These were formally adopted at the following conference the next year a further three were added at a later conference. In November of , anyone turning on their television to watch the Miss World contest would have been presented with a different spectacle to the one scheduled. Activists descended upon the Royal Albert Hall, the venue for the pageant, to disrupt the event in protest of the way it objectified women. And disrupt it they did, pelting the stage, hosts and participants with flour bombs, tomatoes and stink bombs.
People watching at home even went out into the streets to join the protests, and they caused so much chaos that the event had to be abandoned. Five activists were arrested.
In the months that followed, away from the dramatic spotlight of direct action, there were more practical, local activists working tirelessly for the cause. Such groups would have ranged from refuges that offered women security in the face of domestic violence to basic centres where women could gain free family planning and legal advice.
At these hubs, feminist publications were also circulated. Newsletters and leaflets communicated local feminist news, while magazines such as Spare Rib and, later, Shocking Pink, helped to communicate the messages of the movement, report on any political progress and threats, and to organise and report on direct action — of which there was plenty to discuss. Arguably, the centre of activity on this front was Leeds, where the most extreme example of violence against women could be found — the Yorkshire Ripper, later discovered to be Peter Sutcliffe, was at large.
Between and , Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and assaulted seven more. At the time, the police advised that women should not go out at night, especially not without a male escort. This was hardly the message to send to a group of empowered women, and it was perceived as an extension of victim-blaming: why curfew the potential victims as opposed to the potential perpetrators?
To the feminists of the Leeds area, this could not be borne. Such rifts had long divided the feminist community, and continue to do so to this day. It is small wonder, then, that through the sixties and seventies, feminism developed a remarkable number of branches. In her book Radical Feminism , Finn Mackay lists liberal feminism, socialist feminism, anarcho-feminism, black feminism, womanism, eco-feminism, radical feminism, lesbian feminism, separatist feminism, pro-feminism and revolutionary feminism as just some of the schools recognised today. National lesbian feminist conferences began in , the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent formed in and, in , Southall Black Sisters was founded, in order to support all black and Asian women in the fight against racism and domestic violence.
The extent and diversity of feminist support and action at this time was incredible. The primary concerns had increased from the four demands, too. Objectives ranged from political representation to abortion rights and combating racist immigration laws. There were only a handful of topics that truly united them all, but one of them was violence against women.
Into the s, such campaigns increased and became more militant. It is perhaps all the more alarming then that, today, two more waves of feminism down the line, violence against women, and the sexual coercion of women, are still everyday occurrences. As more and more Harvey Weinstein-like stories pour out of Hollywood, the statistics from the UK deliver just as much cause for concern.
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Thus, although the strike paved the way for the Equal Pay Act, its outcome showed that society was not quite ready to recognise full equality between the sexes. Yet, for women, this imposed outlook was becoming increasingly dissatisfying and many were feeling discontented with their lives. Thanks to technological progress and the mass production of modern appliances such as fridges, washing machines, electric stoves etc.
Perhaps an even more important development was the medical advances and the laws passed in the s relating to contraception and abortion which meant that women were now able to fully control their fertility. In her ground-breaking book, Sex, Gender and Society , she defended the idea of distinguishing between sex and gender:. Women became aware that their subordinate position to men was not determined by so-called natural traits but mostly due to conditioning through unequal social structures.
It was characterised by a myriad different types of public actions led by women that ranged from demonstrations, protest marches, strikes to music festivals, artistic events or drama performances; from workshops to conferences, that were heavily publicised and analysed thanks to a flourishing multifaceted feminist press. It lasted over a decade until the early s when it lost its impetus under the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher but there is no denying that it has had profound long term impacts on mentalities, especially on the way women see themselves and are seen in society.
Although in need of protection from different circumstances, both working-class and middle-class men combine to secure their sanctuary. Some people are very critical of unions. They say they are bureaucratic and only concerned to improve wages. Also, the structure of unions tends to exclude women from the executive, so the particular interests of women are not considered.
We recognise that unions have many limitations, and that these limitations are most obvious in the case of women workers. However, to join a union is still the necessary first step if women are going to get better conditions at work. Like American first and second-wave feminists, British feminists compared women to Black people. Led by Jayaben Desai and Kalaben Patel, a group composed mainly of female Asian workers dissatisfied with the way they were treated by the management of the firm, went on strike and demanded the right to join a union.
Although they had the support of rank and file unionists, the dispute ended with the defeat of the strikers because the leadership of the TUC and APEX Association of professional Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff retreated from mass picketing and withdrew their support 28 leaving the women, once again, disillusioned with trade unions. As Amrit Wilson underlined:. At Grunwick this unity of the working class was achieved.
The British Women’s Liberation Movement in the s: Redefining the Personal and the Political
Hundreds of trade unionists came day after day to support the Grunwick strikers on the picket line. The white working class had been weakened by their dependence on these leaders. They felt that it was up to them to find their own path to emancipation and that this emancipation would not necessarily mean that they should become westernised:. They can support them in their other struggles, and are sometimes doing so.
The Women's Liberation Movement
For example, during the Grunwick strike white feminists have gone out there day after day and helped with picketing. That is the sort of support they could give to Asian women. Because it would be patronising interference and would be seen as such. The hour nurseries, sometimes presented or understood as an anti-family measure, as a way for women to forsake their motherly duties, was in fact intended to provide free childcare for women whenever they needed it, for instance for women working shifts.
Among feminists, it was widely agreed that the family should not be the primary responsibility of women, that domestic duties should be shared equally between men and women, that just as men were, women should be entitled to financial independence. They also defended the idea that their bodies were their own and although access to contraception and abortion had been greatly facilitated by the laws passed in the s, there were still battles to be fought on that front, all the more so as in the mids, James White, a Labour MP sponsored a bill to tighten access to abortion.
At the national conference in Edinburgh, two demands were added to the first four: 5 Legal and financial independence for all women and 6 the right to a self-defined sexuality, an end to discrimination against lesbians. Yet, as the movement grew, diverging views developed and the divide between socialist feminists and radical feminists appeared more and more irreconcilable.
The idea that women as a class should free themselves from the tyranny of male aggression by becoming political lesbians 37 and by creating safe separate spaces for women was met with strong negative reactions from socialist feminists. The Birmingham conference ended in chaos and no-one dared organise another one after such an experience. It was the last national conference and it marked the end of a united BWLM. As noted by historian Barbara Caine:. The movement thus contributed to major transformations of institutions through the passing of landmark laws 39 notably: The Equal Pay Act of that came into force in ; 40 The Employment Protection Act of which made provisions for the protection of pregnant women in terms of maternity leave and pay; The Sex Discrimination Act of which aimed to promote equality between women and men and to provide equal opportunities to both sexes.
It also established the Equal Opportunities Commission EOC to which grievances could be taken in case of unequal treatment; The Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act of 41 which enabled married women to obtain a court order against their husbands; The Housing Act Homeless Persons of which provided accommodation for battered wives.
The recommendations given to women, which consisted in advising them to avoid going out alone at night, highlighted the lack and inadequacy with which the State responded to such issues. It was not until that wage parity was achieved for the Ford workers in Dagenham 43 and today British women still earn less than men: the overall gender pay gap is As noted by Sheila Rowbotham, the WLM seemed to appear from nowhere 47 and yet, for many, it seemed long overdue.
In order to overcome these feelings of guilt, women needed to become aware of the fact that the way they lived their lives was not determined by immutable biological characteristics but dictated by socially constructed ideas that were imposed on them and veiled as natural. One way to achieve this awareness was through consciousness-raising groups. Her argument had been that just as male workers needed to be made aware of their oppression, women had to un-cover their own.
Ann Forer had proceeded to ask her women friends to give examples of their own oppression so that she could raise her own consciousness. CR was understood to be a process whereby women would become aware of their own oppression and would thereby develop feminist views and practices. Like in any other gatherings of the WLM, there were no leaders, no hierarchies. In a BBC documentary Ann Oakley recalled with regret that when in her book, Sex, Gender and Society was published she did not mention it to her CR group because she did not want to appear to show off.
The logic behind this rule was that CR was at the same time an individual and a collective process and that therefore any addition of new members would entail repetition and slow down group progress. A specific topic was chosen for each session and all members personally committed as they presented in turn and uninterrupted their personal testimonies.
If initially women would feel uncomfortable about revealing intimate parts of their lives, they soon understood the benefits of engaging in such practices as it became clear that their problems were not just theirs. Once everyone had spoken, the group would sum up, discuss and analyse what had been said in order to draw theoretical conclusions. Its purpose was not for group members to solve their private problems but to help them discover that what they thought were failures of their own were in fact shared by other women and as such, constituted political problems that required collective solutions.
For thousands of women CR was a crucial step in realising that they had been conditioned into believing that their primary duties were domestic ones.