Revelations: 'We were sisters. We didn't wonder who was right and who w as wrong'

The Time: 1968 The Place: Elstree, London The Woman : Fay Weldon, novelist

A group of American feminists had been protesting against the Miss World beauty contest outside the Albert Hall. They even managed to break through security and throw stink bombs. Everybody in England thought they were extraordinary. I wondered what on earth they were going on about - I just couldn't understand it. The demonstration had come with such a bang that it filled the newspapers and I was invited onto a TV discussion programme. We were sat in various parts of the studio according to our views, so David Frost would have some idea what we would say. I was a working mother with a good job in advertising and I was there as an accomplished women to show that we could succeed without all this fuss. My comment was supposed to be: "These feminists were unnecessary, neurotic and very eccentric."

I sat and listened to the others in my section claim feminists were only protesting because they were so ugly and couldn't get a man! There was no debate. It was just a plot to put these women down. I suddenly realised that I was in the wrong part of the hall, so I got up and crossed over to the area where their very, very few supporters sat. At a time when men's behaviour to women was peculiarly bad, I was just furious about how these women were being insulted.

For the first time I noticed the savagery that was automatically flung at any woman who dared to challenge the system and it took my breath away. These feminists were early martyrs to a cause and I thought if they believe it so strongly I should find out more. The effect of that physical and intellectual move was like dominoes through my life; one by one the contradictions would fall and topple the next. I had to re-look at everything. When people made casual assumptions, I would challenge. It must have been very tedious for everybody. For example: my boss would say without a blink of doubt that it was a women's role to be decorative and that my heels ought to be higher! I would go to my tax inspector who would claim that as a woman I should only be working for pin money. When I got a promotion my colleagues would tell me it should have gone to a man with a family to support. Problems at the office got worse as I became fed up with always handling what were considered women's products: eggs, milk and food. I refused to work on cigarettes too and I was told that my duty was to my employer, then to my husband and my children but my own moral convictions were supposed to come way down the line! I ended up being fired.

I lost a lot of my girl friends too because of my opinions. I was taken to task by one over a meal: she told me no woman should ever have to support a family; they loved their husbands too much to be feminists and anyway the idea would fail because women were too competitive with one another to unite. We fell out and she stopped talking to me. Ironically her husband left her, sold the flat without telling her and she had to support the children herself

I took off my wedding ring, men did not wear them - women did. I could see how they were used by women as a badge of triumph and flashed about to make unmarried women feel ringless. My wedding ring was an affront to my sisters! What was nice in those early days was the sense of sisterhood - nobody was wondering who was right and who was wrong. I had just began to write. My first book, The Fat Woman's Joke, assessed the late Sixties without me knowing that it was feminist. However, both women and men found it quite horrific. I was considered mad, bad and dangerous to know - people would actually walk out of rooms when I entered. I was a public enemy; it was not nice.

But I had finally made a connection between the personal condition of women and the political. Nowadays there is a culture of indignation and pressure groups but back then women did not protest. The Marxist political movements of the late Sixties had made educated women feel very left out. They would make the coffee while men made the decisions. We were mute decorative witnesses - revolutionary molls. Women just did not speak in public. You had to train yourself because otherwise you felt so nervous your voice would go up two octaves and you squeaked. In the Eighties I went to Russia on a cultural mission and the British fielded quite a lot of women. The Soviet authorities with some difficulty produced a woman poet. Every time she spoke publicly her voice would rise and the Russian men would take up newspapers and determinedly read until she had stopped. It was part deliberate, part instinctive and part embarrassment. Fortunately, as a foreigner I became an honorary man, but it reminded me of how 15 years ago in England it had been exactly the same. Crossing over from one side of the television studio to the other felt like going out of the dark into the light. However the light often flickered. I wrote a book called Puffball, about a women at the mercy of her hormones during her pregnancy, and that went down very badly with feminists. At the time it was felt that women were exactly like men - their hormonal existence had previously been used to keep them in their place, and became something to be ignored. Two years later everything had switched again and moved into mother goddess and menstrual joy.

The first time you say something people look at you astonished, the second time it seems vaguely familiar and is taken seriously, eventually everybody agrees and forgets there was ever any disagreement.

Being ahead is always painful and difficult; you have to get through that first time and the blank looks. The revolution once accomplished becomes part of the establishment. Give it 20 years and the truth becomes the lie. By the end of Eighties the truths of early feminism had become what you had to fight against. All the worst bits had been taken up and turned sour. I re-read all my early books and decided which of the statements I had made were no longer relevant - most of them were broad generalisations about the terrible behaviour of men. I was speaking in Boston to a mostly female audience and explained what I had done, but whenever I read out any of these statements everybody rose to their feet and cheered wildly. It was too late to pull it back.

Six months ago a man from the Institute of Cultural Relations came to see me. He was writing a book about the difficulty men were having getting their voices heard in a media which, at all levels except the very top, is totally female dominated. The polarities have switched. He was very passionate about the plight of fathers and the way that women have their babies aborted with no reference to them. I laughed slightly at the idea of oppression of men and I told him if he felt like that he should start a masculinist movement and he replied: "Men will never unite - they are too competitive for the favours of women!" It was a revelation, exactly the same sentiments as 30 years previously and it has made me start looking around. He came with me to the hairdressers, to the heart of feminine, rather than feminist, power - it was rather ironic in its way. He talked as I had a wash and a cut. My hairdresser thought he was a wimp; the typical reaction to a depressed man who appears to be complaining. Once again, it was the same response as you would have had from a man to a woman back in 1968.

I'm not blaming feminism, but the rights of men now have to be addressed, and the role of employment too, because what are we going to do with the children? We can't go on like this! Nowadays it is women who often disapprove of me. I've been described as the Winnie Mandela of feminism - so what's new?

Where do I get the courage? I just know I'm right and they are wrong! They will come round to my way of thinking very fast. I just don't care what people think. I recovered from a fear of flying by deciding that death was probably preferable to life anyway! What have you got to lose? Today we are handicapped by "emotional correctness", telling us how we should feel about everything. It matches the "political correctness" trying to control how we think and speak.

It is impossible to arrive at a society in which you shouldn't be questioning everything. I've learnt that not only should you change your mind, but that if you don't you really will be mad, bad and dangerous to know. The pace of change is hotting up so the time you have to be right is getting shorter and shorter.

`Big Women' is published by Flamingo at pounds 12.99.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015