A Punchy Exhibition At British Library On Women's Rights

Unfinished Business, The British Library ★★★★☆

A Punchy Exhibition At British Library On Women's Rights Unfinished Business, The British Library 4
No guesses who the 'grab 'em by the patriarchy' placard is aimed at. Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

Women's rights have come a long way in the UK, but have they come far enough? The answer is a resounding 'hell no' at Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights, an exhibition at the British Library.

On entering I'm greeted by some sobering statistics; Latvia has far more women in management roles than the UK, and we're way behind Oman in terms of the proportion of women in science and engineering.

Next to catch my eye? A photo of a 1970s Fiat advert that declares 'if this car was a woman it would get its bottom pinched', that's been rightfully vandalised over its sexist messaging.

While such overtly misogynistic ads wouldn't get published today, it was only recently adverts on the London Underground asked women if they were 'beach body ready'. Similarly, a No More Page Three t-shirt signed by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas reminds visitors that topless models featured on The Sun's Page Three as recently as 2015.

One of the inventive costumes from the women's march based on The Handmaid's tale.

The exhibition does a great job of being intersectional. There are exhibits on trans rights, and one where a scientist explains how her credentials are challenged on social media because she's both a woman and black. Elsewhere, a Muslim poet talks about how Muslims are only seen as human when doing good things, and two women openly discuss what it's like to date with a disability.

We even see how allies to feminist causes get targeted — when the philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that equality could benefit society he was poked fun of in a copy of Vanity Fair.

Unfinished Business is not afraid to tackle thorny contemporary issues — such as challenging the lack of women in leadership positions in world religions. Of course, the women's rights movement is vast and even a densely packed exhibition such as this can't capture it all. Yet it nevertheless does an excellent job at being diverse and balancing historical issues with those of today.

Copyright David Jensen.

While the exhibition doesn't shy away from the challenges facing women, it does have a positive and uplifting tone overall — we're heading in the right direction and even the occasional backwards step will eventually be trumped. By the time I left, I felt both informed and ready to smash the patriarchy.

Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights is on at British Library until 24 February 2021. Tickets are £15.

Last Updated 23 October 2020