Sisters in Arms |

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Sisters in Arms

Mel Sherwood looks back at the emergence of Britain’s Women’s Liberation Movement, and the direct action that paved the way for today’s feminists…
In January 1988, women took to the streets to protest against the Alton Bill – one MP’s attempt to ban late abortions

As star after star walked the red carpet dressed in black at the usually colourful Golden Globes this January, the Time’s Up campaign extended its reach far beyond the entrance to the Beverly Hilton hotel. Actors from Meryl Streep to Emma Watson swept aside the usual questions about their sartorial choices, instead deferring to the female activists they had chosen to take as their guests to discuss matters of sexual harassment and gender inequality in the workplace. The campaign had been launched by a coalition of female Hollywood actors, agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives in the wake of the tidal wave of sexual assault allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein. And it was at this glittering awards ceremony that the whole world became aware of this new front in the fight for equality.

But such battles have not always been so civilised, nor so glamorous. The activists of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) of the 1960s-80s discovered that they would need to employ shock tactics in their fight, which largely focused on gaining equality in the workplace, in the family and for rights over their own bodies.

Much like the suffragettes before them, many of these women realised that it was deeds, not words, that would win the day. Of course, this direct action went hand in hand with more practical and administrative activism, but it was the subversive and spectacular acts that made it impossible for the world to ignore the inequality they suffered.

MP Barbara Castle (second from left) takes tea with the Dagenham machinists. They helped win ‘equal pay’ in name; in practice we’re still some way o
Betty Friedan would become known as the ‘Mother of the Movement’

“They realised that it was deeds, not words, that would win the day”

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

In this month's issue… Everything you ever wanted to know about castles The complete story of the greatest emblem of the medieval age: how they evolved from simple forts into impregnable bastions, how they were built without modern machinery and how you could break into one. Plus: the Women's Liberation Movement; the peasant who became Japan's second great unifier; top 10 ancient board games; the football match that sparked a war; and a graphic guide to London Zoo's most famous residents.