A ‘Silent’, ‘Modern’ Revolution?
The Family, Femininity, and Reproductive Politics in the 1940s and 1950s
The present chapter explores the 1940s and 1950s and concentrates on the relationship between ideas of the family and reproductive control. Three questions are of particular interest. The first is what could be called the normalization of birth control in Labour politics in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1920s and 1930s, even the discussion of birth control, let alone its implementation as party policy, was controversial in the eyes of the party’s leaders and the leaders of the women’s sections. In the 1940s and 1950s, birth control was accepted, almost blandly, as a normal part of family life. This did not lead to an immediate change in party policy, but it did signal a very different set of assumptions about motherhood, family, and femininity. The campaign for abortion law reform also witnessed a significant change in the immediate postwar period. In the 1950s, the group switched its focus to Westminster, seeking direct political change with the help of a small group of mostly Labour MPs. This shifted the arc of abortion politics, linking it more clearly to a parliamentary fate. The chapter concludes with a broad discussion of the changing context of femininity, women’s lives, and working-class life in the 1940s and 1950s, arguing that this showed both continuity with the 1920s and 1930s and, at the same time, provided the basis for a departure in thinking about the political context of birth control.
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