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Julie Bindel Headshot

Where Have All the Buttons Gone?

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Where have all the badges (buttons) gone? In the 1970s and '80s those of us on the political left used to declare our views on bits of metal pinned onto denim and leather, whereas today we have wrist bands and coloured ribbons. Recently we have seen loads of eye-catching slogans on the student demos, such as 'Kettles are for tea, not for students,' and 'Fine, I'll be a stripper then!,' but on placards not coat lapels. Badges make a message so much more intimate. It is difficult to walk into your local shop brandishing a banner with the words, 'This shit wouldn't happen at Hogwarts' (seen at an Occupy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_London demo recently), but you can flash it anywhere on your T-shirt. My mate Rose used to melt crisp packets to make badges when she was at school. It beats having to rely on the Socialist Worker Party to get your slogans out there.

I particularly felt the loss of the badge when Kate Middleton and Prince William announced their engagement. Thirty years ago, when Charles and Diana announced theirs, we feminists had great fun with it. My favourite badge was 'Don't Do it Di!'. Then there was the cheeky 'I did it with Di,' and I particularly recall another, 'I had to kiss a lot of frogs' as a speech bubble coming out of Di's mouth.

The anti-domestic violence and rape activists had a good selection: 'Refuse to be Abused,' 'Battered Women Need Refuges,' and 'You Can't Beat A Woman.' There were also warnings to men with the marvelous, 'Beware I'm Armed and Have Premenstrual Tension.'

Lesbians would come up with our own special designs. I remember one woman at a conference wearing a massive, bright badge emblazoned with the words, 'Do NOT assume I am heterosexual.' Ironic, because its owner was so butch she looked like she could kick-start her own vibrator.

'A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle' is now a well-used slogan adopted today by even the most liberal of feminists. Back in the day it was occasionally worn by disgruntled heterosexual women who would swipe it off when a tasty man came into view.

I favoured the more militant slogans such as the likes of 'Dynamite Dykes,' 'Beneath every woman's curve lies a muscle,' and, in a warning to rapists, 'Free Castration on Demand,' with a picture of a pair of scissors. Unsurprisingly I was never short of a dirty look on the bus when I wore my 'Don't call me a lezzer, I slept with your wife' button.

The women's peace camp at Greenham Common in the UK also inspired a few, such as 'I am one of them common women from Greenham,' and 'Every Floozie Needs an Uzi.'

One friend remembers her mother's favourite badge that read like an eye test.

"It had a big Y at the top, the next line was a smaller 'B A' then in little letters at the bottom, it said 'wife'. She made me the talk of my primary school when she wrote to my teacher: "Can you please stop calling me Mrs? I am not married to the bastard anymore."

There were the non-threatening funny ones: 'Pink fluffy bunnies against the Nazis,' 'Stuff the Jubilee,' 'Women who read too much; cogito ergo sum'; and 'Of all the things I've lost it's my mind I miss the most.'

Political activist Deborah Coles raked through her old badge box for me and found she still had 'Free abortion on demand,' '1'm just another bleeding feminist,' 'I'm glad Gillick [Victoria, who campaigned in the early 1980s against sex education and contraception for teenage girls] is not my mother,' 'Wicked witches were created by frightened men,' 'NO to male violence,' 'Women against pit closures,' 'When God made man she was only testing,' and 'Stop clause 28.'

Wanda Goldwag wore one in the early 1980s that read, 'Every women can be a lesbian.' It was pinned to her lapel when she met the out lesbian Tory Member of Parliament Margo James, who took it to heart. Soon afterwards her and Goldwag fell for each other, and the rest is history.

If I had to chose my favourite? There was a brilliant campaign in the north of England 30 years ago to end the ban on full membership for women in working men's clubs, with badges reading 'A woman's right to cues,' in reference to the snooker ban. But the one the holds a special place in my heart is 'I'm the sort of person my parents warned me about.'