If you’re a similar age to me, you’ll have grown up during a time when women ‘having it all’ has been a constant theme. Whether you’re an advocate of this concept or not, there is no doubt in my mind that it has marked a significant change in the role of women in society. Many of you will be familiar with the Good Housekeeping ‘Good Wife’s Guide’ in the 1950s with instructions about having dinner ready, looking pretty, keeping the children quiet etc.
The 1960s brought a decade of contrasts. On the surface, the world opened up for women; abortion becoming legal, seemingly giving women more control over our bodies than ever before. The availability of the pill (though only for married women); women joining the workforce more readily (although let’s not forget our role during both world wars); and challenges to the status quo of equal pay and equal rights began (women at Dagenham went on strike in 1968 leading to Equal Pay Act of 1970). On the other hand, an exaggerated vision of femininity was still held up as the ideal, (think Bunny Girls) finding sexism and racism as the norm in many places. As a child, I do remember many of the hangover traditions such as Sunday night being bath night, and Monday washing day. And, Mum was in charge of it all.
The 1970s saw the first protest at Miss World Competitions and the first National Women’s Liberation Conference. It was also a time of national Rape Crisis Centres, much literature supporting women, the general availability of the pill, and the creation of groups campaigning for women’s rights. The first feminist publishing house, Virago, emerged to put women’s writing on the map. The world had opened up for women. Supposedly.
It wasn’t until the late 80s when education truly became equal with legislation banning discrimination of access to grammar schools for girls. The 80s have also been known as second wave feminism where the focus was less on gender rights, and more on issues such as domestic abuse and sexual violence. And, wait for it, in the 90s, third wave feminism brought to light areas such as women’s role and rights in pornography, and having our say in defining and claiming our sexuality. This theme has continued into the new millennium with the likes of the #MeToo campaign.
Throughout all of this, I was blessed with parents who encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to with my life, and did all they could to give me the skills and knowledge to do just that. My mum had a career as a teacher as well as being a mum, so was a great role model of being able to do both. My dad simply constantly believed in me (and at one time this included my lofty aspirations to be a pilot!!) and was right there whenever I needed him. I count myself very lucky.
So, where is feminism today? Some say that women have gained freedoms, but kept all the old responsibilities. Others ask why we still need feminism. Some say the pendulum has swung too far the other way. As to whether or not I’m a feminist, I’ve always said that I’m not, but absolutely support everything about giving women freedom of choice. At one time (coinciding with the time when I ran a service for women who had been sexually assaulted), I do remember being quite vocal about women’s issues in general. And I absolutely support equality, human dignity and self-determination for women. But I don’t believe in this at any price; not at the cost of others. There are many other groups in the world who deserve exactly the same but don’t always get it – men, black women, people of varied sexuality to name but a few. And, I believe we all deserve the same. We all deserve to have our basic needs met, needs such as fresh, clean water, nourishing food, good relationships, quality sleep, somewhere safe to stay etc. If this is still an unmet need for anyone, then it’s got to be worth campaigning for, yes?