Thursday, November 01, 2007

International Women's Year - 1975

Looking back at the '70s from a 21st Century perspective, things like International Women's Year in 1975 are proclaimed "Wonderful, darling!" and much is made of the Women's Lib movement back in that decade.

The odd thing is that quite a lot of what happened seems to have been as a result of the 1960s and, as a nasty little schoolboy back in the 1970s, I don't recall much "hooraying" going on.

The Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Bills seem to have been campaigned for and planned long before they became law, and those adults around me who could be bothered to mention the subject of sexual equality when I was a kid in the 1970s referred to the 1960s as the time of inspiration, battle and bra burning. The final implementation of the legislation seemed to pass without much thrill at all.

But surely International Women's Year really was a landmark? Surely this was a beautiful, nay glorious, moment in the history of the women's movement? I was ten at the time and, although horribly precocious, nose into everything, don't recall hearing anything about it. My wife, who was seventeen at the time, doesn't either!

My (very) youthful impressions of the time are backed up by a Sun newspaper article published on 3/12/1975...

Eleven months down and one to go. International Women's Year is all over, bar the shouting. But has it been anything but shouting?

Five of the Sun's women writers were asked their opinions of International Women's Year. None were impressed with it. Extracts from the views of three of them can be found below...

Hilary Bonner:

I wish the Women's Lib groups had taken action. Any kind of action.

Telling the woman in the street what her rights are.

Instead, I will remember an unhappy flock of Women's Lib groups standing on orange boxes and shouting at other Women's Lib groups.

Claire Rayner:

It was a dead duck the day it was hatched!

The very name International Women's Year made it do the opposite of what was so fondly planned.

Labelling anything as specifically for women is daft.

I'd like to suggest a better sort of year for 1976 - International People's Year.

The year when men and women will work together as well as love together. Will demand real equality for women by providing real equality for men.

We'll spend this International People's Year organising men's working hours so that they can get away early from work to collect the kids from school.

We'll use it to insist on paternity leave for every new dad, so that he can share the pleasure as well as the work of parenthood.

We'll use it to scotch for good the idea that men and women are different kinds of being, involved in an eternal and pointless war.

We'll discover we belong to the same species. And we'll start to enjoy it.

Phillipa Kennedy:

It was a nice idea, but it fizzled out before it ever got off the ground.

The trouble was that nobody knew what they were supposed to be doing about it.

As a milestone on the road to equality, it was fine - and 1976 will see the Sex Discrimination Bill become law.

We had our achievements of course. Like Maggie Thatcher and the Japanese housewife who climbed Everest.

What International Women's Year really needed was the services of a good public relations firm.

They could have organised eye-catching ads and printed leaflets with lists of aims and ideals...

As it was, only a small percentage of women were aware that it was going on. Even Princess Margaret hadn't heard about it until a few months ago.

Women aren't any better or worse off as a result of Women's Year. It left most people rather indifferent.

I couldn't get upset over it. Maybe, if I had, it would have meant something.


So, International Women's Year - apparently rather more of a damp squib than many remember it today...

Amazing how rosy and distorted the past can become...

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