To celebrate International Women’s Day and 50 years of feminist group Ealing’s Women’s Liberation, the University of West London’s Gabriela Loureiro sat down with key member of the group Professor Ann Oakley.

Oakley, an academic and author of Sex, Gender and Society (1972) and The Sociology of Housework (1974) spoke about the history of the group, its attempts to build a feminist community, and what lessons feminism can take from the past, into the future.

She also opened her archives from the time to explore the formation of two groups in the borough in the 1970s, and look back on how members went about organising meetings, and general self-help health care in the community.

Much of her collection of material will eventually be stored at the British Library to ensure it remains publicly available.

In one of the highlights of the interview, Oakley talked about how important human connection was to the struggle, and how building personal relationships was critical to fighting structural issues.

She said: “I find it quite remarkable that a diverse group of women such as we were in the Ealing group accomplished so much, personally and politically, together.

"Without rulebooks or guidelines or contracts, just out of a passionately felt need – which wasn't just about discovering our own individual identities but about working towards the structural liberation of women.

“I do remember consciousness-raising groups being very powerful and very liberating. It was genuinely a revelation to understand that all those personal struggles you had were experienced by other women too.

“I do not believe that 'digital' consciousness-raising groups can achieve anything like that. In fact, I think we are being duped by the digital culture if we think that typing things into a screen is any substitute for proper human connection.”

Oakley added that although she is worried by feminism’s lack of recent progress, she thinks that, much as she did in the 1970s when she was in her 20s and 30s, the current fight for equality lies in the younger generations.

She said: “I have to admit to feeling quite bleak about this at the moment. So much energy seems to be devoted to quite superficial aspects of the feminist struggle – such as how many women get to be MDs of companies or celebrity stars.

“Maybe when the story of gender and the current pandemic gets written there'll be more public awareness of how little things have changed (in the home, as regards domestic labour, in terms of gender and the balance of power, the gender wage gap, gender and poverty etc).

“The future has to lie in the hands of younger generations.I am impressed by how my own grandchildren (aged from 10 to 25) define themselves in relation to gender and feminism. That gives me hope!”

The interview was held at UWL’s Policy and Practice Research Institute for Screen and Music (PRISM) to coincide with Women’s History Month,

Professor Emily Caston, Head of PRISM, said: “The obstacles faced by feminists today do not belong to the past and are not circumscribed within one particular context. Instead, they are ever-present in political mobilisations in a myriad of ways inside different feminist groups.

“This interview is intended as an important contribution to efforts to address the problem of scarcity of historical documents and archives through one woman’s memories and analysis, and to create more public records of Women’s Liberation activities in Ealing.”

You can read the full interview here.