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Chaos and hostility at the WLM Conference, 1978


Betty: “[Women’s Liberation Conference]s at that point were annual conferences, the last one, was in Birmingham in 1978, at a school in . Different women’s and lesbian groups took responsibility for certain things. The were terribly organised and did vast amounts of the catering because they could be relied upon. would organise things in a rather vaguer manner. Two things, however, were really awful, the plenary and the disco.

At the end of the evening, some of the women refused to stop dancing and refused to leave the disco and that put those of us who were organising in a very difficult position. a) We were paying for the premises and we had an agreement with the caretaker; the caretaker wanted to go home, we wanted to go home having been there since some unreasonable hour that morning and it really did feel like sisters turning on us. There were lots of accusations about us being fascists, trying to stop people having fun. These weren’t Birmingham women, just visitors to the conference. It was really hard to deal with. At the plenary there were a lot of women shouting at each other and shouting each other down. It was chaotic and it was hostile.”

Gill: “I had come from a background where you had procedures for running meetings, you had a chair, a secretary, you took it in turns to speak, and you couldn’t speak in a debate more than once. Women were saying ‘We want to reject this, this is patriarchal, this is constraining, this gives too much power to the people on the committee’. I could see where this came from, but with no structure whatsoever, you had absolute chaos. People weren’t listening to each other. One of the things about the is that we listen a lot, and this was difficult to take.”

B: “There was a sense from both that and the disco episode of just women disrespecting other women. It really did virtually end Women’s Liberation in Birmingham. I felt so bruised and I certainly knew women who said ‘If that’s what this is about, it’s not for me’. And there were the women who had defined themselves as lesbian returning to the straight world.”

G: “There were women who I identified as being ‘’, who thought that if you were going to be ‘women identified’ you had to be lesbian, which isn’t necessarily the case.”

B: “It was awful and it took a while for people to lick their wounds after that. There was also the feeling that women in Birmingham had put a vast amount of effort into the organising and who were then shat upon. The disagreements were from women from outside of Birmingham and the women who felt most hurt by it were the women from Birmingham who had done all the organising. Birmingham women felt attacked. And that was the last major conference.”

Contributed by: Gill Coffin, 63, Betty Hagglund, 50

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