Britain: Change for Women

OCR How far did British society change 1939-1975?

Changes for women

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  • Created by: SG
  • Created on: 08-06-12 13:49

The 50's

Women were allowed to work as there was a shortage of workers. There was better housing as old houses had been destroyed. Free healthcare is available, less rationing, free education for their children & good films at the cinema.

However, women can't do every job, they are less paid than men & it's hard to divorce. Foreign women faced racism. There was no reliable family planning & no abortion & women were taught that their highest ambition was as a wife & mother.

The average family size in 1952 was 2.2, today many couples delay childbearing so women can pursue their career. Accommodation was mostly rented & most women wanted to own a house. Things we deem essentials were regarded as luxuries and people had fewer material possesions.

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The Women's Movement in the 50's

  • People knew little about feminism.
  • Feminism was still associated with the sufragettes
  • Views were outdated.
  • Some writers declared their dislike for men & their ways at home 
  • No-one listed to them
  • But the fawcett society & six point group turned out to be very influenctial
  • Furthermore, the wheels were in motion for changes in women's lives
  • Already family allowances & the NHS had been introduced
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The Women's Movement in the 60's

  • The Fawcett society and Six Point Group campaigned for equal pay for women & equal treatment of women
  • They allied with trade unions & national council for civil liberties
  • And so the Women's Liberation Movement was born
  • By the late 60's it was growing in strength
  • Women were creating new groups as others were dominated by men- they were dissatisfied with their role & status in society
  • They organised 'conscienceness raising', making women aware of personal discrimination & their skills & rights to seize opportunities
  • By 1969 liberation groups questioned the 'homemaker'.
  • Most towns had a Women's Liberation Group
  • They raised awareness of: domestic violence, gay rights, safety in industry & women conductors campaigned to drive their buses.
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The Women's Movement in the 70's

In 1970 the first National Women's Conference was held. 500 women & 40 men attended. The 4 demands of the women were: Equal pay, equal education, 24 hour nurseries & free contraception & abortion on demand. Some ridiculed them but many women felt like something was finally happening.

Also in 1970, activists protested at the Miss World contest, shouting: 'We're not beautiful, we're not ugly, we're angry'. They ween't just protesting against the Miss World contest, but at the treatment & perception of women in society in general.

During this period, women campaigned by burning their bras & high heels to protest.

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Discrimination against women

Women were rarely in important jobs like law, they took lower status & pay jobs as men thought women were incapable of such jobs- they would just burst into tears under pressure and they were less committed. Working mothers were also blamed for the crimes of their unruly children.

Employers liked employing women as they were paid less & were easier to control. When a woman got married, she was obliged to give up her job- the marriage bar.

By the 60's, women in the public sector had equal pay, but not in the private sector. Women striked, for example in Dagenham where they caused car production to fall. Examples of discriminaion are that most jobs went to men, there had never been a woman editor of a newspaper/magazine & uneven pay. 

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Changes for Women & the factors

Changes for women started from WWII & the introduction of the NHS. In 1955 women in the public sector achieved equal pay & all women in 1970. This meant more women began working. In 1967 Abortion was made legal & the 1967 family planning act allowed the pill to be dispensed on the NHS. The 1969 Divorce reform act made divorce easier & the 1970 Matrimony property act allowed women to keep property. In 1971 the marriage bar collapsed & the Sex discrimination act in 1975 banned sex discrimination in the workplace. In 1976 the domestic violence act meant women didn't have to face violence. None of this would have happened if women hadn't campaigned for change.

Technology also helped change women's lives- vacuum cleaners, washing machines & refrigerators saw the move away from the domestic goddess, women had more time & men did some housework. These changes meant there was more pressure on women- they had to work & be mothers.

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Contraception, Abortion & Divorce

Feminists wanted free contraception so women could family plan, advice hadn't changed since the 20's. The pill was invented in 1951 & was free on the NHS in 1967, & by 1968 2 million women were taking it. It gave greater freedom & lower birth rates, increasing women's opportunities. 

Before the pill there were many unwanted pregnancies & 200,000 illegal abortion were performed yearly, often dangerous & unhygienic. But in 1967 the abortion act was passed, making available legally & on demand.

The divorce reform act was passed in 1969, before it was only available if there had been adultery, now it could happen if marriage had simply broken down. The matrimonial act of 1970 allowed women to get a share of family assets after divorce, so women were no longer left in poverty. The divorce rate rose 3.5 times with over 100,000 divorces annually in the 70's.

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