Changing Social Attitudes in the 60’s
A questionnaire on Social Attitudes in the 60s was emailed to SU3A members who expressed an interest in this topic, and 25 replies were received. Here is a summary of the responses.
Two thirds of respondents went to single sex schools, and in co-ed schools girls and boys were often treated differently.
Many reported that their choice of subjects and career was influenced by gender and the school’s or parents’ view of what was possible.
In lower secondary school, woodwork and metalwork for boys, needlework and Domestic Science for girls. Many respondents had clear memories of their choice of subjects for ‘O’ and ‘A’ level and the school’s restrictions and expectations. Comments that boys were not encouraged into anything ‘arty’.
Careers advice for girls recommended teaching or nursing, some went into social work or journalism. An exception was a ‘very academic’ girls’ school where anything was encouraged as long as it led to a profession, including medicine and engineering.
Most went to schools with little cultural diversity. Some mentioned Jewish and Catholic classmates, very few of different ethnicity. An exception was a school in Leicester which was more diverse. Some were aware of the effect of class and background, particularly in pupils attending Grammar Schools.
Many felt that gender roles were entrenched and only began to change in the late 60s/early 70s. Girls were restricted in career, leisure and how to dress. Boys who grew their hair long were mocked or criticised.
Most reported their mothers did not work outside the home, sometimes because their husband did not want them to. Companies such as banks required women to leave on marriage. (There were exceptions, e.g. one mother a successful journalist and one home where all jobs were shared by mother and father).
In contrast almost all women respondents who married in the 60s continued to work at least part-time, often with breaks for children, an exception being nursing, where it was not allowed in the early 60s.
Some became involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 60s, mentioning Germaine Greer as an influence.
Several female respondents reported wanting to live differently after seeing their mothers’ preoccupation with housework!
Race and Diversity:
Although immigrants from Commonwealth countries had settled in the area, most respondents had limited contact with people from other cultures. Examples of friendship or relationships were rare and often met with disapproval from parents. Several commented on not meeting black people till they left home for University, or saw them working on public transport in cities.
However 2 women respondents had married black men with parental consent.
Racist language was common, often used casually in the home, or directed at anyone seen in company with a black person. Some respondents from Catholic or Jewish families also suffered some abuse.
Sex and relationships:
Several reported the lack of sex education in schools, and parents having no appropriate language to discuss it at home.
Parents were very concerned about the disgrace of daughters getting pregnant.
Contraception was difficult to obtain.
Several reported that girls who became ‘unmarried mothers’ were forced to leave school or university, perhaps sent to ‘mother and baby’ homes, or advised to arrange adoption.
Some took leaving home (mostly to university) as an opportunity to change their sexual behaviour.
Some reported having gay friends who were in fear of the law. One knew of a clinic giving ‘aversion therapy’ to cure homosexuality as an alternative to prison.
Several said the ‘swinging sixties’ happened elsewhere!
Attitudes and beliefs:
Many reported (sometimes critically) that their parents had strong views on religion, class, snobbishness, race, and young people. Respondents in general were not ‘rebels’ in adolescence but on leaving home adopted different values.
Several reported positively that their parents urged them to take the new educational opportunities that had not been available to the older generation.
Some mentioned the influence of Higher Education and Science as an influence in rejecting religion.
Many felt society had changed since their parents’ generation: more freedom and equality, less acceptance of the status quo and conventional politics, no more wars (despite the nuclear threat), better standard of living and more opportunities for all.
People remembered Mods and Rockers but were not involved, although one remembered a Rocker boyfriend with a motorbike.
In a small town, being a Girl Guide was an excitement outside school routine.
Music was a major factor in most people’s lives: Radio Luxembourg, Top of the Pops, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, folk, jazz and blues were all mentioned.
Individuality was expressed through fashion.
Several were ‘hippies’, one was involved in student politics, one mentioned the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, one mentioned demonstrations.
The following comments sum up the tone of many of the responses:
“I think it was a great time to be young because so many exciting things were happening culturally, politically and scientifically. It did really seem that a new better world was being forged, and of course economically it was good because if you went to University you got a grant, and if you didn’t you could easily get a well-paid job.”
“It was a fabulous time to be young. It was rich in cultural developments in music, film and the arts. Everything seemed ‘up for grabs’ and an air of optimism pervaded. I wouldn’t swap ‘my generation’ for the world!”
Events indicating changes in social attitudes through the 1960s
1960: Lady Chatterley’s Lover Obscenity Case, Penguin Books acquitted
1961: Announced in Parliament that the Contraceptive Pill would be available on NHS (Married women only)
1963: Government starts 5-year survey into Race Relations
1965: First Female Minister of State (Barbara Castle)
National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, (Mary Whitehouse, Clean Up TV campaign)
1968: Ford Dagenham Strike (Women demanding equal pay)
Student Protests in Paris, Grosvenor Square Demonstrations
Enoch Powell ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech
1971: First Women’s Liberation march in UK
Some of the reforming legislation passed in the 1960s
1961 : Suicide Act (suicide to cease to be a crime)
Factories Act (Health and Safety measures)
1964: Married Women’s Property Act (gave women some rights to joint property)
1965: Murder, Abolishment of the Death Penalty Act
(death penalty retained for treason)
Race Relations Act (discrimination in housing etc made illegal)
1967: Abortion Act (legalised abortion under certain conditions)
Sexual Offences Act (legalised homosexuality, age of consent 21)
NHS Family Planning Act (Birth control advice regardless of marital status, not fully incorporated in NHS services until 1974)
Criminal Justice Act (suspended sentences and majority verdicts)
1968: Trades Descriptions Act (consumer protection)
Theatres Act (abolishment of Lord Chamberlain’s censorship)
1969: Divorce Reform Act (introduced ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’)
Family Law Reform Act (age of majority reduced from 21 to 18)
1970: Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (some rights introduced)
Equal Pay Act (equal pay for equal work)
Immigration Legislation: A series of Acts from 1962 limited the extent of immigration from the Commonwealth which had been granted in 1945.