Footnotes: Difficult Women by Helen Lewis

A new book tells the story of feminism through its complicated – and not always agreeable – pioneers. It may make the perfect accompaniment to Misbehaviour, the film about the 1970 Miss World protests which opens in cinemas this weekend.

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What’s the story?

In 1970, two momentous things happened at the Miss World competition: the first black competitor went home with the prize, and it was gatecrashed by a group of second-wave feminists who, believing the event to be somewhat antediluvian, pelted host Bob Hope with flour bombs in protest.

Now, a film has been made about it. Misbehaviour stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Jennifer Houston, otherwise known as Miss Grenada, and Keira Knightley as Sally Alexander, the cut-glass activist who helped to organise the first Women’s Liberation Movement conference earlier in 1970. In front of a global audience of 100 million television viewers, a tussle plays out between the two: Houston’s desire to give a platform and inspiration for black girls and women, and that of the Women’s Lib to shine a spotlight on the sexism inherent to the competition.

What's the book?

Helen Lewis’s Difficult Women offers a new, sideways history of feminism: through the battles fought by activists from different eras who never ascribed to the social conventions of nicety. From Marie Stopes, the abortion pioneer who believed in eugenics, to Erin Pizzey, who gave desperate women a refuge but these days supports Men’s Rights Activists, Lewis challenges the contemporary belief that heroic people must be uncomplicatedly pleasant.

Lewis covers a sprawling range of feminist history, under sections such as ‘the Vote’, ‘Sex’ and ‘Divorce’. Difficult Women doesn’t dwell on the Miss World competition of 1970 but, like Misbehaviour, it does cast second-wave feminists and their contribution in a refreshing new light in an era when inter-generational squabbles between fourth-wave feminists (those in activism today) and those who went before them are all too common.


In an instance that is still all-too-rare in Hollywood, Misbehaviour has been written, directed and produced entirely by women.

Misbehaviour is in cinemas now

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