These short films were made by Lizzie Thynne with Peter Harte as part of Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History project. The films focus on a moment/key campaign in the lives of nine of the sixty women featured in the longer audio life stories recorded for the project, archived in the British Library and featured on British Library Learning website.
The sixty women who tell their stories fought for equality in the personal and public spheres across a range of issues from abortion rights to anti-racism. The archive provides the resources for new studies of this important social movement and its legacy, capturing the voices of a unique generation before it is too late.
Twenty years ago the Greenham women’s peace camp got US cruise missiles sent back home. But nuclear weapons are still being made in the UK. This short film follows Rebecca Johnson, still a tireless campaigner for disarmament, to the monthly women’s peace camp at Aldermaston and to the now tranquil common where the missiles were once installed, 7’43”, 2012.
On 30th January 1972, a young student Bronagh Hinds, along with 20,000 other protestors travelled to Derry, Northern Ireland to march for civil rights. The event, which became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ after 26 people were shot by the British Army, spurred Bronagh’s deep commitment to equality. As a member of the inventive Women’s Coalition (1996 -2006) Bronagh contributed to the 1998 Peace Agreement which brought an end to years of violent conflict in Ulster, 13’ 10”, 2012.
Jan McKenley reflects on her personal experience of abortion and the importance of being able to grieve while upholding a woman’s right to choose. Jan’s experience led her to work for the National Abortion Campaign. She remembers too the importance of a women’s health group in allowing her to cherish her own body, 8′, 2012.
A look at the work of Barbara Jones, founder of the first women’s building company ‘Hilda’s Builders’ in the 1980s and now pioneer in sustainable straw bale construction. Barbara’s enthusiasm for the trade is boundless and her belief that women can do anything in a traditionally male occupation inspiring, 6’10”, 2012.
Karen McMinn was one of the founders of Women’s Aid in Belfast, supporting victims of domestic violence. McMinn highlights the challenges and achievements of this vital organization – working in a war zone, where men were often armed and police were reluctant to respond to calls from women in Republican areas, 6’49”, 2012.
Mary McIntosh, sociologist and author of key papers and books such as ‘The Homosexual Role’(1968) and The Anti-Social Family (1982), recalls coming out in the 1960s. Moving from her early involvement in the Gay Liberation Front kiss-ins and protests against the commercial club scene, she describes her trip to the 1971 Women’s Liberation Conference at Skegness where the GLF women took decisive action to stop male activists running the show, 2011, 6′.
Zoe Fairbairns remembers her moment of epiphany after reading Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970) and realizing that she did not have to get married. She got involved in the ‘YBA Wife’? campaign and reveals her ongoing commitment to co-habitation and not going to weddings ,2011, 5′ 19″.
Michelle Ryan was a member of one of the few women’s film co-ops to exist in Britain – Red Flannel in Wales – funded by the unique workshop system established by Channel 4. She discusses the collaborative process of working on the film ‘Mam’ (1988) on the history of women in the Welsh valleys, whose lives and work had been scarcely recorded until then, 4’44”, 2012.
Women are still badly under-represented in politics. For instance, despite significant advances in the 1990s, less than 25% of Westminster MPs are women. In 1980, the year after Mrs Thatcher was elected Prime Minister, only 4% of Parliament were women. Lesley Abdela, who had stood as a Liberal candidate, founded the 300 group to get 300 women into the Westminster parliament. Interwoven with glimpses of iconic women MPs from the past, Lesley relates the history and impact of the campaign and compares the situation in England with the relative advances of female politicians in the other UK nations and beyond, 6’16”,2013.
Forty years ago the first women’s liberation conference took place at Ruskin College, Oxford. It was the first of several national conferences in the UK which formulated the demands of the women’s movement and sparked the campaigns to make those demands – from equal wages to a woman’s right to choose – a reality. Director Sue Crockford made ‘A Woman’s Place’ an unique film about the event. She describes the excitement of this inaugural moment of modern feminism and the challenges of covering it, 6’ 28” , 2013.
Voices in Movement
This sound-led piece experiments with combining memories recorded for Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project. Oral history focuses on individual stories; Thynne brings these stories together to evoke collective, yet also diverse, perspectives. Barbara Taylor’s and Barbara Jones’ childhood recollections are juxtaposed with a montage of voices suggesting how women’s views of the family shifted with their involvement in feminist politics. Fleeting archival images are glimpsed only to disappear, mimicking the process of memory itself.
The work has been shown as a single screen piece at the Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck, University of London (3 – 25 July 2014) and as a multi-channel sound installation at the Public and Private Archives: Creative Negotiations, Creativity Zone Sussex University (4 April 2014).
Sisterhood and After was funded by the Leverhulme Trust . It was led by Margaretta Jolly from the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research at Sussex University in partnership with the British Library and the Women’s Library.