Battles of the Sexes

The Committee was 18 strong. There were three women appointees (including me) – the other two were, respectively, a District Council elected representative and a retired Social Work Assistant/now Labour Party activist. The men were all, without exception, elected representatives – with the Committee Office Holders being drawn from the Strathclyde Regional Council reps. They were all (with two exceptions)  Labour Party members, but, young as I was, it surprised me to discover that status was very important to them – and Regional reps were clearly considered of greater significance than District Council reps…

I knew Jackie, the ex Social Work Assistant, well. I was the local Party Chair and she was the Treasurer. But she was more than that to me – even at that stage. A whirlwind of force and fury and anger against “the establishment”, against “privilege” and poverty and inequality. Self-taught. life-battered. Ex-Trade union Steward who was active in the Plessey sit-in (here). Vociferous proponent of the under-dog – prisoners and abused and neglected children in particular. She would rapidly become a second mother to me. Helping me cope with the demands of my 2nd child whom I found initially difficult to parent and to bond with.

The gender imbalance was typical of politics and public service of that time. The 90s saw the introduction of One-member-one-vote (Omov – though the electoral college rules water that down) and  latterly women-only shortlists for the Labour Party (under John Smith) – but “equality” was a concept viewed with very deep suspicion in the 80s and 90s West of Scotland (in truth, it still is).

This is an area that the Swinging 60s completely bypassed. An area where 50s attitudes, particularly in relation to the divisions between the sexes, reigned supreme – where, in 1985, my school taxi-driver felt comfortable enough to seriously and at-length give me chapter and verse as to why it was a “waste of time educating lassies because they would only give it all up to have wains”…

I lost count of the number of fights I witnessed and joined, attempting to shift the attitudes of the cabals of Party misogynists who would be up in arms about their preferred male candidate being sidelined in preference to a “stupid wee lassie ootsider wi nae experience”… It always amazed me that many women supported these men. And at a time when women reps were as rare as hens teeth.

Vera, the other woman member, was one of those women. She and I never did see eye-to-eye.

(to be continued)


5 thoughts on “Battles of the Sexes

  1. I suppose that there must have been similar attitudes in Liverpool to some extent but I was never really aware of them. As a local government officer of that era I had no declared political leanings (through I actually had strong views which no-one knew until I left local government). I was brought up in a family where, on both sides, the women were strong and independent and respected. I was of an age where my closest friend at work at the age of 16 was female (we were inseparable then and are still close to this day) and was always one step ahead of me on the promotion ladder. I lived in an age of a few strong pioneering female Chief Officers and politicians (Bessie Braddock for one). Ironically one of the things that sticks in my mind is how much other women hated having a female boss. So much to discuss.

  2. Yeah!! Vera was a piece of work!! Which makes her well worth a tale or two…

    And YES Graham! So, so much to discuss. You are unusual Graham – you are a “liberated man”!! Unusual – she coughed – for your age…(wink)

    And yes, e.f. – I believe you are a “liberated man” too…lol

  3. When you put it like that…it makes my eye twich. 🙂

    Course, I come from a place where the idea of getting up and going to work everyday is seen as something other than liberating.

    Most all the women are strong around here (there's some interesting thoughts about how the role of women, as decided by women…how they handled their power in these parts…was shaped by the aftermath of the war) and some of the strongest I've know would've had a cow at the suggestion they get a job.

    As for having women in positions of power, running things…well I've never known any different. 🙂

  4. I recognise this Yvonne. So well. Attitudes may not have been as overt in London political circles in the 1970s and 80s but there was a bedrock of suspicion of political women.
    In the far left groups the leaders were all male. Women comrades made the tea.
    I like your self-taught, life-battered Jackie. She sounds a heroine to me.

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