Mary McIntosh discusses financial and legal independence



Mary McIntosh talks about putting forward a motion for women’s legal and financial independence with Katherine Gieve at the 1974 Women’s Liberation Movement conference. She comments on the different impact this demand would have for gay and straight women.

Women’s Liberation Independence Campaign

Mary McIntosh founded the Women’s Liberation Independence Campaign which advocated the legal and financial independence of women from men, in particular wives from husbands. At the time, married women were means-tested with their husbands with regard to their eligibility for benefits. This meant that most housewives were entirely dependent on their husbands as a source of income. The popular name for the Women’s Liberation Independence Campaign was ‘YBA Wife?’ This campaign challenged women with the question ‘Marriage – what’s in it for you?’ and suggested that a woman’s marriage vows amounted to little more than a job contract, providing men with cheap childcare and domestic service. You can see Mary McIntosh talking in a short film about the Gay Liberation Front and the WLM in Sex, Love and Friendship.

Women and men, gay and straight, have campaigned for the right to have their relationships legally recognised. Why do you think this is important? Do you think it’s important for some gay couples to enter into a marriage, rather than a civil partnership, or does it make little difference?

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YBA Wife poster © See Red workshop 



We decided to have that conference and at some point, to have it in Oxford, and we were quite active in organising the whole of that conference. And at the end there was a kind of open session and we wanted to decide on a motion to go forward to the national conference, Women’s Liberation, and Katherine said there should be no discrimination against married women. As a married woman she had found she was not eligible for any benefits because they means-tested her together with her husband and she thought that means test was a form of discrimination against her as a married woman. So we talked about that quite a lot and eventually we came up with the fifth demand, which is the same as - the Women’s Liberation Campaign for Financial and Legal Independence, is its official title - but we came up with a demand that was to be added to the existing four demands, which was why it was called the fifth demand, which was for financial and legal independence. In other words, it was against, the main thing was against the means testing of the couple as a couple. Still are means-tested as a couple, in fact there are more, now gay couples are included in that and they’re supposed to be means-tested together. And we had a lot of talk about that and we had a lot of liaison with the Anti-Cohabitation Campaign which was focussed on the cohabitation rule assessment for benefits, which was that couples, male and female couples who were living together as man and wife should be counted as husband and wife and means-tested together. The Anti-Cohabitation Campaign was quite big in the seventies, partly because of what we used to call the sex snoopers, who had certain definitions of co-habitation, which included what the neighbours said about whether you had a sex life together and so forth. So that was very much organised around heterosexual people, which was odd, and a lot of the things that we did in the Oxford Women’s Action Group were around heterosexuality. Though one of the people was gay, quite a number of us in Oxford were gay and, you know, everybody knew that we were.
Mary McIntosh discusses financial and legal independence
25 August 2011
Mary McIntosh
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
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