One Hundred Years of the Women's Movement


One Hundred Years of the Women's Movement

Gemma Cairney journeys through the history of the women's movement, investigating landmark events including women winning the right to vote and the sexual revolution of the 1960s.


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Transcript


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It is amazing to think how different life was for a woman over 100 years ago.

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Back then, I wouldn't have been able to choose when I have a family

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because contraception wouldn't have been available to me.

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Workplace opportunities would have been limited and I wouldn't have even had the vote.

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But next I want to play you something brand new...

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'I'm Gemma Cairney, I'm 28-years-old and I'm a Radio One DJ.

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'Obviously, I couldn't have done this job 100 years ago,

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'but, for women, so much else has changed too.

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'Back then, there was no reliable contraception,

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'we couldn't legally own a business, we were effectively the property of our husband

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'and, most of all, until 1918, we couldn't vote.

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'Over the last century, the people who've fought to change all of this have been women.

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'I'm off to find out who they were and find out what they did

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'because I owe these women a debt of gratitude.'

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'The most important single development in the history

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'of the Women's Movement in Britain was in politics.'

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How were women meant to change the decisions made right here in Parliament if you couldn't vote?

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'I've been voting since I was 18

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'because I reckon it's important for me to have my say.

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'And women fought an extraordinary battle in this country to get the vote,

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'enduring ridicule, assault, imprisonment and even death.

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'For half a century, they'd campaigned peacefully with no result.

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'Then, in 1903, a Manchester woman, Emmeline Pankhurst,

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'formed the Women's Social and Political Union.

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'Emmeline and the so-called suffragettes

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'were radical, political and fearless.'

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And they decided that the old constitutional practices of just simply petitioning

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and asking the Members of Parliament to give them the right to vote

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wasn't enough, and that they weren't being listened to.

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The peaceful campaigns had gone on for over 50 years

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so now they decided they were going to turn to direct action tactics, what they called "militancy".

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'The suffragettes, most of them respectable,

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'middle-class women, employed tactics that shocked society.'

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They held the biggest demonstration in British history up until that point in 1908

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and then, after police violence was used against the demonstrators,

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then they threw stones to smash windows, making the point that women's lives

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weren't regarded as important as property in those days.

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'100 years ago, if I'd been a suffragette,

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'I'd have been banned from even visiting much of Parliament.

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'But one determined campaigner was not going to let this stop her.

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There's a very famous woman by the name of Emily Wilding Davison,

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who, in 1910, wanted to find a way of getting into

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the chamber of the House of Commons to ask a question.

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She came in as a visitor and she hid in a ventilation shaft

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and waited there for 36 hours until she was discovered by a policeman.

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And I've got here the police report of that occasion.

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He says here he found a woman standing on a ladder in the shaft.

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He said, "What are you doing here?"

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She said, "I am a suffragette

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"and my ambition is to get into the House to ask a question."

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Well, that sums it up. "My ambition is to get into the House."

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Emily Wilding Davison and all of the suffragettes believed that a woman's place was in the House of Commons

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and they were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths.

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It is both mind-bending and fascinating

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to think of all the different tactics used as acts of activism

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right here in Parliament, but the struggle didn't stop there.

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If you were caught, then maybe you'd be sent to prison.

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'Over 1,000 suffragettes were locked up in prisons like Holloway in horrendous conditions.

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'Many continued their protest by going on hunger strike

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'and being force-fed by the authorities.

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'Emily Davison was one of these women.

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'She'd been a teacher, but was now a committed, full-time suffragette.

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'She wrote vividly about her experience.'

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"They gripped my head and began to force the tube down my nostril.

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"It hurt me very much".

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This is an actual extract from Emily Davison's diary during her time at this very prison.

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I just can't imagine that kind of treatment -

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that horrible nastiness, that kind of physicality,

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just because she was trying to get women the vote.

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'It was at Epsom racecourse in June 1913 where Emily Davison

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'staged the most dramatic and dangerous publicity stunt yet.

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'The Epsom Derby was a highlight of the social calendar,

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'with the King and Queen coming to see the racing.

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'Emily Davison was there because the King's horse, Anmer, was running.

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'As the horses rounded the bend, she slipped under the barrier

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'and stepped in front of the King's horse.

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'It hit her at full gallop.

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'She died four days later.'

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Wow. That's just two horses on a training track

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and they had so much speed and so much force and they are so big.

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I cannot imagine what would go through someone's brain to do such a thing.

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She knew that she was risking her life,

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as did many suffragettes on many, many occasions.

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When they hunger struck in prison, when they undertook very dangerous stunts.

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But I think that was to draw attention to how serious what was happening to them really was.

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I think it also drew attention to the way that the Government were

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treating women, were torturing women in prison, and just how desperate

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they felt and how important they felt it was to mobilise

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public opinion and to shock people into seeing what was happening.

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'Many believe Emily Davison had been trying to pin a 'Votes for Women' badge

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'on the horse that day and did not mean to die.

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'But her brave action has gone down in history

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'and, eventually, the suffragettes did win their fight.

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'In 1918, women were granted the right to vote.'

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Here is the Act, the parchment,

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the thing that gave women the vote in 1918.

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So many people had fought so hard for this

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and some women had even lost their lives.

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And this is it!

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And here we go.

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"A woman shall be entitled to be registered

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"as a parliamentary elector for a constituency

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"if she has attained the age of 30 years."

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Now, this is quite an important point.

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Even though women were finally given the vote,

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they had to be over the age of 30,

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which isn't quite fair, as men could do it from 21.

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'Ten years later, in 1928, women finally got to vote at 21.

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'At last, women were political equals to men.

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'And it didn't stop there.

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'Many women have since taken their place on the political stage.

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'From the first woman MP, Nancy Astor, in 1919,

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'to Margaret Thatcher becoming our first female Prime Minister in 1979.

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'Today, there are 146 women in Parliament, which is fantastic,

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'until you compare this with the 504 male MPs.

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'It seems there's still a long way to go.'

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It's really important that we have a really representative Parliament,

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I think all political parties are trying to do their part

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to get more women to think of politics as being part of what they could do with their lives.

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It's a basic political right to have your say in what happens in the democracy of this country.

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Parliament ought to reflect the whole country

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and it can't if you've only got one in five women MPs.

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'There is undoubtedly more to be done,

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'but so much has been achieved in the past 100 years,

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'and it's all thanks to women like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison.'

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Or you can text us 81199.

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'At the moment my job is probably my main priority.

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'But, one day, that might change.'

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One day I think I'd like to have children, but it's me that decides

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if and when that happens because I have control of my own body.

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But it hasn't always been like that.

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There was a time when most women had no control over

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when they started their families or how big they were.

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'Despite the joys of children and family life, the reality

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'of childbirth was both dangerous and difficult for many women.

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'In the past, families of ten or more weren't uncommon.

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'Even Queen Victoria had nine children.

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'Around 1900, there was a one-in-20 chance of dying during labour,

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'and if you were poor, as a mother, you were tied to the home

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'with little opportunity to work or better your lot.'

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'No wonder women tried to find ways to control their fertility,

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'but reliable birth control simply didn't exist.

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There was this idea that working class women would say

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a good husband was a man who gave his wage packet to her

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at the end of the week and didn't bother her much sexually.

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There was contraception but, erm, I mean, there were condoms being used by men,

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but they were generally used by men who went to prostitutes

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and it was to stop them getting sexual diseases.

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'In 1918, academic and scientist Marie Stopes

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'wrote a pioneering book on sex education.

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'Next, she turned her attention to contraception.

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'She believed that married women had the right to birth control.'

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She was in favour of the cap which should...you know, it was developing in this period...

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well, developed from the late 19th century.

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And she opened the first birth control clinic in 1921

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for married women, and she was very insistent it was for married women

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and women who had already got a child or two.

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But it led to a few more clinics around the country opening up.

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There is so much contraceptive choice available to us

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that it just seems nuts to imagine having hardly anything at all.

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It was Marie Stopes who blazed the trail for reproductive rights.

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But in 1961, a real game-changer came into play

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in this little white box.

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'For the first time ever, the pill reliably separated sex from reproduction.

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'It was easy, convenient and gave women the freedom to choose

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'when to have children on their own terms.'

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It was an amazing, erm, development

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and women wanted it from the word go

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but, first of all, it was only allowed for married women or women about to be married.

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You know, if women did want to have sex, they didn't want that fear of pregnancy hanging over them,

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so, yes, it was really an enormous change.

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These days, the pill is 99% reliable,

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that is if you take it properly,

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but women many years ago were potentially faced with a tougher choice

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if they found themselves unexpectedly pregnant or didn't want a child.

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I'm talking about abortion.

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Abortion has been around for thousands of years

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but only became legal in this country in the 1960s.

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So-called back street abortions were available, but were brutal affairs.

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'I'm meeting Wendy Savage,

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'a doctor and campaigner for women's rights in childbirth and fertility.

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Well, what they tended to use was enema syringes,

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which were put through the cervix and then labour would start

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or, you know, the miscarriage would start

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and the woman would start to bleed and then she'd go to the hospital.

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And then she would be asked whether she'd done anything to do it,

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because it was illegal, and they would say no.

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And who were these people carrying out these abortions?

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Just untrained women who'd learnt how to do it

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because they wanted to help other women,

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and abortion was the leading cause of maternal death at that time.

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And it was because of that that the law was changed in 1967,

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because the campaigners really said, this is wrong,

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that young, healthy women are dying, and we need to change the law.

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'The Abortion Act came into force in 1967,

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'but that was only in mainland Britain.

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'In Northern Ireland, the law is different

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'and abortion is only allowed if there are serious health risks to the life of the pregnant woman.

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'Today, in the UK, 200,000 women have abortions each year,

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'but it remains a controversial subject.'

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So far in my life I've decided that I'm not ready to have children yet,

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and I can make that decision because I own my body,

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I own my own reproductive system and contraception is available to me.

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Thank goodness!

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If I was in the Victorian times, I might already have five, six or seven children.

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How terrifying!

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It's to do with scientific advances and, most importantly,

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it's to do with a big attitude change

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that women finally have the choice.

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RADIO: Weekends on BBC Radio One.

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Hello, everyone!

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It's Gemma Cairney on your radio. How's it going? Good morning.

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Rise and shine. Now, we don't really want to be too highbrow...

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I absolutely love my job.

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I've been here at the BBC for four years now

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and I get challenged every single day.

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I continue to learn things.

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When I was younger, as a young girl, looking towards my future

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as a woman, I felt like I could pretty much do anything.

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If I wanted to be a doctor, I would train and do that.

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If I wanted to be a lawyer, I would train and do that.

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So I do feel I've pretty much ended up doing the right thing for me.

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'And one of the things that I love about my job

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'is meeting all sorts of people.

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'So to find out more about life for women 100 years ago,

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'I'm going to see Diana Gould.

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'who was born before the start of the First World War

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'and before women even had the vote.'

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-How old am I?

-Yes. I know it's a rude question.

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-In two months' time I will be 101.

-That's amazing!

-Yeah!

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-High five!

-SHE LAUGHS

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What changes have you seen since being a young girl?

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The world has really changed.

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It's lovely to see women really doing the things,

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showing the world that they can do things besides being in the kitchen.

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-Mm-hmm.

-Women were in the house. That was their job.

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They just kept the house, kept the kids.

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If they had to work, they would go out and clean offices

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and things like that.

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Unless you were lucky to have a bit more brains,

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I don't know, to be taught a job.

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Women were sort of second class, I suppose.

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And I think as far as pay goes,

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I think if a woman does a man's job,

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-she should be paid the same amount of money.

-Mm.

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Not less because she's a woman.

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'Job opportunities for women have changed dramatically

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'over the course of Diana's lifetime.

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'100 years ago, there were very few employment opportunities for women

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'and even when men and women did have the same job,

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'they didn't get the same pay.'

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In the Victorian times, most women who worked would have been

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factory workers or domestic servants.

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In fact, domestic service was the largest employer in Britain until the 1940s.

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You would earn very little,

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far less than your brothers would have done in the local factory.

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Were there any jobs at all where a man and a woman would do exactly the same thing?

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Both middle-class men and women went into teaching.

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A young woman starting out her teaching career

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in her early 20s would have received about half

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of what a man would have earned.

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In addition to that,

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a woman had to give up teaching as soon as she married.

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There were so few sources of income for working-class women

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that they sometimes put themselves in danger to earn extra money.

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Even those who worked during the day in a factory

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or even as a domestic servant still had to supplement their earnings

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by going out at night onto the streets

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and prostitution was the main way they could earn a few shillings.

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In 1914, the First World War led to a dramatic shift

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in women's position in society.

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Women took on men's roles to keep the country going

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but when the war ended, most went back to their old positions.

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It was the Second World War that was the real revolution.

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Women joined the forces...

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..and they really came into their own after that.

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They made themselves felt, which is as it should be.

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I mean, you are equal.

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Women do most things they put their mind to.

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In World War Two, when men went to fight,

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women filled their jobs,

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including jobs that had always been considered exclusively male,

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such as mechanics or engineers.

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But even with better jobs, women did not enjoy equal pay and conditions

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and once again, they took direct action to bring about change.

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Women have long had to fight for their rights

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with the trade union movement in the workplace.

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But one of the strikes that had the biggest impact

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was of course in Dagenham where we had the campaign

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actually not just for that workplace but to get equal pay for all women.

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Dagenham, near London, was where Ford had its biggest car factory.

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In 1968, a group of female sewing machinists

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who made car upholstery went on strike because they wanted equal pay

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and to be classed as skilled workers.

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'I'm here in Dagenham to meet Vera and Gwen,

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'two of the women involved in that ground-breaking strike.'

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When we started at Ford, we were always classed as semi-skilled.

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-So all the men you were working with were earning more than you?

-Yes.

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You didn't feel right.

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You think, "Well, you know, they're getting more money

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"and we are slogging away here..."

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Because, I mean, it was a slog, wasn't it, to get the work out?

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I mean, it was no mucking about.

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-You had to sit there and work. We didn't blame the men.

-No, no.

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Blame Ford.

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So when did you decide that strike was the way to go?

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When it came to 1968,

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the union said the only way you were going to get your money

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and be recognised as skilled workers,

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you have got to go out on strike, didn't they?

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So we said, "Yes, we're willing to do that."

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So we had the meeting one morning and we all walked out, didn't we?

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-Walked out.

-And Ford was so shocked.

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The Dagenham women's strike lasted three weeks,

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brought the factory to a standstill and won them equal pay.

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Largely thanks to the strike,

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the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1970.

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'All women doing the same jobs as men were now to be paid the same.

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'But it took another 14 years and another strike before the Dagenham

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'women were finally recognised as skilled workers.'

0:19:060:19:10

-And would you say that you are proud feminists?

-Erm, yes, I think so.

0:19:110:19:15

-Don't you?

-Yeah.

-SHE LAUGHS

0:19:150:19:18

Gwen and Vera. Absolutely incredible.

0:19:180:19:20

To think about the amount of courage

0:19:200:19:22

they must have needed to do such a thing

0:19:220:19:25

and the fact they helped bring about the Equal Pay Act. Amazing.

0:19:250:19:28

Equality in the workplace has been achieved now, right?

0:19:280:19:31

I mean, we've seen a lot of progress.

0:19:310:19:34

When my mum first started work, it was still legal to pay women

0:19:340:19:37

much less than men for doing the same job. That's now illegal.

0:19:370:19:41

The law has changed.

0:19:410:19:42

However, we still know there's a big pay gap,

0:19:420:19:45

in reality, between men and women.

0:19:450:19:47

About 20% pay gap with women paid less than men.

0:19:470:19:49

That is not fair.

0:19:490:19:51

We are seeing more and more women go into different jobs and professions

0:19:510:19:56

but actually, in a lot of areas, although they get promoted

0:19:560:19:59

a bit at first, we find they don't actually make it into the top jobs.

0:19:590:20:02

That's not fair.

0:20:020:20:04

We should be smashing through that glass ceiling

0:20:040:20:06

because what we know is we should be using women's talents,

0:20:060:20:09

partly because it is fair to women

0:20:090:20:11

but also cos it's good for the economy as well.

0:20:110:20:13

I guess I've just never thought before about how we got

0:20:130:20:17

to where we are now.

0:20:170:20:19

Men and women are deemed as equals in the workplace

0:20:190:20:22

but it's because a group of women decided to fight hard for this.

0:20:220:20:26

They wanted equality in the workplace for men and women

0:20:260:20:30

and laws were passed so that we could earn equal, too.

0:20:300:20:34

I guess I'm just really grateful but we're not quite there yet

0:20:340:20:39

and maybe there is room for improvement.

0:20:390:20:41

So, what do you think?

0:21:110:21:13

I absolutely love shopping and I love clothes

0:21:130:21:15

but if I was to wear anything even slightly as revealing as this over 100 years ago,

0:21:150:21:20

I would have been branded a weak-minded woman

0:21:200:21:22

or even a prostitute.

0:21:220:21:24

Life is definitely very different today

0:21:290:21:32

but have attitudes towards women really changed?

0:21:320:21:35

'I want to find out how we became the liberated society of today

0:21:350:21:39

'and I'm going to start way back with the Victorians,

0:21:390:21:42

'when to have a baby outside marriage was considered a heinous crime.'

0:21:420:21:46

Certainly, by the end of the 19th century,

0:21:460:21:50

beginning of the 20th century, they introduced legislation

0:21:500:21:54

on what is called the Mental Deficiency Bill,

0:21:540:21:57

Mental Deficiency Act.

0:21:570:21:59

And under this Act, a young woman,

0:21:590:22:02

a girl who was seen as sexually promiscuous,

0:22:020:22:04

she might actually have even been raped

0:22:040:22:06

and perhaps had an illegitimate child,

0:22:060:22:08

could be put in a home for mental defects, as they were called.

0:22:080:22:13

Basically, they were prisons. So, pretty terrible places.

0:22:130:22:17

They would send you mad if you weren't mad already.

0:22:170:22:20

She might be locked away indefinitely and in fact,

0:22:200:22:22

this law wasn't finally abolished until 1959

0:22:220:22:25

and then they discovered some women who had been put in there

0:22:250:22:28

as young girls and, you know, institutionalised by that time.

0:22:280:22:31

Absolutely shocking.

0:22:310:22:33

I just can't imagine how different the world must have been

0:22:330:22:37

back then for women.

0:22:370:22:39

To be labelled as mad, maybe put into a mental asylum

0:22:390:22:42

just for thinking about sex, let alone doing it on your own terms.

0:22:420:22:45

Just as wartime had changed attitudes to women in work,

0:22:470:22:50

it also started to change attitudes towards women and sex.

0:22:500:22:55

But the biggest change came later, in the 1960s,

0:22:560:22:58

when cultural rebellion and the introduction of the pill

0:22:580:23:03

brought with it a social revolution.

0:23:030:23:05

Women no longer wanted to wait for a man to marry them.

0:23:060:23:10

They wanted to make their own decisions,

0:23:100:23:13

shape their own lives, have relationships on their own terms

0:23:130:23:16

and, just like the suffragettes,

0:23:160:23:18

the feminists of the '60s and '70s fought for what they believed in.

0:23:180:23:22

Sally Alexander was one of them,

0:23:220:23:24

angry at how women were viewed in a male-dominated society.

0:23:240:23:28

Why were we always, you know,

0:23:280:23:30

denigrated as birds or girls or, you know, pin-ups or looked at,

0:23:300:23:38

judged just by our sexual attractiveness.

0:23:380:23:41

And we wanted, you know,

0:23:410:23:44

the same right to sexual freedom but also respect as men had.

0:23:440:23:50

Beauty pageants where women paraded in swimming costumes

0:23:510:23:54

before mostly male judges portrayed women as beautiful objects

0:23:540:23:58

to be gawped at and took no account

0:23:580:24:00

of what was going on between their ears.

0:24:000:24:02

In 1970 at the Miss World competition at the Royal Albert Hall,

0:24:020:24:06

Sally Alexander and other activists decided to protest

0:24:060:24:09

against this very male view of women.

0:24:090:24:13

We did feel that we had more to offer the world

0:24:130:24:16

than just beautiful bodies and the point of the demonstration

0:24:160:24:20

was to break up the spectacle of Miss World.

0:24:200:24:24

It was Sunday night viewing, family viewing,

0:24:240:24:27

so we knew we would get maximum disruption of a live television show

0:24:270:24:31

and our slogan was,

0:24:310:24:33

"We're not beautiful, we're not ugly, we're angry".

0:24:330:24:37

So we leapt up, sort of demented with anxiety and nerves

0:24:370:24:42

and literally shaking all over,

0:24:420:24:45

clambered over all the people in our seats,

0:24:450:24:47

because we were sitting in the middle of the row.

0:24:470:24:50

Tried to climb up onto the stage and then four policemen got hold of me

0:24:500:24:54

and I can't remember very much but I just remember being pulled out.

0:24:540:24:59

Today, ours is a far more liberal society

0:25:000:25:03

than it was in the 1950s,

0:25:030:25:05

when sex outside marriage was frowned upon,

0:25:050:25:07

illegitimacy was taboo, and gay sex was illegal.

0:25:070:25:11

Sex is now everywhere, from pop videos to adverts and the Internet,

0:25:110:25:15

we are bombarded with sexual images.

0:25:150:25:18

'I went to meet campaigner Kat Banyard, who is

0:25:180:25:21

'concerned about how women are portrayed in the media today.'

0:25:210:25:25

Since the 1970s, there has been a huge expansion of the global

0:25:250:25:28

sex industry and that includes stripping, prostitution

0:25:280:25:33

and crucially, pornography.

0:25:330:25:35

Pornography today has never been easier or cheaper to access

0:25:350:25:40

and as a result of that, our culture has literally been pornified.

0:25:400:25:44

The reality is that a society which relentlessly treats

0:25:440:25:51

women as sex objects and portrays them just as inanimate objects

0:25:510:25:56

is a society where women are more likely

0:25:560:26:00

to experience rape and sexual violence.

0:26:000:26:04

We need to reclaim the spaces that the pornographers

0:26:040:26:07

and pornographic ideals are taking up,

0:26:070:26:10

whether that be a display of lads' mags in supermarkets

0:26:100:26:14

or the advertisements that we see in our magazines.

0:26:140:26:17

We can change that but it will take people to get out onto the street and demand it.

0:26:170:26:22

I'm just so shocked.

0:26:220:26:23

Men in Victorian times wanted women to be passive

0:26:230:26:26

and now they want us to be sex objects.

0:26:260:26:28

It kind of feels like we haven't come very far at all

0:26:280:26:31

and the threat of sexual violence is never far away.

0:26:310:26:34

Recent UK surveys state that one in five women

0:26:360:26:39

between 16 and 59 have been the victim

0:26:390:26:42

of a sexual offence or attempted offence since the age of 16.

0:26:420:26:46

Against this background of sexual violence,

0:26:490:26:51

in 2011 women around the world took to the streets in protest

0:26:510:26:55

at what a Toronto policeman had said.

0:26:550:26:58

He told a group of law students that to avoid being raped,

0:26:580:27:01

women should avoid dressing like sluts.

0:27:010:27:04

These protests were called Slut Walks.

0:27:040:27:07

The whole point of the march was just to say,

0:27:070:27:09

come in whatever you feel comfortable in.

0:27:090:27:12

Some people chose to wear their underwear or not wear very much

0:27:120:27:16

basically to get rid of this whole idea that

0:27:160:27:18

if you're not wearing that much

0:27:180:27:22

then you are somehow responsible for violence that happens to you.

0:27:220:27:25

You know, rape can happen to any of us.

0:27:250:27:27

I think it was a real victory

0:27:270:27:29

because the whole point of victim-blaming is to silence women

0:27:290:27:32

and to make them feel ashamed, you know, like they can't talk about

0:27:320:27:35

the violence cos no-one is going to believe them or they are going to get blamed for it.

0:27:350:27:39

For example, one woman had a sign that said, "When I was raped

0:27:390:27:42

"I was wearing a tracksuit and a really big puffy jacket

0:27:420:27:45

"and now I'm wearing my underwear and I wasn't responsible for it then

0:27:450:27:49

"and if it happened now, I still wouldn't be responsible.

0:27:490:27:52

"It would be, you know, the only blame should be on the person

0:27:520:27:55

"who actually decided to rape me."

0:27:550:27:57

Anastasia and the Slut Walkers have brought the history of women's protest bang up-to-date.

0:27:570:28:03

I reckon the suffragettes would have been proud of them.

0:28:030:28:06

We've learned about some of the most incredible moments in history.

0:28:060:28:09

I feel inspired

0:28:090:28:11

and I've actually felt quite emotional about some of it.

0:28:110:28:14

As a woman I have many choices,

0:28:140:28:16

opportunity and, most importantly, freedom.

0:28:160:28:20

It's only because women have continuously got together

0:28:200:28:23

to fight for radical change.

0:28:230:28:25

It was definitely worth it 100 years ago and it still is today.

0:28:250:28:29

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:510:28:55

Radio 1 DJ Gemma Cairney takes a personal journey through the history of the women's movement, starting with the death of suffragette Emily Davison at the Epsom Derby. The film investigates landmark events including women winning the right to vote and the sexual revolution of the 1960s.


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