Some of us, inspired by feminist ideas, began to complain and then to act.
By the middle of the 1970s feminists began to organise across disciplines as well as within them.
At this time most feminist academics were also activists in the wider women’s liberation movement.
We were a privileged group of women; not all of us were by any means middle class in origin but we had gained a university education at a time when only a small minority of young people did so – and this, perhaps, is partly why second wave feminism is seen as overwhelmingly middle class.
Throughout the 1980s both undergraduate and postgraduate women’s studies programmes sprang up in universities and polytechnics across the UK and by the end of the decade we had our own professional association, initially called the Women’s Studies Network (later to be renamed the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association).
In many ways the 1980s were an inauspicious time for new academic initiatives.
Not all feminist academics played this game, but we were facing other problems that worked against maintaining our connections with activism.
As the generation who founded women’s studies became more senior we found ourselves over-burdened by work responsibilities, which was exacerbated by the increasing bureaucratisation of higher education and the audit culture. Early career feminist academics were also under pressure.
Young feminist academics and graduate students met to discuss the possibility of launching women’s studies as a new ‘women-centred way of knowing’ that would challenge the prevailing androcentric view of society and culture prevalent in the humanities and social sciences (science subjects weren’t even having the debate at that stage).
We offered adult education courses in our communities as well as agitating in universities, using the skills we were learning through political activism to make a difference within the academy.