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Vernacular discourses of gender equality in the post-war British working class

Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, F. and Thomlinson, N. (2022) Vernacular discourses of gender equality in the post-war British working class. Past and Present, 254 (1). pp. 277-313. ISSN 1477-464X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/pastj/gtab012


Why did women’s roles change so dramatically in the West in the period after 1945? These years saw major changes in women’s roles, and in dominant understandings of female selfhood, from a model based on self-abnegation to one based on self-fulfilment. The roots of this shift have often been located in the post-1968 feminist movement and in economic change. Examining this question through the lens of Great Britain, this article, however, centres working-class women as drivers of these changes, drawing on oral history interviews with over 100 women from coalfield communities. In the decades after 1950, these women constructed a new vernacular discourse of gender equality which had profound implications for the position of women in society. This vernacular discourse of gender equality shared some similarities with post-1968 feminism, but rather than focusing on the division of domestic and paid labour, or sexual violence, it emphasised women’s autonomy, individuality and voice. In constructing it, working-class women drew on pervasive post-war ideas about equality and democracy, discourses of individualism and individual fulfilment, and discourses of ‘companionate’ marriage and ‘child-centred’ parenting, in order to make claims for women’s rights. Through doing so, they constructed women as not only wives and mothers, but also as free and equal individuals.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:96541
Publisher:Oxford Academic


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