourage young women to attend.
Lesbians Are Coming Out (1982)
Feminist image-making in the early 1980s was a tricky business. The arguments of radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin about pornography as violence against women in itself, with slogans like“Porn is the theory, rape is the practice” were hotly debated, raising the question of how to represent women’s sexuality. So how to make a positive, inspiring, feminist, lesbian poster in this political climate? After much discussion we opted to use drawings rather than photographs and to include images of women which were not stereotyped to make the point that “you can’t always tell” and“every woman can be”.