Arena Three Magazine and the Construction of the Middlebrow Lesbian Reader

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


As the first lesbian magazine printed in Britain, Arena Three (1964-1971) holds a special place in both lesbian history and, by extension, the history of women’s periodical and print culture. From its first issue, in the spring of 1964, Arena Three’s editors sought to position the magazine at the centre of popular media and medico-scientific discourses of lesbianism as well as providing a public platform through which lesbian women across Britain (and internationally) could read about and discuss a wide variety of topics pertinent to lesbian life and identity. Indeed, such is Arena Three’s significance in post-war lesbian culture, that lesbian historian Rebecca Jennings has credited the magazine with the emergence of an early lesbian collective identity.

However, this ‘collective identity’ was not all-encompassing, nor did Arena Three seek to represent all lesbians within its pages. Rather, for the editorial board, Arena Three was a vehicle through which a particular respectable and – it was hoped – palatable version of lesbian identity was presented and mobilised. In this essay I argue that the image of lesbianism that emerges from the pages of Arena Three is, above all, of the middle-class and professional woman, and that this image ultimately served the assimilationist aims of the editorial board.

Lifestyle articles on antiquing and holidays in the South of France, and practical advice sections on appropriate (feminine) ‘office wear’ sought to cultivate an image of lesbian women as educated, solvent and inherently conventional, with only their choice of sexual partner to differentiate them from the average professional woman. Rejections of butch identity, along with the working-class lesbian bar culture that was seen to perpetuate it, bolstered this delineation of the acceptable face of lesbianism in post-war Britain. The magazine’s book review section, hitherto unexamined by historians, steered a cautious route through middle-brow lesbian-themed fiction. Lesbian pulp fiction, despite its prominence during the period, was ‘sludge’ to be avoided. At the other end of the spectrum, highbrow literature was treated with suspicion. Through these various routes of careful positioning, Arena Three’s editorial board sought to cultivate their readership in the magazine’s own image.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen's Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1940s-2000s
Subtitle of host publicationThe Contemporary Period
EditorsJoanne Hollows, Laurel Forster, Melinda Harvey
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • lesbian history
  • lesbian
  • women's periodicals
  • Arena Three

Cite this