Feminism and West European politics: an overview
However, the dynamism of the 1970s appeared to have faded and many believed that, in Western Europe at least, the WLM was over, that feminism had been removed from the political agenda. Others argue that although one may no longer point to a WLM as such, this is because of its success, because women are now politically integrated. Feminism, it is averred, has been institutionalized, evident not only in the new state bureaucracies established to promote women's rights, but also in the rising presence of women in the formal political arena. In fact, both views are an over-simplification of what is a complex and changing situation. Feminism has had an important influence on West European politics, and women in the 1980s are better politically integrated than they were in the 1960s. But the
At first an American phenomenon, second-wave feminism struck an extremely responsive chord among West European women. Vicky Randall (1987) cites three related explanations for the mobilising capacity of the WLM. These are the aspects of women's situation
engage the traditional political institutions. Often this engagement took the form of amusing and imaginative direct political action. In Denmark the 1970s saw women refusing to pay more than 80 per cent of bus fares because women's pay averaged only 80 per cent of that of men. When arrested and fined they dutifully and cheerfully paid 80 per cent of their fines. Other ways of making the point were more serious. Prominent French, German, Italian, and later Greek women all signed declarations that they had had abortions, challenging the authorities to prosecute them for breaches of restrictive legislation. In what were perhaps the most conspicuous feminist political activities of the 1970s, widespread campaigns were organised to reform abortion statutes in Italy, France, the Netherlands and West Germany. Cultural, institutional, ideological and organisational factors led to variations in and between the WLM and other women's movements. Traditional organisations were very much affected by second-wave feminism. Changes took place in the perspectives and practices of many women's rights organisations and of women's groups within other organisations, becoming highly visible at the end of the 1970s when many European feminists transferred their activities to unions and political parties. By then women's organisations of all kinds had begun to take stands on questions of women's rights. In Britain traditional organisations such as the Women's Institute and the Townswomen's Guild were active on equal pay and opportunity legislation and many associations engaged in lobbying first for the liberalisation and later the maintenance of permissive abortion legislation. The hitherto compliant, Communist-led Union of Italian Women pressured the Italian Communist Party on issues of women's rights and broke ranks with the party over the abortion issue. Women in the Swedish Centre Party demanded and won government action on equal opportunity policy. Thus in a relatively short period of time the WLM had demonstrated that it was a political force to be reckoned with, capable of both influence and mobilisation.