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Women in revolt!

My main reason for heading to Tate Britain yesterday was for the exhibition Women In Revolt! Act and Activism in the UK 1970-1990.

It was a scary realisation that not long before I was born, women were legal dependents of their husbands and sexual consent within marriage was not a thing. The Equal Pay Act wasn’t enacted until 1975. It’s little wonder that, nearly 50 years on it still doesn’t feel like things are equal. In fact in many ways it feels like things are going backwards – not just with regards to equality, but with history repeating itself and people not learning lessons of the past.

Tough! 1979, See Red Women’s Workshop

I didn’t study history beyond the basic secondary education everyone gets (WW2 and the invention of penicillin are the only two things I remember being taught about at school) and I realised too late that sociology is something I think I would’ve found interesting. I’ve therefore had to self educated myself a lot about topics I’ve realised are important to understand in terms of the history of this country, in particular, and over recent years I’ve been on a steep learning curve. This exhibition really helped me understand what generations before me have had to go through to help get the rights I’m able to benefit from today. And that the fight is not yet over.

We often hear people praise Maggie Thatcher for being the first female Prime Minister. The more I learn about the things she did during her tenure as PM, the first 11 years of my life, the more I realise she perhaps wasn’t the sort of woman that women may have wanted representing them, as despite a woman being in charge she did little to help challenge and change traditional gender roles.

A big focus of the exhibition was regarding the use of art as protest. Recently the Arts Council had to make it clear they would not penalise those working with artists who make political statements, after some language in guidance was “open to misinterpretation” suggesting “overtly political or activist” work could break funding agreements. But art is political and as soon as people are discouraged from using art in that way we lose a powerful tool in conveying the realities of people’s lives. I’ve included some photos of the works that I found most powerful or caught my eye. (I forgot to capture details of all the artists but I’ve included captions where known)

One of my observations when I looked at those visiting the exhibition was the gender make up. There were people of all ages, but I reckon about 99% of the visitors were women. I popped into the Sargent and Fashion exhibition beforehand where the gender split was at least 50%, if not more, male. I feel that says an awful lot about what men think is interesting and important when it comes to culture and history. Male artist – yes. Women protesting to be treated fairly – not so much.

When we look at what’s going on in the world right now in terms of women’s reproductive rights, racism, transphobia, human rights and the right to protest to name a few to topics, this exhibition acted as a stark reminder of the importance to use our voices and ensure they are heard. As someone who shies away from going to in person protests for a number of reasons, it’s made me think about what I can do to help in the ongoing fight for issues that I believe in, even if they don’t impact me directly.

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