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The Role of Activist Agences in Shaping the course of Women’s History

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The Role of Activist Agences in Shaping the course of Women's History There is no doubt that activists and activist agencies have played a role in shaping the history of women, and a large amount of the historiography of women's history has given excessive attention to the role of activists. Popular history tends to take a Rankeian view of events, focussing instead on the role of the individual, rather than the deeper underlying social, political and economic causes of history. The traditional Liberal view of the struggle to obtain the franchise is that the suffragettes, via their militant tactics and under the leadership of the Pankhursts ensured that women were granted the vote, and that this solved all the injustices between the sexes. This simplistic view of events however ignores the wider changes that were taking place in the economy and society, as well as placing a larger emphasis on certain activists, rather than looking at the broader picture. The militant activities of the suffragettes were never sufficient enough to frighten the government or the wider public into extending the franchise to women, their acts of violence towards property were often small scale and petty. It also ignores the role of the suffragists led by Millicent Fawcett, who were far more significant in obtaining the vote for women, for they were the ones who reasoned rather than fought with men and showed that women could deal with political matters. ...read more.


This is because even in well paid jobs, such as banking and insuarance, women were restricted from progressing high up the career ladder by having to take maternity leave to bring up children, if they were even considered for promotion in the first place as many of these companies were strongly male dominated. The Women's self image has changed a great deal since the beginning of the c20, when women saw themselves primarily as mothers and wives, though in working class environments this attitude persisted for a lot longer than in wealthier and better educated social groups. Sue Sharpe found in her 1976 book "Just like a girl" that working class girls in Ealing in the 70's still expected to marry a husband who would take care of them financially and that they would be responsible for childrearing. Women's level of deference has decreased greatly from the beginning of the century when they were almost voiceless, to the present day where girls have become at least as vocal as men, if not more. Deep running social trends such as this cannot be changed over night by activists and this lack of change in the working classes could be interpreted as evidence that women's liberation movements have largely been for and by the white middle classes Many women in the 1970s though who had started to redefine their own roles started to live in new ways, such as communally with other women. ...read more.


Men still continue to run the top jobs, with Angela Coyle finding in 1988 that at the very top of companies women made up only 5%. Until 1997 the maximum proportion of women MPs had been approximately 10%. This number was only increased in the 1997 election when Tony Blair supported positive discrimination by adopting an "Emily's List" policy. This meant that in safe seats women be put forward as candidates, the result was >100 women MPs, however this policy was later declared illegal. As women are still expected to take care of children, maternity leave and career breaks for the bringing up of children harm their promotion prospects, resulting in a "glass ceiling" that often needs the sacrifice of family life in order to break through. Although women appeared to become visible in the media, this is often because the ones who did make it to the top were so unusual that they were worthy of media interest. Solutions to the problem are hard, some feminists argue that the only way the position of women will change is if men think differently too, however this is idealistic to say the least. Bruley reaches the conclusion that women are still disadvantaged because although women now have the franchise and careers, they still have to bear the brunt of childbearing, caring and networking. ?? ?? ?? ?? Chris Kenny Page 1 11/04/2007 ...read more.

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