‘We Try Harder And Get Paid Less’: Visiting Glasgow Women’s Library

The next Women, Work and Value workshop is taking place on April 25th at the University of Glasgow. The event will focus on women, gender and the care economy and feature contributions from local non-profit organisations Work/Care/Share, Engender, and Close the Gap. Preparations are well under way and everyone is excited to see what comes from this event.

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However, we couldn’t hold an event about women’s history in Glasgow without taking a little trip to the Glasgow Women’s Library. The GWL was established in 1991 when a feminist group called Women in Profile decided to take women’s history off those dusty shelves marked ‘miscellaneous’ and create a space where it was a central focus. The GWL, situated in Glasgow’s East End, now has a large lending library and a fascinating archival collection of historical and contemporary artefacts relating to women.

To honour this amazing institution and resource, we decided to use an image from the GWL’s archives in our promotion of the Glasgow based WWV workshop. The image shows a collection of feminist badges that formed part of the GWL’s Badges of Honour project in 2014. People across the world were invited to share important badges from their lives and the stories that accompanied them.

These political badges are interesting artefacts because not only do they embody a range of campaigns for women’s rights, from the national to the very small scale, but they also represent the individual women who wore them with pride, purpose and possibly fear. Each has a specific and unique story, whether we know what that is or not.

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Badges are a fitting form of feminist protest because they are worn on someone’s clothing, making the body itself a site of resistance and place of political discussion. These badges come from the collection of Peter Gilpin, who had been collecting political badges since the 1970s. Like the feminists of this period advocated, these badges literally made the person political.

The range of campaigns and slogans in this collection is broad. From the funny to the fiercely aggressive, each of these badges, whether advocating for access to abortion or lesbian rights, is representative of a group of people who felt passionately about issues affecting women. As a singular image, these badges show us the variety, scale and commitment of feminist campaigns of the past.

The upcoming WWV workshop is titled, ‘Gender, Work and the Care Economy: historical perspectives, contemporary challenges.’ Some of the badges from the GWL’s collection give us valuable insight into women’s work and the care economy at the time they were created and worn. Many of them focus on women’s right to work, with obvious slogans like ‘women on the peoples march for jobs ’83’, and ‘a women’s right to work’. Some of them address the more subtle issue of the women’s expected role as carers and housekeepers. One badge reads ‘wages for housework’ and another shows a woman hung up on a washing line with the word housework below. These badges clearly show the desire that some women felt to be freed from the social obligation to stay in the home and care for their family. Others read ‘woman’s place is in the house and senate’ and ‘women make policy, not coffee’, playing cleverly on social expectations and stereotypes.

One badge states in bold, red letters: ‘we try harder and get paid less’. It is difficult to trace the campaign that this badge was part of, but it seems to have originated in America, most likely created in the 1970s by a woman named Jo Ann Evans Gardner who lived in Pittsburgh.[1] This badge struck me as especially relevant because the point it is making is still seen by many as an issue in today’s society. Not only is there still a significant pay gap between men and women in many jobs. Not only are many women still expected to take on the brunt housework and childcare, often as well as having a job. Many women also have to bear the burden of extra emotion labour; a second, third or even fourth shift that is usually unpaid.

The WWV workshop aims to investigate this field. We will look at care as a profession but also as an expectation imposed on women in other types of employment. How is the care economy central to the wider gender structures and gender inequality of work, in the workplace and on the labour market? Are women still expected to be more caring than men and how does this affect how they are treated in their jobs?

The GWL’s badge collection shows us that these are questions women have been asking for decades. They challenge us to ask, what has changed? How have these inequalities been improved, or have they not? They encourage us to question, what still needs to be done?

Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

[1] Jo Freeman, ‘Say It With Buttons’, Ms. Magazine, (1974)