Patriarchy, militarism, the peace movement and the Women's Liberation Movement

Patriarchy, militarism and the peace movement

Feminists formed the backbone of the UK peace movement from the 1950s onwards and were involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and in anti-Vietnam War protests. Discover the ways in which women’s politics intertwined with anti-war politics.

Rebecca Johnson talks about the anti-militarist feminism which she subscribed to

Feminists were the backbone of the UK peace movement from the 1950s onwards. Anti-war politics and women’s liberation politics often complemented each other. Members of the Women’s Liberation Movement were highly active in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, in anti-Vietnam War protests. They were also active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In this section you can listen to three women talking about their involvement with peace protests, anti-militaristic movements and conflict resolution.

Rosalind Delmar talks about how she became politically active

Cynthia Cockburn talks about women maintaining patriarchy

Anti-Vietnam protests reach London

Anti-Vietnam War protests started in the USA in 1964. Although there was only small-scale action at that time in the UK, significant opposition to the Vietnam War had built up by 1968. A huge rally was organised in London’s Trafalgar Square, with demonstrators then marching to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. There they were met by mounted police who arrested over 200 people; nearly 90 were injured in the fights that broke out.

Rebecca Johnson discusses campaigning for nuclear disarmament

CND and women’s place within peace politics

Many feminists were involved with CND as school or university students. They brought their anti-war politics and peace activism to the women’s movement from the late 1960s onwards. Two particularly famous anti-nuclear demonstrations were the Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common (1981–2000) and the march between London and the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. This march took place annually from 1958 to 1965, with revivals in 1972, 2004 and 2008.

Women’s politics intertwined with anti-war politics in different ways. Some activists argued against nuclear weapons from the point of view of mothers concerned about their children’s future. Others linked all military action with patriarchal society. They pointed out that fewer women perpetrate violence than men and that women are less likely to be in positions of power where they command armies or initiate wars. Feminists also made connections between the sexual disadvantage and inequality experienced by women, sexual violence and military aggression. For these women peace politics and feminism were inseparable.

Cynthia Cockburn talks about how the group Women in Black was formed in 1993

  • 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.