Monday, October 16, 2006

More on feminism with a bit of history

The 1970s feminist movement in Australia was very much brought about by the American movement at the same time. Of course we all read Germaine’s book, even the blokes did, and it confirmed what we already knew.

The permissiveness of the sixties and the ready availability of the birth control pill also went some way to free us from the shackles of the past. I remember my mother making comments along the lines of “Unmarried mothers have a terrible life…” but the pill freed us from the worry of unwanted pregnancies and it was well before AIDS hit the scene. We did have to worry about other sexually transmitted diseases, but generally free love was the go.

I was not all that involved in the women’s movement. I did go along once or twice to consciousness raising meetings with female friends, but I also enjoyed the company of men. I still do and my best and oldest friends are all male.

My childhood was unconventional, due in part to growing up in a single parent family. My father died when I was 2 years old. My older brother was 3 and my younger brother was a baby at the time. My mother was a nurse and moved around a lot for her work. Throughout my school years I attended nine different schools, some good, some bad. It’s a wonder I got an education at all.

As my mother was a workingwoman she could not be there for everything, and I learnt early to be independent. When starting at a new school, we often had to front up by ourselves. I remember turning up and having to introduce my younger brother and myself. We were quite young at that time - I was about 8 or 9 years old.

It seemed to be a habit in our family, that if you couldn’t take the kids with you, you would dump them with someone else. We were left at a convent and cared for by the nuns, while my mother went off somewhere on a holiday. We were there at the convent when a letter came that she had remarried. We got to meet the stepfather after the fact, flying by ourselves from the north of New South Wales to Sydney. From there we were driven to Melbourne to the stepfather’s house. The second marriage was not successful and my mother, with us in tow, fled to a remote gold mining town in North East Victoria where we lived in the hospital.

By this time I had 5 schools under my belt. I was a tough kid. I sat through the film “Old Yeller” and refused to cry when all the other kids were bawling their eyes out. Our dog was run over in front of us three children and we watched him die, me with detachment – I still vividly recall the light dying in his eyes as he expired - my brothers in tears. Yes, I was a tough kid.

Anyway, back to feminism.

I remember the days before equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work. When I was first working, women were paid at a lower salary to men. Women were not allowed in bars, but had to hang out in the ladies lounge. Girls were trussed into horrible underwear like step-ins and weighty bras. Pants were regarded as unsuitable working clothing; women were expected to wear frocks. We wore suspender belts to keep our stockings up. The women’s movement freed us from all that. I threw away my bra back then and haven’t worn one since. I never wear stockings either, though when pantyhose came in we girls rejoiced and flaunted our legs in mini skirts.

At the same time as the resurgence of feminism, the anti Vietnam War movement was in full swing . I was more involved with that than with the women’s movement. My male comrades thought I was a liberated woman and treated me as a mate.

I have never been an espouser of causes. I am uncomfortable being part of a group thing preferring to distance myself lone wolfish. I dislike conflict and confrontations and am an introvert rather than an extrovert, being hopeless at small talk, and dislike talking on the phone.

This all makes me sound terrifying, but really I’m very easy to get along with, good tempered and friendly, a tad eccentric.

Meanwhile, the tough kid stands in the wings and lends me strength when I need it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Anne for that. I loved reading about your life (well a short snippet anyway.) I would've liked to have known you back then - you sound like a friend of mine who was also a 'tough kid'and whose mother had died when she was 11. She was not afraid to be in the forefront of change and she always recognised injustices when she saw them and did something about them if she could. She had the clear vision you obviously have.
Meanwhile, I cowered behind my glasses and my books! My life was often lived in a bit of a safe dream - friends such as the one I mentioned above, would sometimes shake me out of it and say - "Hey! Look around you." (Oh well it takes all types. :) )

Anne S said...

CB, Thanks - glad you liked it. I have other horror stories from my childhood, particularly about one or two of the schools I attended.

I was saved by books, though. I was an avid reader from early childhood. I also had to wear glasses from about 12 years old, though I switched to contacts in my early 20s.