In the early 70’s, feminism was in the forefront of our minds. We thought we could have it all, didn’t we? Whilst activists were burning their bras, I, at the age of 14, couldn’t wait to get one of my own. Here’s how I see feminism has moved on since then.
It seemed to me at the time that the Movement was exciting, inspiring and, even at my age in 1972, something I hoped would influence me. To some degree it has. I have always believed that I am equal to any man and any other woman for that matter and my life has been shaped to that extent. However, in the 70’s I feel now, looking back, that the women’s lib movement was a lot of hype or noise and was the start of our search for equality. Since then we have come a long way but there are certain reasons why we will never have it all.
From the day that our offspring come into the world, women carry the burden of guilt. If we return to work we trust our children to a childminder, but that waving goodbye, drying tears becomes a mantle of self reproach. ‘Was that runny nose a sign of pneumonia?’ ‘Is the bout of loose stools something else?’ and even when we get to our employment we are half expecting a phone call taking us away from that important meeting to collect a sick child. It means that the career has half of the effort and the child gets the other half. It feels as if we are being torn down the middle. The missed Sports Days and Nativity plays, reading time because the report is expected on the CEO’s desk in the morning. Sleep becomes a luxury. The disparity in salaries. Although things are slowly improving, equality is some distance off. A man can earn more doing the same job as a woman because he stands up in the lavatory! When a woman goes to work she will return home to often find the online shopping order is imminent and needs to be put away. She will find hungry children fractious and tired, the laundry basket is overflowing and the carpet hasn’t been hoovered for days. These are things that bother a woman, but a man is blasé to it. So we women work hard to restore order whilst he watches television.
From my point of view the women’s right’s movement was an action happening elsewhere. It was on the news, in my peripheral and although I was moved by it, it did not reach me at grassroots level. This was happening in London, it didn’t quite reach Romsey. I wanted to be galvanised by it, but other things, ie cultural expectations, got in the way. In my little bit of the world I thought that getting a boyfriend, marriage and children were the right things to do. I dallied with the idea of a career but that four-lettered word, love, came into my life. It’s not that my life has been drudgery or discontentment. Far from it, I have been happily married a long time and I have a wonderful family around me, but there is always going to be that little bit of me that thinks about what I might have had if I had tried. I love my two daughters, but I never really thought about having children when I was younger. It’s possible that I might have transferred some of my wishing on them. I certainly hope that they feel they were encouraged to know they could achieve whatever they wanted in their lives.
I feel the women’s right’s movement at the start was all or nothing in the 70’s, women appeared to be feeling suppressed and voiceless. When they did begin to demonstrate a need for self-determination, looking back on it now it seemed to gather momentum too vehemently. It was like ‘we’ (women) had been let out of jail early and we turned our anger on what we perceived to be our jailors (men). In the process of burning bras and claiming sexual emancipation we didn’t achieve what we should have. We were too aggressive and we scared the heebie-jeebies out of men. The assertiveness would come later with true equality being a far greater gain. My granddaughters might thank us one day.