The Sexual Revolution
FROM the Suffragette movement to the compliant 50s housewife and from Spare Rib to the G Spot debate, the sex lives of women through the ages is a fascinating journey.
A new exhibition in Glasgow is asking us to undress our minds and explore how sexual attitudes have changed across the decades.
Thirty objects were mined from the impressive collections at the city’s Women’s Library, which show how life has evolved for women though a series of sexual revolutions.
The exhibition is part of a wider Sexology Season in cities across the country – including Brighton, Southampton and Manchester – with funding from the Wellcome Institute of Sexology in London.
Adele Patrick, a founder of the library, said that sex is a subject we never tire of exploring.
She said: “You think everything is out there, everything has been written and said about sex but we questioned whether that was really the case. I think it is a very hot topic at the moment and there is so much more to be said.”
There are some gems among the collection – some of them so regressive that they will either provoke rage or a wry smile.
A series of anti-Suffragette propaganda postcards are an insight into the ingrained sexism of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Adele said: “We didn’t want to be seen to be taking one view because there are so many contested areas when it comes to sex.
“For instance, some regard prostitution as sex work and others see it as a fundamental abuse of women. We have so many publications that cover all areas of that debate and we see the library as a guardian of all the material and we respect women’s differing views.”
The exhibition takes us through the sexual revolutions which pushed the boundaries for women.
First-wave feminism focused on overturning legal obstacles to gender equality, such as voting and property rights.
Second-wave feminism broadened the debate to include sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights and legal inequalities.
The library have shown a series of films curated by young women.
Surprisingly, they discovered that there was a variety of films surrounding lesbianism or bisexuality but few for young straight women exploring their sexuality.
Adele said: “We wanted an alternative view to the rom-com. We did struggle because while there was a film about a disabled lesbian, the films about heterosexual young women discovering sex were difficult to find.”
Curator Emma Smith selected items from the library collection that represented the very different ways sex and sexuality are represented.
She came up with different themes, including Sex in the Home.
Before the sexual revolution of the 60s, women were expected to have sex, in law and under God, in the home and only with their husband.
The Citizen’s Housewives Guide for the women of the 50s makes for startling reading.
It was published by the Evening Citizen in Glasgow and contains everything a housewife would need to know, from cooking to choosing “foundation garments”.
There is no mention of sex as sexuality was discouraged as a topic for women. There are copies of Spare Rib magazine, which was the most significant magazine of the women’s liberation movement in Britain in the 70s and 80s.
Spare Rib charted the rise of the movement and dared to discuss topics such as the orgasm.
Adele said: “This was unbelievably ground-breaking stuff. Now magazines discussing orgasms are common but then it was revolutionary.
”As women started to demand that they be seen as more than just housewives and mothers, they also began to open their minds to the idea that sex could be for pleasure as well as procreation.”
What followed was the Cosmo generation and, in the early 80s, debate around the discovery of the G spot, with books published on the subject.
Sex is still a minefield for women and there are now pressures other than society, such as the internet.
Online pornography is having an impact on how women are expected to behave between the sheets.
Young women feel pressurised to look like porn stars and behave like them too. But women are still readily judged as “sluts” if they are promiscuous. Hence the rise of slut walks to reclaim these terms.
Adele said: “They are having to do that because there is still a prevailing view that women who have more than one partner are sluts.
“The demonisation of young women, and their behaviour, still continues to this day.”