By Siobhan Brown
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All Work and Low Pay

This article is over 10 years, 1 months old
Using collections from the Women's Library and strengthened by material from the TUC, this exhibition attempts to cover 150 years of work performed by women and, in part, their resistance.
Issue 364

Its message – that women’s work is consistently undervalued and underpaid – is well communicated throughout but it plays it safe in too many places to be particularly challenging.

The first few cases address the variety of work that women do or have done in recent history, and run from teaching and nursing to laundry and admin. A glass case covering the whole of one wall displays objects representing this whole range of work, although with so little space for the exhibition and so much to cover, having the objects on their own with such little information seems a waste.

Some sections are more substantial. A case on women in “men’s jobs”, such as engineering and building, challenges some popular myths about women’s historical role in the workforce. Another looks at the pressure on women to act and look a certain way at work is brought up to date with the inclusion of an article on the Harrods sales assistant who was forced out for refusing to wear a full face of make-up.

The fight for equal pay and campaigns against sexism in the workplace are illustrated throughout with displays of pamphlets, posters and leaflets. The exhibition also highlights women’s unpaid work in the home as mothers, wives and daughters.

The best sections are towards the end of the exhibition, in the cases entitled “Women Together” and “Striking Women”. Needless to say, these are the most explicitly political and show that where the exhibition is bolder, it can showcase some illuminating pieces.

The Bryant and May matchwomen’s strike, the strike at Ford which inspired the film Made in Dagenham and the Miners’ Strike are all covered here. A fantastic poster from the Grunwick dispute of the late 1970s was my favourite piece, not only highlighting the great political importance of the strike but also beautiful in its own right.

At the end, visitors can express their own views on work and sexism in the workplace. The anger that is evident in certain places during the exhibition is clearly reflected in many of the contributions.

Worth a look if you are passing by, the exhibition also has a good blog where you can virtually visit each of the cases over some months if you can’t make it. It is ambitious to cover such a long period of women’s work and campaigning and this means that sometimes its potential to tune in to a popular mood of resistance is lost. Where it is bolder, however, it inspires.

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