Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

When Margaret Thatcher said (in 1978) “We [women] are bored of being regarded as a curious and endangered species...” she might possibly have been talking about herself, but evidently not about those genuinely pioneering women of the 1970s that unleashed freedoms and smashed glass ceilings, glitter-balls and all, over disco floors across the globe.

Here’s a list of women who outfought, outclassed, and out toughed every man in their sphere… outfoxing and checkmating the male at every turn.

While Vogue described men (in 1972) as ‘vulnerable, dependent and emotional human beings, terrified of being judged on their sexual performance,’ women were becoming more emboldened… often enlightened by the type of visionary female trailblazer I list below…

Like the brightest stars in the galaxy, these iconic women still glow…

Germaine Greer artwork neilmach

1: Germaine Greer (82)

From 1968 to 1972, Dr Greer worked as an assistant lecturer at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, and had been writing for Oz magazine, the Australian / Anglo alternative counterculture lifestyle zine. She started writing “The Female Eunuch” in time for a 1970 publication date. Greer’s thesis was that the “traditional” notion of a suburban, consumerist nuclear family repressed women’s sexuality, devitalising females, surrendering them, therefore, into perpetual eunuch-hood.

The launch of the book inspired a second wave of feminism (suffragettes were the first). In 1971, Greer was honored as the “Woman of the Year” and, perhaps surprisingly, she won the title of “Playboy Journalist of the Year” in 1972. She appeared on the cover of Life Magazine (1971) under the title “Saucy Feminist That Even Men Like.”

Since 1970 Greer has published over twenty-five books and dissertations including a history of “beautiful boys” published in 2003 as The Boy that analyzed the boyish male face from Cupid to Elvis, from Kurt Cobain to Jim Morrison. In 2016, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour ranked Greer fourth on its annual “Power List” of seven women who had the greatest impact on women’s lives in the past 70 years.

Cher artwork: neilmach

2: Cher (75)

Cher came to public attention in 1965 as one half of the husband and wife folk rock duo Sonny & Cher, after their hit song “I Got You Babe” reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic. She became a television personality in the 1970s with the CBS shows The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and later going solo on Cher (a show which saw her emerge as a fashion trendsetter wearing elaborate outfits.)

But the couple had had marital problems since 1972, although they kept up appearances for the sake of their television audiences, but when Cher won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in 1974, it meant the end of the professional relationship as well as their marital one.

Cher married rock musician Gregg Allman in 1975, but filed for divorce nine days later.

A conscious dive into Disco music, then a shift to harder rock, meant that Cher “came back” positively! Her film debut came in Chastity, where she played a drifting hippie runaway. She played a role in the 1982 comedy-drama “Come Back to the 5 & Dime” and her role in the 1983 bio-drama Silkwood earned her Academy Award and Golden Globe supporting actress nominations. Cher layer won a “best actress” Oscar for Moonstruck.

They say Cher became a much-adored gay icon because she “overcame insult and hardship on her path to success…” (Salon magazine.) Since 1970, she has recorded over twenty studio albums (the last one in 2018). She has done three long residencies in Las Vegas and has appeared in over 17 major films. She is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, having sold at least 100 million records worldwide.

They asked how many boyfriends she’d had, what colour her hair was, and the scientist was asked to undo some buttons on her blouse for the photographer…

Jocelyn Bell Burnell artwork neilmach

3: Jocelyn Bell Burnell (78)

Dr Bell Burnell earned her Phd in 1969 and almost immediately began working at the Interplanetary Scintillation Array outside the university where she had studied during the sixties (Cambridge) to work on quasars, which had newly been recognized.

In 1967 she discovered a “bit of scruff” on a chart she had been analysing, which was later identified as a rapidly rotating neutron star (shown in the artwork above.) When interviewed about her amazing discovery, the media asked her about her “vital statistics” how many boyfriends she’d had, what colour her hair was, and the scientist was asked to undo some buttons on her blouse for the photographer.

Bell Burnell received no recognition for her discovery at the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, which she believes is because her (male) supervisors downplayed her research and dismissed her scientific approach. Nevertheless, she went on to win over twenty major science honours (including the Herschel Medal, 1989) and was elevated to Dame Commander (OBE) in 2007 for services to Astronomy. Even as late as 2013, Bell Burnell continues to be listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom (BBC Radio 4.) 

Jean Shrimpton artwork: neilmach

4: Jean Shrimpton (78) 

Shrimpton rose to fame after a photoshoot with photographer David Bailey in 1960. The press soon described her as the “face of the sixties” and identified her as an “It Girl” and she became a living-walking symbol of Swinging London with her low fringed hair, arched brows, pouty lips and long, over-emphasized eyelashes. Fashion experts credit Shrimpton with popularising the miniskirt, the trendy short-short fashion skirt “created” by London-based designer Mary Quant. Shrimpton was also seen wearing a man’s watch which, in the early 70s, caused a sensation. Clive Arrowsmith photographed her for the cover of Vogue, in 1971. 

Shrimpton and Bailey (who was married for much of the time) dated for many years, though she went on to marry photographer Michael Cox in 1979 after an affair with actor Terence Stamp.

Jane Birkin artwork: neilmach

5. Jane Birkin (74)

The English singer, songwriter, actress and former model is perhaps most famous for “playing the part” of Serge Gainsbourg’s muse and companion. 

At age 17, she met composer John Barry (the James Bond film score man) whom she married in 1965 and with whom she had a daughter. The couple divorced in 1968. By the 1970s she was already a recognised actress, specialising in roles in counterculture films such as Blowup and Kaleidoscope (both from 1966). She played a fantasy model in the psychedelic film Wonderwall (1968) and an erotic role in the French thriller La Piscine (1969).

In 1969 she released her now infamous explicit ‘45 single “Je t’aime…” with Gainsbourg, with whom she had started a relationship. Gainsbourg had written the song for Brigitte Bardot. For many, both men & women, sexual freedom in the 1970s meant putting “Je t’aime…” on the platter and warming up the lava-lamp!

In 1973, Birkin played Brigitte Bardot’s lover in the daring film “If Don Juan Were a Woman” (1973).

In 1975, she appeared in Gainsbourg’s first film, Je t’aime moi non plus, which was billed as a frank examination of sexual ambiguity, and in which she played a “boyish girl” named Johnny. She played the role alongside androgynous actor Joe Dallesandro (who became famous as “Little Joe” immortalised by Lou Reed’s in “Walk on the Wild Side”.) The board of censors immediately banned the film in Britain.

Birkin later appeared in the Agatha Christie films Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982), and appeared in almost fifty further feature films. She has made over a dozen albums. In 2001, The Queen awarded Birkin with an O.B.E. 

Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas created the emblematic “Birkin Bag” (1983) as a tribute to Jane after she suffered an unfortunate overhead compartment incident on a flight from Paris to London. Birkin had explained to Dumas that she found it difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked and that would keep her contents safe.

Her movie character undertook several “sixties sins” including wild parties, beat music discos, strip dances, and cross dressing…

Julie Christie artwork neilmach

6: Julie Christie (81)

Christie was an icon of the “Swinging Sixties” after a breakthrough film role in Billy Liar. She played a London model and actress in a revolutionary 1965 romantic drama film titled Darling, where she played alongside Dirk Bogarde. Her Darling movie character undertook several “sixties sins” including wild parties, beat music discos, strip dances, and cross dressing. Christie won a best actress Oscar for the part which was described at the time as “amoral, rootless, and emotionally immature.” After Darling, she appeared in Doctor Zhivago (also 1965), the eighth highest grossing film of all time.

But, it wasn’t until the 1970s that she became famous as a seasoned & eminently desirable actress with a string of blockbusters to her name, including: The Go-Between (1971), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) (for which she received her second Oscar nomination) the stunning Don’t Look Now (1973), Shampoo (1975), and Heaven Can Wait (1978). 

Christie is still working. She appeared for a cameo role in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and won awards for her part in the independent drama: Away from Her.

Christie also dated actor Terence Stamp (as did Jean Shrimpton) before dating actor Warren Beatty. She has been with the author and journalist Duncan Campbell since the late 1970s.

diana ross artwork neilmach

7: Diana Ross (77)

The Detroit singer-songwriter and actress rose to fame as the lead singer of Supremes, which became Motown’s most successful act during the 1960s and one of the world’s best-selling girl groups of all time. Between August 1964 and May 1967, Ross, Wilson, and Ballard performed on ten number-one hit singles.

In 1968, Ross began soloing certain gigs, prompted by Motown CEO Berry Gordy (who had already renamed the act “Diana Ross and the Supremes,” causing inevitable friction within the group.) It therefore came as no surprise when, in late 1969, Diana’s management team announced her break with the Supremes.

Ross released her eponymous solo debut album in 1970, which included the monster hits “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.

In 1971, Diana Ross began working on her first film, Lady Sings the Blues, which was biographically based on singer Billie Holiday. Despite some criticism for taking on the role, once the film opened in October 1972, Ross won much critical acclaim for her performance.

In 1973, Ross secured her second number-one hit in the U.S. with the ballad “Touch Me in the Morning”. Later the same year, Motown issued Diana & Marvin, a duet album with fellow Motown artist Marvin Gaye. The album became a massive international hit.

In April 1974, Ross became the first African-American woman to (co) host the Academy Awards ceremony. Ross’s second film, Mahogany, was distributed in 1975.  

In 1976, Ross released her fourth solo number-one hit, “Love Hangover” a dramatic mid-tempo number that took on the disco stars of that era. After a short Las Vegas residency, Ross consolidated hero status as a dance-floor diva in 2018 by ranking #3 in the Billboard Dance Club Songs end-of-year chart!

Ross will release her twenty-fifth studio album, Thank You, in November, 2021.

In 1993 Ross was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records, as “the most successful female musical artist in history.” Ross is one of the few artists to have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one as a solo artist and the other as a member of the Supremes.

Words @neilmach September 2021 ©

Comments? tweet me @neilmach

Do you like ’70s fashions?

In my book about a 1970s magazine journo, my heroine has a secret that can’t be shared.

If you enjoy female characters + you’re fascinated by 1970s relationships — get my new book here:

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