• Rob Butterfield


On International Women’s Day we celebrate just how far we’ve come in terms of equality.

I’m posting this on International Women’s Day (#BalanceForBetter) whilst listening to Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders debut album from 1980 – and what a bloody excellent album it is, nothing there to suggest that Chrissie was any way inferior to her male counterparts. But was that always the case in the 1970’s? Maybe not so much on the music scene but looking back it seems almost incredible how different things were during my teen years.

Thankfully today we’re making big strides in creating a level playing field for men and women and hopefully my kids, who are now 26 (boy) and 30 (girl), will be able to build their lives in a much better-balanced society. It’s easy to forget just how different things were in the 70’s – which shows just how far we’ve come!

I’ve blatantly plagiarised the following content from an old article by presenter and historian Dominic Sandbrook for no other reason than it is beautifully succinct in its presentation.

At the beginning of the 1970s, the daily experience of a typical British woman was very different from what it is today.

Most girls in the post-war years had been brought up to become wives and mothers. Although many were already heading into the workplace, the idea of absolute equality with British men was far from universally accepted. Most women, for example, were still paid only a fraction of what men earned for the same work.

But as the decade progressed, things began to change. Thanks partly to publications like Germaine Greer’s book The Female Eunuch and the magazine Spare Rib, an emboldened feminist movement was pushing for “women’s liberation”. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to observe an International Women’s Day.

And although most British women never saw themselves as feminists, millions now led lives that bore little relation to the stereotype of the submissive housewife, which had long dominated adverts and sitcoms.

On Television

Helen Mirren on Parkinson 1975.

When Helen Mirren appeared on Michael Parkinson’s popular chat show, the host asked her if her "equipment" hindered her career as a "serious actress". Today we might be outraged by the sexism on Parkinson’s chat show. But 1970s Britain was a man's world, where sexist attitudes and chauvinist jokes were often taken for granted. Across mainstream media in the 1970s, women were routinely objectified and portrayed as sexual playthings.

At Work

Trico, the longest equal pay strike.

The Trico factory in Brentford, Middlesex, paid its male workers more than their female counterparts. But in May 1976, the women at the company walked out in protest, in what became one of Britain’s first successful strikes over equal pay for women.

After 21 weeks, Trico eventually gave in, offering the women workers the equal pay they were entitled to.

At Bars

Tess Gill and Anna Coote celebrate their victory at El Vino pub.

For years, the El Vino wine bar had been a favourite haunt of journalists and lawyers. But the famous “gossip shop of Fleet Street” came with a catch. Female customers were refused drinks at the bar and were required to sit in a back room and wait patiently for table service.

But the disgruntled women of Fleet Street used the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 as a powerful weapon against inequality.

At last, in 1982, Fleet Street’s favourite watering hole lifted its ban on women from standing at the bar.

In Advertising

The 1970s advertising industry was no exception to general trends. Advertisers continued to portray images of compliant wives, flirtatious flight attendants and subservient secretaries.

After the Sexual Discrimination Act came into effect, the Equal Opportunities Commission was set up to promote equality of the sexes. The EOC started issuing guidelines to discourage advertisers from showing women in stereotypical roles of domesticity or in submissive work.

Graffitied Fiat billboard ad from the 1979.

The reaction to the Fiat advert pictured captures changing public attitudes.

In summary, I’m happy that things have changed and continue to change for the better. But maybe we’ll only be able to say that we have true equality when there is actually no need for International Women’s Day.


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