Bodies, minds, spirits and the Womens Liberation Movement

Bodies, minds, spirits and the Womens Liberation Movement

From reproductive rights to body image and women’s therapy groups, the Women’s Liberation Movement challenged perceptions, laws and popular culture regarding women’s bodies and minds. Discover the many ways in which feminists attempted to reclaim, explore and control their bodies.

Barbara Jones talks about the fear of 'scary feminist women'

Feminist attempts to reclaim, explore and control their bodies took many forms. For some the movement provided their first opportunity to talk about their bodies and about being a woman. This included discovering sexual and physical pleasures, which you can hear more about in Sex, Love and Friendship. On the other hand, women were readier to acknowledge the problem of sexual and domestic violence, which you can learn about in Activism. Others campaigned to protect the right to abortion and for access to contraception.

Feminists challenged the idea that youthfulness and sexual attractiveness to men should define either a woman’s social and economic value or her erotic potential. It was not that feminists did not want to be attractive or did not appreciate beauty in others, but they did not want to slavishly follow the beauty industry. Images of women propagated by the advertising industry and the media were the targets of feminist propaganda and hostility. The Women’s Liberation Movement resisted ideas of beauty, manufactured in the marketplace, instead embracing beautiful women of all ages, sizes and types, and focusing on physical, mental and spiritual self-possession and confidence.

Rowena Arshad describes contraception and poor women's bodies

Another, arguably deeper, level of body politics concerned reproductive rights. The health and fertility of populations has always been the concern of governments and, since the 20th century, one of the principle concerns of the welfare state. One of the first signs of a country’s industrialisation or economic development – a nation or people with secure democratic government – is women’s control over fertility. Once women have the means of contraception in their control they begin to gain higher living standards and democratic rights. Years of feminist thinking and research into the relationship between women’s control over reproduction, and social and economic development formulated these insights. They are now generally accepted by organisations such as family planning centres, as well as institutions such as the World Bank and the UN.

Women’s new sense of control over their bodies involved other changes, as part of a fresh physical relationship with the world. This could be expressed in sport – listen to Sue Lopez talking about her joy at playing professional-level football, for example. It could also mean new experiences of childbirth, as pleasurable rather than painful, as Sheila Kitzinger powerfully argues.

Sheila Kitzinger discusses pregnancy and childbirth

  • Sisterhood and After Research Team
  • This article was researched and written by the Sisterhood and After Research Team, who are experts in the history of contemporary feminism and narrative life methods. The team included Abi Barber, Dr Polly Russell, Dr Margaretta Jolly, Dr Rachel Cohen, Dr Freya Johnson-Ross and Dr Lucy Delap. Further information about the team and project is available in the About the project section.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.