In the beginning we demanded

Description

English

Sue Crockford was a member of the first Tufnell Park Women’s Liberation group, set up in 1968. She was also co-organiser of a radical film collective, Angry Arts, which made a unique record of the 1970 Women’s Liberation Conference in the film A Woman’s Place. The first four WLM demands that you can read about in the introduction to this section emerged out of the 1970 conference, and were passed the following year in Skegness.

A Woman’s Place

Speaking in a recent ‘Witness Workshop’ organised by The Women’s Library, Sue Crockford remembers,

It was one of those rare times in your own history where you know you’re there at an occasion that’s historically important … I personally felt terrified because I had to stand up in front of a, you know, 600 women saying, I’d like to film this, please could I have permission, and the majority of the crew are men.

Why do you think that the women at the first WLM conference were worried about how their actions would be represented? How is feminism represented in the media today?

How far do you think men in general have become more involved in child care, either as parents or workers, since the 1970s?

Why do you think that the conference drafted demands? How far have these demands been achieved today?

Film credits
Producer / Director: Lizzie Thynne
Research assistant / Editor: Peter Harte

Transcript

Transcript

Oxford. February the 28th, 1970. 560 women arrived for a conference on women’s liberation, only 300 at the most had been expected. It was the first national meeting of women, groups and individuals who had been forming the Women’s Liberation Movement around Britain during the previous year.

What the conference did, why it was so important, was that it focussed not only the public’s attention on the beginning of a women’s movement but ours. We knew it was important, individually and in little groups, then suddenly we were all together having this enormous buzz of excitement. And then the world started taking notice, often to belittle us like calling us ‘women’s lib’, but actually from then onwards they couldn’t ignore us.

They meant to define the oppression they’re fighting: not to plead for concessions but to demand rights. Here, within the walls of the Oxford University Union, the conference topics range from the politics of housework to women in prison, women in the Third World to women in trade unions. There were large sessions and smaller group discussions, some of these only for women though most were open to the men. It was as inclusive as you could get really, given the structure, the physical structure of a college. One of the most impressive speeches was from Sheili Wortis.

Margaret Mead has been an outspoken critic of maternal degradation theory and she wrote that ‘the specific biological situation of the continuing relationship of the child to its biological mother and its need for care by human beings are being hopelessly confused in the growing insistence that child and biological mother must never be separated. This is a new and subtle form of anti-feminism in which men, under the guise of exalting the importance of maternity, are typing women more tightly to their children than has been thought necessary since the invention of bottle feeding and baby carriages.’

I think there were a lot of men around, especially who had been influenced by what had been happening in the States, saying this makes sense for us, if you have a women’s movement that effects the whole of society we’ll all benefit. Especially it was those blokes who were father who had daughters, and you thought what kind of life am I bringing my daughter up in if she’s not equal? Most conferences and things in those days, politics, didn’t have creches. You were supposed to have dealt with your kids somewhere else. Well, what were we supposed to do? We didn’t have any money. We were all broke. So to have a creche on site run by blokes, we thought it was mildly radical but when we started talking to people they said ‘blokes run it?!’ and we said, ‘and why not?’

I must admit I was scared because I knew I had to get up and ask the plenary session for permission to film, and I knew that only two of us were women and the other two were blokes. I was thinking oh my god this isn’t going to go down too well and they gave me a hard time. We didn’t know anybody else who could actually shoot and we didn’t have gear, we had to borrow it from all kinds of people. We’d got no idea. The television was completely male, unless you were a PA or a typist or whatever else. it wasn’t easy.

How can there be an egalitarian society unless women are involved in society fully? When we talk about women getting involved in society and taking full part in political life this is how to get liberation, not by going off isolating yourself from society, sitting alone with other women contemplating your vaginas, but to get involved in political activity. This is the way to do it. We should have the modesty to learn.

Basically, it was the only way that this was going to get reported accurately because the other part of the conference which is important is there were two women there, both of them famous journalists and both of whom knocked us that weekend in The Observer. We got slated for feminist this and god knows what that and we thought ‘we thought you were on our side.’ Both of them changed their minds later, they apologised and said they were really sorry.

The main outcomes were a series of demands that we thought were incredibly important for the future of all of us, which includes things like 24 hour child care and abortion on demand, and it was the biggest buzz. Apart from blokes you fall in love with and having your kids there has been no bigger buzz in my life than the women’s movement and it still is.
Title:
In the beginning we demanded
Duration:
6:28
Format:
Video
Language:
English
Collection:
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
Copyright:
© British Library
Held by
British Library

Related articles

Activism and the Women’s Liberation Movement

Article by:
Sisterhood and After Research Team
Theme:
Activism

The Women’s Liberation Movement was formed of young women living in a period of rapid social and cultural change. Many were also active in civil rights, peace and new left movements and had the skills to spread their message in powerful and varied ways. Read this introductory article to discover the campaigning methods used by the WLM and the differences in approach, method and political starting point.

Who we were, who we are

Article by:
Sisterhood and After Research Team
Theme:
Who we were, who we are

Although the Women’s Liberation Movement was not the first movement to call for the emancipation of women, much of the history had been forgotten by the 1960s. Find out why so much of the intellectual work of the WLM was on rediscovery and rethinking.

Women’s liberation: a national movement

Article by:
Sisterhood and After Research Team
Theme:
Activism

The Women’s Liberation Movement organised eight national conferences, starting in Oxford in 1970, where the first demands were made. Read the complete list of seven demands and learn how they helped shape the movement.

Related collection items