Feminism or femininity?
I know Twitter may have its downsides. But I've always said that on balance there were more pluses than minuses. And that was nicely illustrated yesterday.
I always imagined that I knew my way rather well around the BBC's website, but until I got yesterday's tweet (thankyou @DrImogenTyler) I hadnt come across their archive section, which has a whole array of programmes and clips on "second wave feminism" mostly from the 1970s, but with a few pieces going back to the 60s, and then up tp the early 1990s.
The clip that Imogen linked me to was this (click on 'this' -- it starts without a picture, but persevere -- you get visuals afater a couple of minutes). It was broadcast on "Tonight" in 1963 just after Oxford had opened up its Union Society to women ("Oxford's given in"), and Cambridge (it was claimed) was the only remaining "unequal" university in the land ("a girl is just a girl") -- though there were compensations, we were assured, in the shape of 10 men dancing attendance on every woman student.
So Chris Brasher, intrepidly, went off to Birmingham (a university for women and men from its very beginning) to interview women students about what they thought of Cambridge and what their own experiences were. Just how equal did women want to be? Did they want feminism or feminity? Did they want to compete with men, or be competed for by men?
What really struck me was the thought that this was the world in which I grew up. I was 8 when this piece of film was made; this is what I (and my mum and dad) would have been watching on television of an evening (at least I THINK we had television then, we were rather later converters). And it all seems so unbelievably foreign.
For a start, the voices. Everyone interviewer spoke like a toff. Then the language. For the most part, when he spoke of the students, Brasher referred to the "men" and the "girls", without apparently a flicker of anxiety at the unequal comparison (which was an instantiation of what he was supposed to be investigating).
And whatever they really thought, most of the women interviewed seemed ambivalent about "girl power". One of the feistiest did express the view that -- nice as Cambridge was (she'd visited for a weekend and came back "feeling ten foot tall") -- she wouldn't want to give up equality. And the editor of the University paper was keen on competing with men and entering the ratrace of journalism, but when it came to marriage, then her man was going to be the dominant partner, please. In fact, the woman who was Secretary of the Birmingham Debating Society was absolutely convinced that the only power worth having was "behind the throne" (if men compete for you, you are more likely to get what you want). That's exactly the power she thought she had as the Secretary, while the Chairman was really in charge.
It is truly gob-smacking. But I came away, after a couple of watchings, feeling hugely cheered. It's easy enough to complain at the slowness of women's path to equality; and it really does sometime feel very slow indeed. But this snapshot of the changes that have been achieved in the last 50 years was a good anitidote to the gloom.
It wasn't just what these women said (which I am sure some people would still agree with), it was the language of the questions and their answers that was so unbelievably different, and their knee-jerk (possibly defensive) reactions about the way marriage would and should work for them. I do wonder what happened to them later (if anyone recognises them do say -- who IS that would-be journalist who wanted domination by her other half?)
Meanwhile the rest of the feminist collection on the website is brilliant too (including a great piece from 1971, about lone women not being served in coffee bars after midnight -- in case they were prostitutes, apparently).