The Women's Liberation Movement

The Feminist Library

Explore the campaigns of second wave feminism.

The thousand plus posters in the Feminist Library historic ephemera collection (housed at the Bishopsgate Institute) demonstrate the wide range of activities and issues that the Women’s Liberation Movement was involved in between the late 1960s and the early 1990s.

This period is sometimes also referred to as Second Wave Feminism.

The iconic symbolism of the second wave of the feminist movement is still used today.

This is a play on a popular beer ad of the time.

Many issues that were at the heart of the Women's Liberation Movement are still central to feminism today, like the unequal distribution of wages and unpaid labour, and their connection with the objectification of women's bodies.

Second wave feminists were militant
Fighting back against racism, homophobia and sexism, and standing in solidarity with those affected my multiple forms of oppression.

Standing up for the rights of women in prison.

In the early 1980s, an important group called Women in Prison was started, which is still going strong today.

The discussion on the intersectional nature of oppression was introduced to feminism during the second wave and is at the heart of the movement today.

Campaigning for an end to rape, and the culture of victim blaming that surrounds it.

And addressing physical abuses like female genital mutilation.

They marched
Like the great theatrical processions of the suffrage movement, the Women's Liberation Movement marched every year as a form of collective protest and campaigning.

Marching was a way of coming together for a common cause – to celebrate women and their achievements, and to lobby for change.

Violence against women was a key theme.

Many events, like this torchlight procession and the annual Reclaim The Night marches, took place after dark, in protest against the idea that women should avoid violence by not going out alone at night.

The Women's Liberation Movement was successful in many of its campaigns, including this one - to criminalise violence in marriage, which was legal in the UK until it was made a crime in 1991.

Many second wave feminists were also active in the peace movement, campaigning against nuclear weapons.

They organised around women's health and our bodies
Second wave feminists campaigned for better women's healthcare, more freedom of choice over their own bodies, and fought against the tyranny of the idealised female image.

Some objected to the medical sexism that meant many medicines and treatments were exclusively made by and tested on men.

The 1967 Abortion Act was a landmark win for women's reproductive rights, but remained (and remains to this day, in many countries) constantly under threat.

The Women's Liberation Movement passionately made the case for a woman's right to choose.

After many years of struggle, Irish women have successfully campaigned to get the 8th amendment repealed. This is a great achievement, but further work is needed for women to have full access to reproductive rights.

The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s primarily focused on the male gay community, but feminists ensured the impact on women was not ignored.

Feminists occupied South London Women Hospital to campaign against its closure.

By this time, it was the only hospital in Britain run exclusively by women and for women, as the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital had been absorbed into University College Hospital and was no longer for women only. There had been some other women's hospitals in earlier times but they were long gone.

They campaigned against racist beauty standards, and helped teach girls to love the skin they're in.

They opposed ageism and sexism, in both culture and society.

They fought back against sexual and racial harassment in public places, arguing that women should be free to go out without fear of physical threats.

They organised in education
Teachers in the Women's Liberation Movement worked together to confront gender roles and sexist stereotyping in schools.

Workshops trained up feminists to become activists.

And women's studies emerged to ensure the history of the women's movement, and inspiring women from the past, would be remembered, celebrated, and their work carried forwards.

The Feminist Library has carried on this tradition by launching Women's Studies Without Walls, where women can learn and share skills and experience outside the Academy.

They organised around workplace issues
Women began to break into traditionally 'male' professions, and established women's networks to support and train each other up in skills such as carpentry, plumbing, and car mechanics.

Feminists campaigned on workers' rights - calling for fairer conditions, equal pay, and free childcare for working mothers.

Especially to support the poorer paid women working from home.

They fought for women's caring work to be recognised...

...and for improved access to childcare, so that women could be more than just mothers.

They supported broader trade union campaigns, standing side by side with striking printworkers…

…and miners, fighting to save their jobs, under the government of Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s.

The Feminist Library designed this badge at the time of Margaret Thatcher's death, to highlight her anti-women policies without using sexist imagery to attack her.

Although she was the UK's first female prime minister, most second wave feminists rejected Margaret Thatcher as 'not my sister', because of the harm her government did to vulnerable communities and women's rights.

Feminists tackled the double discrimination that lesbians faced in the work place – for both their gender and their sexuality.

And they challenged gender norms
The Women's Liberation Movement was closely linked with the sexual revolution and the LGBT rights movement, challenging social norms about sex, gender, family and relationships, and exploring alternatives to the traditional nuclear family.

They challenged the notion that women are helpless without a man, and some rejected heterosexual relationships altogether.

Second wave feminists fought for the rights and representation of lesbians.

And they highlighted the sexist and patriarchal structures of traditional marriage, in which women are expected to be subjugated and subservient to their husbands.

This prescient badge, from the early 1980s, refers to the forthcoming (and ill-fated) marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

The badge was connected with the campaign within the Women's Liberation Movement for women's financial and legal independence - which also produced the very popular Y B A Wife slogan

Second wave feminists took part in many, many campaigns, and fought on a wide range of issues affecting women and marginalised communities globally – as this tiny selection of posters and badges shows.

There are several hundred more in the Feminist Library, which has been archiving feminist history since 1975.

Many of the badges in our collection were collected by Astra Blaug, feminist author, artist, and activist, whose archive was donated to us on her death in 2015.

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