By 1950 women had begun to play a part in public life, but their role was still circumscribed. The second half of the century brought ‘second wave feminism’, which further challenged attitudes and brought a more genuine equality between the rights of men and women.
By the end of the century London’s population, like that of the rest of the country, had slightly more women than men, and women’s share of the workforce was increasing.
The availability of the birth control pill in the 1960s gave women a degree of choice over whether or not to have children. However the sexual freedom this brought did not always work in women’s favour. In the 1970s the ‘Women’s Liberation’ movement emerged to assert women’s need to overturn old ‘patriarchal’ attitudes that treated women as second-class citizens.
Women’s groups sprang up across London. In 1970 protestors disrupted the Miss World contest in London. The first Women’s Liberation march, 4,000 strong, was held in London in 1971. The magazine ‘Spare Rib’ was first published in London in 1972.
The Equal Pay Act of 1970 began to address one of the main inequalities for women. Until then, employers had been able to pay women less than they paid men for doing an identical job. Five years later, the Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in education and recruitment.
Greater London Council
In 1982 the Greater London Council (G.L.C) set up a women’s committee –the first ever such committee in British local government. Until the abolition of the G.L.C. in 1986 the committee, chaired by Valerie Wise, gave grants to many women’s groups and initiatives. It also tried to change attitudes by banning adverts on the Tube that were demeaning to women.
Women moved into local government in the boroughs. In 1986 Linda Bellos became the leader of Lambeth Council, and Merle Amory leader of Brent Council. These were the first Black women to hold such roles.
Firms were quick to exploit women’s new mood of independence. In 1972 the glossy, assertive and uninhibited magazine Cosmopolitan was introduced. By the 1990s ‘Cosmo’ had been joined on the newsagents’ stands by Marie Claire and many others. Advertisers had also begun to target women as buyers of cars and other consumer goods that had been traditionally associated with men.