Hayley Kavanagh (QMUL) - 2020-21 Students

Joy, laughter and ‘radical happiness’ in the British Women’s Liberation Movement

The British Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s-1980s was an explosion of emotional political activism. The feminist print media and personal testimonies from activists articulate a depth of feeling and “swirl of emotion” (Waters 2016:451) that was central to the movement. They burned with a righteous anger but were also joyous, full of love and laughter. In Radical Happiness (2017), feminist activist and academic Lynne Segal calls for a return to the mobilising of joyous emotions in collective protest. She terms this “the miraculous revolutionary power of joy” (2017:xiv). But how much did joy and happiness form a part of the WLM? How powerful was it, what were its limitations and what did it mean for the cultural and political protest? This project will use theories of emotions and affect, drawing on the work of Deborah Gould and Sara Ahmed, to consider the political potential of happiness as a motivating feeling for protest and as a way to challenge society’s norms. The WLM is often viewed as a movement that was lacking in diversity and dominated by anger. An approach through emotions of happiness can challenge this and reveal more about the affinities between diverse women in the protest.

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