Emancipation - youth culture

The 1960s was a revolutionary period. Young people rebelled against the establishment, they became politically active, experimented with sex and drugs and listened to new, exciting music such as rock ’n’ roll. People began to abandon the religious structures that had once provided the form and content of their lives. Homosexuals and women argued with increasing openness for improvement of their position.


1953-1965 Youth culture

Cover design for Ik Jan Cremer. Jan Cremer and Wim van der Linden, 1963.

It had long been feared that the younger generation was out of control. In 1953, a researcher reported about Dutch youth: ‘They shout, they scream, they chatter an endless stream of drivel, they yell and screech, they whinge and whine.’ In 1956, a film, , caused governments to panic: one mayor only allowed the film to be shown without sound. Between 1950 and 1960, the number of scooters doubled as rival gangs ran amok in Amsterdam: Pleiners against Dijkers. Although the Dutch considered themselves broadminded, the publication of Ik Jan Cremer in 1964 caused a sensation. Despite, or because of the negative publicity, this explicit picaresque novel was a huge bestseller, as the cover announced. By 1965, it had sold 180,000 copies.

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1965-1970 Youth protest

Robert Jasper Grootveld at Het Lieverdje on Spui in Amsterdam. Cor Jaring, 1966

Robert Jasper Grootveld at Het Lieverdje on Spui in Amsterdam. Cor Jaring, 1966

Jan Wolkers at a Vietnam demonstration. Cor Jaring, 1967

Jan Wolkers at a Vietnam demonstration. Cor Jaring, 1967

Music and literature were not the only concerns of Dutch youth. Disillusioned with traditional socialist values, they voiced their vociferous opinions about domestic and international political issues. A protest movement emerged in Amsterdam, called Provo, led by an unemployed window cleaner, Robert Jasper Grootveld. To campaign against the focus on consumption in modern society he held absurdist protests or happenings. In 1966, the movement turned its attention to the Dutch royals. Demonstrators spoiled the procession of the newly weds - heir to the throne Beatrix and Claus von Amsberg, a German - by throwing smoke bombs. Protesters gained wider support when they demonstrated against US military intervention in Vietnam, or against ending youth benefits or for equal pay for men and women.

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Man Woman Society

Abortion protest at Jaap Edenhal by Wij Vrouwen Eisen. Bertien van Manen, 1978

In the 1960s, feminism experienced a revival, referred to since as the second feminist wave. Key demands were the right to have a paid job and to participate fully in society - issues which were raised in a breakthrough article published by Joke Smit in 1967. To campaign for these ideals she and others set up Man Woman Society (Man Vrouw Maatschappij - MVM). Other initiatives emerged through the feminist movement, such as discussion groups, women’s refuges, schools for mothers and feminist bookshops and publishers. Motherhood was a major theme in the women’s movement. With the advent of reliable contraception and rising affluence, parenting children had become a choice rather than a given. With the slogan ‘Boss of your own belly’ (Baas in eigen buik), women campaigned to legalise abortion. Eventually, in 1984, a law authorising abortion in certain circumstances came into effect.

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1975-1980 Housing shortage and riots

Eviction of squatters near Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam. Pieter Boersma, 1975

Poster: ‘No house, no crown’. Amsterdam, 1980

The Provo movement was concerned with the housing shortage and launched its white house plan in 1966. Protesters painted the doorposts of empty houses white and encouraged people to squat there. In 1975, construction of a new underground rail link and an arterial road into central Amsterdam galvanised the squatter movement. Squatters and protest organisations combined to prevent the consequent demolition of houses in the inner city. They succeeded in reversing the planned destruction and forcing the municipality to rebuild in line with the old street plan. In the 1980s, rented housing was in short supply, while speculators were buying up buildings and leaving them empty. Then, on the day Beatrix assumed the crown in 1980, the bomb burst: squatters, anarchists and rioters took on Amsterdam’s police. The social unrest at that time was some of the worst in Dutch history.


1971-2001 Gay rights

Lesbian parents thanking their parson after the baptism of their twins. Harry Meijer, 1982

Pink Saturday. Morad Bouchakour, 2002

People had been campaigning for equal rights for homosexuals since before the Second World War. Their main aim had been to repeal the legal bar on adults having sexual contact with people of the same gender aged between 16 and 21. The campaign was resumed after the war by Cultuur- en Ontspannings Centrum (COC). In the 1960s and 70s, homosexuality became an accepted social phenomenon, and in 1971 the legal impediment was removed. In the 1990s, equal treatment was written into law (Algemene Wet Gelijke Behandeling), making discrimination on the grounds of sexuality illegal. Since 1996, gays and lesbians have celebrated their freedom each year with a Canal Parade on the canals of Amsterdam. In 2001, it was in Amsterdam that the first same-sex wedding took place.