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MNers who were woman-ing the barricades and burning bras to enable us to win the right to have oral contraceptives, rights at work and the rest - come and tell me about Feminism in the 70s and 80s!

(57 Posts)
tabouleh Sun 29-Aug-10 13:35:53

What the thread title says really!

I've become aware that there are some inspirational MNers who were active in the 70s and 80s and I'd be really interested to know more.

Also are we (women) where you expected us to be in 2010?

What do you think of the recent revitalisation of the feminist movement?

SugarMousePink Sun 29-Aug-10 13:44:30

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TheButterflyEffect Sun 29-Aug-10 13:54:26

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OldLadyKnowsNothing Sun 29-Aug-10 14:26:04

I'm not particularly inspirational, but I was around in the '70's and '80's. We already had the right to contraception when I was a teenager, though it wasn't always easy to access; the first GP I asked (and I girded my loins to do so, he played golf with my dad every week!) said he didn't believe in giving the Pill to girls under 17 (I was 16), so I had to repeat the entire experience with his partner, a known sleaze. Then I had to travel to my nearest big city to get the prescription filled, because my dad was the local pharmacist - but that was a personal issue, not a common one, obviously.

Rights at work... we didn't really have many. I recall my dad opening a new shop about 1975, and going through letters of application for jobs at the dining room table. Any applications from "Mrs" anyone were binned right away, (probable childcare issues) are were applications from women in their early twenties "because they'll just get married and go off and have babies". This from a father of three daughters! shock One of the many things I regret about his early death is that I never really got to discuss those issues with him as an adult.

Even as late as 1987, when I gave birth to DS1, I had virtually no maternity rights. You had to have been employed for two years by so many weeks before your expected date of delivery, and I missed it by a day or so. (An inaccurate scan, as it annoyingly turned out later, but hey ho!) As for help with childcare expenses, flexible working etc, nope, none of that.

SugarMousePink Sun 29-Aug-10 15:05:33

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OldLadyKnowsNothing Sun 29-Aug-10 15:27:52

I managed not to fall pregnant before I wanted to, but a friend had two terminations in the late 70's. It seemed quite easy for her to get them, though she had her mother onside, which I guess helped.

onimolap Sun 29-Aug-10 15:36:24

The key date in this period was 1976 when the first workplace equality legislation was brought in. Before that it was legal to pay different rates for exactly the same job. Also employers could before that require you to resign or downgrade you on marriage.

I think it was also in the 70s that they stopped routinely requiring single women to find a third party guarantor (usually her father) as part of a mortgage application.

I was a bit young for those campaigns, but was around for the change of sexual attitudes with the discovery of AIDS, when men first were faced with deadly serious consequences.

SugarMousePink Sun 29-Aug-10 15:40:38

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OldLadyKnowsNothing Sun 29-Aug-10 15:49:50

I got my "tombstone" leaflet in the same mail as my "Congratulations on the birth of DS1" cards. At the time, I thought, yeah, like I'm ever having sex again... grin

sarah293 Sun 29-Aug-10 16:02:25

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Maisiethemorningsidecat Sun 29-Aug-10 16:12:38

I was 20 in 1989 (oh shit, I am so old) and whilst I wouldn't have called myself a feminist as such, we definitely considered ourselves as equal to any man, knew that we could be whatever we wanted to be, and saw our futures as very as being very different from our mothers and grandmothers in terms of financial independence from our husbands and partners.

Now I look at young girls who seem to have no real identity, obsessed with fame, the here and now and quick money, and have so much pressure on them to conform to a certain image - although my logical head knows that's not true for all girls. Give me backcombed hair and DMs - and originality - any day!

SugarMousePink Sun 29-Aug-10 16:25:28

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camox Sun 29-Aug-10 16:35:14

I didn't do anything radical. For me, 'the personal was political' so my feminism was all about how I lived my life and managed my career.

I started work in the late 70s on a graduate training programme. There were seven of us: six lads and me. All the partners were middle aged men.
Nowadays there roughly equal numbers of men and women joining the profession. We women thought that, when we pioneers made it through the system to our middle age, then there would be loads of women partners. Partners are still mostly middle aged men.hmm This is in part due to men keeping us out but also due to us realising that we don't want the same thing as men. DH (a bit of a dinosaur at times) thinks that he is providing for his family by working silly hours. I think that I am providing for them by having a job that allows me to take time out for Sports Day etc. He thinks in terms of materialism, I think in terms of nurturing.

I changed jobs just before (unexpected) DD so got very little in the way of maternity rights (had to be with same employer for two years to earn those). I had three months' leave. We had to find all the cost of childcare ourselves: no vouchers or WTC.
After DS, I was again expected back after three months. When my Managing Director asked me one day about coming back to work I was a bit woolly about details (didn't say I wasn't coming back, just couldn't give him exact chapter and verse) so he blew his top and sacked me. I got the last laugh because that bit of sex discrimination cost him thousands of pounds.grin

When the DC were young there was no such thing as after school clubs. Unless I wanted a lowly paid mummy-hours job, I had to send the DC to private schools because they were the only ones who did wraparound care. Kids didn't go to school until they went (fulltime) at five y.o. so there was an awful lot of childcare to fund

It wasn't easy but at least we could afford to buy our way out of the challenges of raising kids. If you were lowly paid then the choice was between free childcare (i.e. your mum) or give up work.

Goblinchild Sun 29-Aug-10 17:12:33

"I was 20 in 1989 (oh shit, I am so old)"

Shut up!
I was 20 in 1980. grin

Being daddy's little princess, wearing dresses, long hair, no trousers until I was 1o and then not with a front zip. Territorial pissing contests between my dad and other boys/men. Jane-style tasks at home, brother gor to be Peter.
Being a teenager in the 70s.
You've watched Life On Mars and many others fantasised about Gene Hunt.
Casual, constant, embedded sexism sexual comments and groping with no one backing you up that it was wrong. So you learnt how to be spiky and ballsy back and took the flack that ensued.
Marching into a woodwork lesson at 11 and insisting that I didn't choose to do needlework and cookery, and that girls could use tools and make stuff with wood.
That lasted a month until I was made to behave appropriately. So I became the worst user of a sewing machine the school had ever known.
Arguing for the right to do chemistry at O level as well as Biology, as the A stream boys did.
Being involved in Greenham Common, having the right to wear trousers at work, finding at college and uni that I had to make my points effectively for some of the male teachers to pay attention, however much they thought of themselves as Warriors of Sexual Freedom from the 60s

Feeling that I could have any career that I was intellectually and physically capable of, regardless of gender.
Having male friends that I didn't sleep with, and staying over at their bedsits because they thought the same way.
Believing that a woman shouldn't be judged by her cover of makeup and frocks and simper but by the contents of her brain and spirit.
Refusing to play into the girly, flirty nonsense of gender politics. Or using the vocabulary that went with it.
Having relationships and then a marriage based in equality and respect, despite the confusion and mockery offered by relatives and acquaintances.
Raising my children with equality.

Book I'm currently reading...Living Dolls.

Jordan, Bratz, bloody pink everything, aggressive marketing at boys and girls and the parents shoving them as narrowly into their gender roles as in the 70s.
Plastic surgery, 0 size models, internet porn,the whole sorry saga that is mainstream gender. And to my weary eyes, it's women largely doing this to themselves and calling it being empowered.
I thought we'd be so much further on by now in Feminism, and more cohesive and supportive as a group with similar goals.
Do we teach Feminism in schools?
We teach rights and responsibilities, and equality of opportunity for all.

Quodlibet Sun 29-Aug-10 17:24:03

My mum was a very active feminist in the 70s and has told me quite a lot about it. She actually did speculum parties (all about demystifying the vagina) which sounds quite extreme now. She also told me that in her Women's Studies group, she was one of only 2 heterosexual women, and that a lot of time was spent trying to establish whether you could be heterosexual and a feminist at the same time. (My mum was arguing that she was pretty sure you could).

I must say I am extremely grateful for the way her feminist principles influenced my upbringing. My sister however declaims it all as a load of old cobblers and rues how we weren't allowed Barbies or Disney films.

Lilymaid Sun 29-Aug-10 17:41:18

I was also around in the 1970s and 80s but by no means an inspirational feminist. Anyway, here's my take on it.
As a child in the 1960s, I wasn't pushed to be more girly. I played outside a lot and wore trousers and sweatshirts. Never liked pink - and at least you weren't forced into wearing pink in those days. My parents encouraged me to do well at school, though my mother was less encouraging as she thought the best route for a girl was to become an "executive secretary" and marry your boss.
I did well at primary school (can't think of any real division between boys and girls then apart from cloakroom facilities!) and went to an all girl grammar school. No woodwork or technical drawing or engineering available there, but no problem if you wanted to do physics, chemistry, applied maths etc.
University - there was some discrimination there. It was just before Oxford and Cambridge mens colleges started taking women students, so a girl's chances of getting in were around 20% of that of a boy. I went to a university where around 1/3rd students were female and that was an exceptionally high figure.
Work - I ended up in a predominately female profession, so discrimination there was less pronounced. I do remember my boss (female) discouraging me from trying to set up a job share when DS1 was born in 1987. She suggested that I should look for a "little job" nearer home. Can't remember any problems about wearing trousers to work - though I mainly worked in the academic sector.
There was less child care available, though I always managed to find childminders for DS1. When DS2 arrived, I realised that I didn't earn enough to pay for afterschool childcare for one and all day care for the other, so was a SAHM mum, doing occasional freelance work for some time. After school clubs in my area started in the early 90s, so was able to use these when I got back to work.
Sorry, didn't burn my bra, go to Greenham, march for anything ... but I think I didn't experience enough injustice to fire my soul, whereas others plainly did.

tabouleh Sun 29-Aug-10 17:44:28

Thanks goblin (who I started this thread for) and others!

Really interesting. smile

Quite shocking though looking at your list goblin and the things you experienced and did and comparing it to the blue/pink there is now.

I learnt to read on the ladybird Peter and Jane scheme!

Of course the sterotypes Peter and Jane were based on history and what had come before. Looking at the actual changes there have been for women in the last 40 years I find the stereotypical segregation of childrens toys etc quite sinister. sad

Goblinchild Sun 29-Aug-10 18:00:23

'Thanks goblin (who I started this thread for) and others!'

I do feel a very special Grumpy Old Woman. grin

tallwivglasses Sun 29-Aug-10 19:40:16

Such interesting stories.
Hi Tabouleh (I know you make a point of waving at us lurkers blush )
Hi Goblinchild, any room in that caravan of yours?

A couple of weeks after my birth (1959) my dad had to go into hospital. Mum had nothing. She had to find a job, fast. I always knew her as working full-time (most of my friends had SAHM's), mind, she did 99% of the housework too...

I remember (1973?) a careers teacher coming to my (girls') school, saying, "I know you're all thinking you're going to get married so this is a waste of time, but divorce is on the rise so like it or not, some of you will HAVE to work!" confused Of course I wanted to work - like my mum! She enjoyed it!

I read The Female Eunuch at 17, but by 19 I was married, and certainly was made to feel a bit of a traitor.
Went for a job interview once at a youth club. I looked around and it was 90% boys, girly calendars in the office. Mid-interview, the guy answered the phone to another applicant, saying, "Yeah, come in. All we've had so far is them women's lib-types!"

Years later I was working in the youth service with girls' groups.

Thank god SOME things have changed for the better. Hey just had a thought...maybe it was down to them women's lib-types shock wink

tallwivglasses Sun 29-Aug-10 19:44:46

Sorry. Emoticon frenzy. It's all new to me.

Goblinchild Sun 29-Aug-10 19:56:50

Anyone else remember being set this puzzle?
A man and his son are driving down the motorway when they are involved in a hideous crash.
They are cut free from the wreckage and blue-lighted to the hospital with serious injuries.
The father dies in the ambulance and the son is rushed into surgery.
After prepping and a blood transfusion, the surgeon enters the room, looks at the patient and then says 'I can't operate on this man, he's my son'

How is it possible?



My father still hasn't solved it.smile

notsocrates Sun 29-Aug-10 20:08:27

I was around in the 70's and 80's too and whilst not active, very interested.

I remember the trick question, asked with a sneer from older men who had fought in the war (and were therefore immune to criticism):

"Are you one of those bra burning feminists?"

I learned to sidestep the trick "yes" or "no" answer with:

"If you mean do I believe in equal rights and equal pay for women, then yes."

That seemed to flummox most of them ;-) although a few would go on to say about how the change in law (equal pay act and then sex discrimination act) would mean women taking jobs away from men with families to support, and that women did not need as much pay as men as they only had themselves to consider. These were honestly regarded as a valid arguments.

I too had children before decent maternity rights: when pregnant with DC1 I had no right to keep my job as I had moved firms less than a year beforehand, for promotion. So with a 3 week old in the car, I went for a job interview and started work again when she was 3.5 months old. I was lucky I was in a shortage industry - despite that and a bluechip cv (top school, top uni, top firm) I only landed my interview in a much lower paid job (1/3 of the pay I was on before) when I explicitly addressed childcare in my application letter.

When I got pregnant with DC2 before 2 years was up which would have given me proper maternity leave rights, I was lent on (seriously hard) to take only 2 weeks maternity leave. I negotiated it up to 2 months but was expected to sub the cost of my replacement whilst I was away.

Things have changed so fast! I am glad for my DDs - how lovely to have a year at home with a baby and the guarantee of your job back - but a bit worried that the pendulum has swung too far and that employers might genuinely now have good reason not to employ women as they are so expensive (eg accruing holiday whilst on maternity leave seems OTT). I hope this doesn't backfire.

Oh, I am not THAT old.

OldLadyKnowsNothing Sun 29-Aug-10 20:22:21

I remember that one, Goblinchild. grin

notsocrates Sun 29-Aug-10 20:24:45

In the 80's, my (private) doctor told me an anecdote of his days on the admissions council of a teaching hospital coming under pressure for liberalisation. They had a vote on whether to allow "blacks or women". They went for blacks. This was obviously years earlier.

cyteen Sun 29-Aug-10 20:28:32

My mum was an active feminist and an out lesbian in the 80s. She went to Greenham, drew anti-Clause 28 cartoons, helped organise local career days for women and got thrown out of the local Safeway for putting warning stickers on all the Cape apples (skull and crossbones print above DANGER! CONTAMINATED WITH APARTHEID) grin

My brother and I grew up in a clamour of strident, insistent, raucous female voices debating the personal and political amid a sea of red wine and fag smoke. We made my grandad blush by singing lesbian protest songs as we toured his fishing trawler. The house was full of Spare Rib back issues and anti-Thatcher postcards.

It was a difficult time in some ways though; there was a lot of identity politics, perhaps inevitably as part of the debate, and my mum suffered sometimes as a white middle class mother of a boy and a girl. It wasn't all plain sailing for us either - while I was raised to understand that no one had the right to invade my space without my permission, that I could do anything I wanted, that no one could shout me down just because I was female, my brother frequently entered his own living room to a chorus of voices proclaiming that all men were bastards..."oh but we don't mean you, X".

It is one of the many lasting regrets of my life that I will never get to discuss these things with her, as she died when I was a teenager.

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