nick_owen_smaller_sqPlease send me a message.

Name: (required)

Email address: (required)


In this research from my project Other People’s Struggles, I look at the absence of men from the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) in the 1970s. This absence can be contrasted with their presence – awkward though that sometimes was – in the Women’s Suffrage Movement before the First World War, which I have also written about in several other places.

‘Absence’ is a term which requires immediate qualification. Men were initially present in the WLM. In another article, published in Historical Journal, I provided an account of how and why they were excluded. In this chapter, however, I aim to test a hypothesis – indeed, the most commonly held hypothesis – that tries to explain this absence: that men did not support the demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement. This, after all, is the most immediately obvious explanation of why men were ‘absent’.

I have gathered data from social attitudes surveys of the 1970s to test levels of support for the demands of the WLM among men and women. The WLM demands were quite formally defined at the conferences, and although there are some good reasons not to take them as definitive or comprehensive, they are a good starting point.

There were seven of them. At the first conference in Oxford in 1971, and in the months that followed, four demands were agreed which were then adopted at the second national conference. They were for (1) Equal pay, (2) Equal educational and job opportunities, (3) Free contraception and abortion on demand, and (4) Free 24 hour nurseries. In 1974, in Edinburgh, two further demands were added: (5) Legal and financial independence for all women and (6) The right to a self defined sexuality. An end to discrimination against lesbians. Finally, in 1978 in Birmingham, ‘the right to a self defined sexuality’ was moved to precede the other demands, and a further demand was added: (7) Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.

How can support for these demands be tested? In the 1970s, the major commercial polling organisations – Gallup, NOP, Harris, and others – conducted regular polls of public opinion on legislative proposals and social attitudes. These are frequently reported in the press. However, it was quite rare for them to report men and women’s responses separately. I have therefore obtained the original data from the UK data archive and several other repositories, and where necessary converted it from the binary data-files. These are mostly old files, and in some cases I had to recode them to make them amenable to modern statistical software. But once this was done, it was possible to split the original data and reanalyse it so as to differentiate between the views of male and female respondents. I have also found numerous unpublished polls in the British, European and North American data archives to which the same method can be applied.

I also tried to find questions that come as close as possible to the seven ‘demands’, and, for reasons I explore at greater length in the chapter, this was possible in some cases, but not in all. In most, though again not all, cases, I identify the WLM response (e.g. ‘strongly in favour’ of equal pay) and compare the proportions of men and women who make that response, compared to those who make any other response (including don’t know). There are some interesting questions about ‘don’t knows’ which I explore in the chapter too. In some cases, where there are several opinions within the WLM (e.g. on pornography) I compare the responses of men and women across all the answers.

Most of the summary data I use in the chapter is given in the tables below, although by no means all of it. The figures are the percentages of men and women who gave each answer. The ‘feminist’ answer – the response you would expect the women’s liberationists to give, in other words – is given in red. The figure in brackets after each question gives the result of a significance test (either a Kruskal-Wallis or a Mann-Whitney test). These have the following meanings: (-) means that there is no statistically significant difference between the opinions of men and the opinions of women. (*) indicates significant difference at the 5% level and (**) significant difference at the 1% level. For those unfamiliar with significance tests, that means, roughly, that there is a less than 5% chance (*) or less than 1% chance (**) that the variation is a chance result of sampling error.

As you can see from the tables below, the results cast doubt on the hypothesis that the primary reason for the exclusion of men was that men did not agree with the demands. On some demands, women were significantly more in support of the demand than men, but quite high levels of men supported it. Equal pay is a good example. On other demands, such as equal opportunities, men seem to have been at least as supportive as women. On other demands still, such as birth control and abortion, men seem to have been more supportive than women. And on some demands, especially those made later in the 1970s, concerning pornography and sexual violence, women were more supportive than men.

In the chapter, I provide a more detailed analysis of the data, and also provide data on some of the other demands feminist women made in the 1970s. I also explore the adequacy of the questions and answers as a measure of support for the demands. Finally, I offer some supplementary reasons for the absence of men despite, as it seems, their support for the demands. These are, to summarise them briefly, the articulation of desire and identity; the blending of experience, feeling and theory; the empowerment of the activist; and the prefigurative living of change.

As elsewhere, if you would like to read the draft chapter, please scroll to the end of the tables, click the paper-dart icon, and send me a message.

TABLE 1A: EQUAL PAY (1968 - 69)
Do you approve or disapprove of paying women the same as men, if they are doing the same work?
Sep 1968 (**)Feb 1969 (**)Oct 1969 (**)
Don't know676635
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ594 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ619 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].NOP Market Research Limited, National Opinion Polls National Political Surveys; October 1969 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1981. SN: 69033.

Feb 1973
[Do you think the following is] an important problem or not an important problem…. equal wages for women? (**)
Feb 1973
[Of those thinking it important] [Do you agree or disagree that] women should be paid the same money for doing the same work as men? (**)
Important4249Strongly agree3547
Not important5649Agree5645
Don't know12Neither66
Strongly disagree11
Worcester, R.M. and Gosschalk, B., MORI Labour Party Research Data, 1974; Panel [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1977. SN: 924.

July 1970
Do you think that if … women [became] entirely equal with men in the education they get, the jobs they do, and the pay they get for similar jobs … it would be a good thing or a bad thing on the whole and how good or bad? (-)
Oct 1974
Do you think Britain has gone too far or not far enough in attempts to give equal opportunities to women? (-)
April 1976
Do you agree or disagree with the Government’s attempt to make men and women equal through the Sex Discrimination Act? (-)
Good (5)3843Not nearly far enough98Agree very strongly45
(4)3227Not far enough2824Agree strongly108
Don't know / no answer (3)911About right4646Agree4242
(2)1112Too far1115No opinion / don't know711
Bad (1)107Much too far67Disagree2424
Disagree strongly98
Disagree very strongly43
Social Science Research Council. Survey Unit, Future in Britain Survey, 1970 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1974. SN: 60.Crewe, I.M., Robertson, D.R. and Sarlvik, B., British Election Study, October 1974; Cross-Section Survey [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1977. SN: 666.NOP Market Research Limited, Attitudes to Abortion and the Sex Discrimination Act, 1976 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1981. SN: 1639.

March 1970
[D]o you think that the pill should be available [for all women] under the National Health or not? (**)
March 1970
Do you think the women’s contraceptive pill should only be obtainable on doctor’s prescription or should it be available without a prescription? (**)
May 1970
Do you think the pill should or should not be available to unmarried girls? (**)
Aug 1971
Do you think the pill should or should not be available to single women? (**)
Yes3523Doctor only6573Yes4838Yes6851
No6577Without prescription2013No 4151No2339
Not available at all57Don't know1111Don't know910
Don't know107
NOP, Special Research Report on Crime, Violence and the Permissive Society (March 1970). Don’t knows unreported.NOP, Political Bulletin, March 1970.Opinion Research Centre, May 1970, Evening Standard, 11 May 1970.Opinion Research Centre, May 1970, Evening Standard, 10 Aug 1971.

Dec 1972
Do you think the Government should provide [a] free birth control service? (-)
April 1975
How much [do] you agree or disagree that birth control should be provided free for all who ask for it? (-)
Yes6664Agree very strongly99
No2726Agree strongly1210
Don't know610Agree4341
No opinion / don't know1010
Disagree strongly35
Disagree very strongly24
NOP Market Research Limited, National Opinion Polls National Political Surveys; 12-17 December 1972 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1981. SN: 70.NOP Market Research Limited and Gay News, Attitudes to Social Issues, April 1975 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1978. SN: 1105.

Feb 1967
Do you think abortion should … be legal …when the woman is unable to cope with more children? (-)
…when there is a serious risk of deformity? (-)…when the pregnancy is a result of sexual crime? (-)
Don't know 1211108109
NOP, ‘Survey on Abortion’, Feb 1967, Wellcome Collection Archives, SA/ALR/A13/1/4. See also NOP, ‘Survey on Abortion’, Sep 1967, SA/ALR/A13/1/5.

Do you think that the law should be left as it is, changed to make it easier to obtain legal abortion or changed to make it more difficult to obtain legal abortion?
Jan 1970 (-)May 1972 (-)Sep 1973 (-)
As it is413930303633
More difficult354042453040
‘Survey on Abortion’, Jan 1970, Wellcome Collection Archives, SA/ALR/A13/1/6.New Humanist, May 1972, 30-3.New Humanist, Nov 1973, 221-5.

Do you think that abortion ...
Oct 1969 (*)Nov 1973 (-)Jan 1975 (-)
... should be available on demand?211620161915
... should be available in certain circumstances?626754615867
... should never be available?121111161313
don't know55158105
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ654 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ876 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ945 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].

Mar-April 1983
[Do] you yourself agree completely, agree to some extent, disagree to some extent or disagree completely with [the following aims of] movements and associations concerned with the situation of women?
Fight against prejudiced people who would like to keep women in a subordinate role to men both in the family and in society. (-)Obtain true equality between men and women in their work and careers. (-)Persuade the political parties to give women the same chances as men of reaching responsible positions in the parties and of becoming candidates for elections. (-)Manage things so that when a child is unwell it could be either the father or the mother who stay home to care for it. (-)Ensure that women who are not in paid employment and who are bringing up their children should receive payment for this. (-)Organize women into an independent movement to achieve a radical transformation of society. (-)
Agree completely3435434149483232212144
Agree to some extent293042443740363036301922
Disagree to some extent1818101298192119252630
Disagree completely19164354121724245144
Eurobarometer 19 (Gender Roles in the European Community) (1983). Original data supplied by Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences (GESIS), ZA1318. Reported as European Women and Men in 1983: the situation of women, women and employment, their role in society (Brussels, 1983).

Feb 1982
Do you agree or disagree that ...
There is no real difference between pictures in pornographic magazines and the painting with naked people we sometimes see in art galleries. (-)
Sex is a private matter and should never be publicly displayed, filmed or staged for money or for entertainment. (**)
The use of pornography is harmless and has no serious effect on those who have a taste for it. (**)The pornography trade degrades women because it makes them into “sex objects” for male use. (**)
The use of pornography can help some marriages. (**)
Strongly agree32172621142521
Agree 19174047342145434430
Neither 44129121114111712
Strongly disagree252852152532915
Making pornography available leads to a reduction in sex crimes. (*)The authorities should stop interfering and allow ordinary people to decide what is fit for them to see and read, and what is not. (*)The use of pornography can trigger off sexual assault. (*) There should be no censorship, on sexual grounds, of plays and films. (**)
Strongly agree22139111742
Strongly disagree141979221823
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ806, [computer file]. Data supplied by Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, GBSSLT1982, Feb 1982. The indicators of significance here are Mann Whitney tests of the whole range of opinion.

% agreeing that rape was a 'very serious social problem in Britain'.
Dec 1968 (-)Mar 1971(-)Sep 1972 (-)Jun 1973 (-)Jun 1973 (*)May 1975 (*)
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ610 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ739 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ812 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ854 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ855 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Gallup Poll, May 1975 [computer file]. SN: 1330, Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].

If paperdartlogo750_coralyou could like to read the draft chapter, in which I analyse this data in more depth, and explain what I think it shows, please click the paper-dart icon and send me a message.