This post has been a long time in the making because I’ve been bogged down with sciatica again. It’s thrown my sleep patterns out, left me feeling very tired and also lethargic and aimless. So I decided to go with the flow, simply tread water and wait until I felt the urge to start writing again. Which is now. And at the same time, I’ve decided to make space for new adventures in my life by getting rid of all the shelving with my crystals on and storing all my crystals in my cupboard space. I’m focusing on my art and writing my book as blog.
New beginnings, new paths, new energy. I probably needed the break to process where I really want to work in my life right now. So now on to my adventures with Women’s Liberation in the early 1970s.
I had my teenage rebellion in my ‘twenties when I moved to Australia. Until then I’d pretty much been Ms Goody-Two-Shoes, not rocking the boat, head down and studying assiduously to get a good degree as I was the first in our family to go to university, and fairly conservative. At least, that’s the image that I have of myself but I’ve been interested to catch up with old friends from my University days who see me quite differently – organised, organising people and quite adventurous. Weird how you see yourself and how others see you!
I guess working on a kibbutz in Israel, which is what I did prior to travelling to Australia in 1972, and then hopping off Downunder could be considered quite adventurous although at the time it just seemed to me that both were interesting things to do. Perhaps I also did this bit of travelling as I had no idea of my direction in life. In fact, I never did find a direction until my mid-fifties – late starter, you might say!
I began throwing over the traces with gusto when I joined the Australian Union of Students as the organiser for Western Australia and subsequently got involved with Women’s Liberation. I had seen a news report of women in the movement handing out contraceptive advice at secondary school gates and it interested me.
Why did I become interested in Women’s Liberation?
It’s so easy to forget what life was like for women back in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, so here are a few reminders that Women’s Libbers rocked the boat because women:
• Were denied equal pay
• Were clustered in low paying work
• Were paid less for the same work done by men
• Weren’t allowed to open their own bank accounts without permission from their husband, boyfriend or father.
• Couldn’t get a mortgage as a single woman.
• Were victimized all too often if they were raped, labeled as the “temptress”, “seductress”, or whatever, because rape wasn’t recognized as an act of violence.
• Had to leave the public service when they married.
• Had to leave the workforce when they had children.
• Had to leave the workforce when menfolk came back from war and wanted the jobs (see the move Rosie the Riveter and a documentary about women pilots in World War II flying planes around the UK to the various aerodromes where they were needed)
• Were invisible in history, the media and film. Apart from a few odd exceptions like Katherine Hepburn, women were pretty much bitches (Betty Davis) or goddesses up on a pedestal (June Allyson)
• Were sex objects
• Were forced to resort to illegal abortions because of unwanted pregnancies, often dying dreadful deaths from scepticaemia.
• Were vilified if they chose to have an abortion despite the vast majority of women agonizing over such a choice.
• Were denied free, safe contraception and planned parenthood.
• Had enormous difficulties accessing advanced education
• Were going off their rocker in the suburbs with frustration and boredom.
And we in Women’s Liberation were impolite, rowdy, feisty, hollering, rollicking, loud, raucous, marching, holding demonstrations, rejecting ideas of being “nice” and “lady-like”, and standing together in large numbers to organise for women’s right to be treated with respect, dignity and equality.
This is one of the songs from those time:
“Don’t be too polite, girls, don’t be too polite,
Show a little fight girls, show a little fight,
Don’t be fearful of offending, in case you get the sack
Just recognize your value and we won’t look back.
All among the bull, girls, all among the bull,
Keep your hearts full, girls, keep your hears full
What good is a man as doormat, or following at heel?
It’s not their balls we’re after, it’s a fair square deal.”
In early 1978 I went on a tour to China just as it was opening up. We visited a women’s brigade on an oil field in Shandong Province (one of the coldest places I’ve ever been by the way!). The women’s brigade was set up as Chinese leaders in the oil industry found that men looked down on women workers and sidelined them. So the aim of the women’s brigade was to encourage emancipation in the industry and self-respect among the women workers.
We sang the above song to them, and they sang back women’s revolutionary songs to us. Our interpreters told the Chinese women the meaning of our song, and then translated the Chinese songs to us. We had a wonderful time, laughing, singing, talking (via our interpreters) and shaking hands when we left with many waves as our mini-bus drove away from the oilfield.
“Don’t be too polite, girls” is a fighting song from the history of working women in Australia. I use the term “fighting” deliberately, because we women have never been handed our gains on our plate. We’ve had to organize, fight and stand together as sisters to achieve anything. I don’t ever want young women to forget that because, as a young woman myself, I stood on the shoulders of the mothers, sisters, grandmothers and great-grandmothers before me who took action, in big and small ways, to advance women’s interests, including the right to vote. And I honour and remember them with pride.