Prior to the passing of the Divorce Reform Act in 1969, divorce was only granted with evidence that one party had committed adultery and statistics show that there were fewer than two divorces per 1000 married couples. The Divorce Reform Act allowed couples to divorce if they had lived apart for two years and both wanted it or if they had lived apart for five years and one partner wanted it. Following the reform there was a huge increase in the number of divorces, by the mid-1970s nearly one in every two marriages ended in divorce. Although this change could have been due to the growing independence of women, it is likely that the Act played a major role, thus would show that this contributed to creating a permissive society.
Up until the 1960s there was control maintained over the opinions and morals of the people, for example, sexually explicit content in literature was not allowed. However, in 1959 the Obscene Publications Act was passed and stated that in adult literature those which can be classed as ‘in the interests of science, literature, art or learning’ should be exempt from censorship. Therefore this allowed what had once been deemed shocking to become more acceptable, for example, the previously banned novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (which contained sexually explicit content) was allowed to be re-published. After the re-publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover censorship increasing worse away, for example pornographic novels such as Fanny Hill were published. Although source B suggests that the Obscene Publications Act was unpopular, ‘unmitigated disaster’, those against the Act were few in number and rising acceptance of the reduction of censorship in literature shows that society was becoming increasingly permissive.
Due to the British Board of film censors, censorship lasted longer on screen and films were subject to strict categorisation. However, there were gradual expansions of what was considered acceptable and new issues such as youth culture and sex were explored, which gradually became more daring and by the end of the decade screen violence and sex had become acceptable. Thus this change also contributed to creating the British permissive society.
In the early 1960s theatre also became amongst those addressing social issues, despite censorship, and this led to plays such as Early Morning becoming banned. However, after this ban a bill to abolish theatrical censorship was passed and nudity on stage was approved.
TV also created a permissive society as it helped to develop more liberal attitudes. As the 1960s progressed, issues of sex, violence, politics and religion, which had previously been banned or considered unsuitable for public broadcasting, were tackled. For example, The Wednesday Play, which featured issues such as abortion, and Coronation Street, which shocked audiences with its realistic portrayal of affairs and failed marriages.
Before the 1960s women were encouraged to give up their job and personal independence when married or on the arrival of their first child and it was seen as their duty to be a good wife and mother. However, the introduction of the oral contraceptive pill and the Divorce Reform Act society became permissive. Women were able take away the inevitability of pregnancy and plan their lives, including careers. The Divorce Reform Act proved to show that marriage was becoming less important. Referring back to source C’s claim that these changes did not create a permissive society due to people not using their freedom, ‘they did not necessarily exercise that freedom’, it can be shown that a permissive society was created due to these changes as the number of illegitimate births rose from 5.8 per cent to 8.2 per cent and as mentioned earlier, the number of marriages ending in divorce rose.
As can be seen, due to an accumulation of reduced censorship and liberalising laws, there was a permissive society in Britain.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
The author has a clear knowledge of the key legal changes that allowed for a permissive society but the central debate is missed; do these legal reforms reflect or create British society in the 1960s? Only one side of the debate is really addressed. 3 out of 5 stars.