“Well Kathleen, you choose which one of them will go through High School. Of course Catherine doesn’t count because she’ll just get married, have children and leave.”
This makes my dad sound like a heartless beast but he was simply reflecting the social beliefs and expectations in our part of the world, Port Adelaide, South Australia, at the time – the mid 1950’s.
Fortunately my precious mum had ideas of her own. From her earliest years and right throught to her dying day mum loved books, whom she considered to be her “best friends“. She valued education, delighted in learning and always regretted that, despite gaining the QC (Qualifying Certificate) which was necessary if one were to attend Secondary School, the family situation required that she leave school and begin paid employment at about 12-13 years of age. So when dad presented mum with that choice she rebelled, challenged the social mores of the time and started working outside the home to ensure that all of her 4 children, and especially her only daughter, were provided with the education she yearned for but was denied.
Trying to explain what it was like growing up through the 1950’s and 60’s, and coming into maturity as the second wave of the so called “Women’s Liberation Movement” gained momentum is very challenging. It was far easier to do a “wrap up” of the origins of International Women’s Day because that is “one step removed” and requires no emotional investment.
Personal experience, filled with all the highs and lows, the excitement, the hope and the opening of opportunities… combined with the personal conflict, disappointments, mis-understandings and outright nastiness which certainly was “another kettle of fish” but it’s a story that must be told to help the present, and future generations, begin to understand the ex-periences, and decisions, of their Ancestors which helped shape the world they now occupy and indeed helped shape them. I’m referring here, of course, to my children and grandchildren.
It was a time of protest when more and more women began to challenge the status quo. It was a time of marches, protest, and demands for equal pay, equality in employment and education, free 24-hour child care, the right for women to control their own bodies, safe contraception, abortion on demand, and an end to both violence against women and discrimination against lesbians.
In Australia thousands of women formed women’s groups and organisations and, through direct actions such as marches and demonstrations, women vocally demanded change to economic, political and social discrimination. Women’s liberation influenced women’s fashion, with women favouring the ‘natural look’, long hair and comfortable free-flowing clothes, including bell-bottom jeans.
In order to focus attention on women’s rights, the United Nations declared 1975 to be International Women’s Year and 1976-1985 to be the UN Decade for Women. On International Women’s Day (8 March) 1974, the Australian Government announced its own program to mark IWY.
The Whitlam Labor government, which had demonstrated its commitment to women with the appointment of Elizabeth Reid as the special adviser to the Prime Minister on women’s issues, allocated $2 million for 1974–75 and a further $1.3 million in the 1975–76 budget for International Women’s Year activities. A National Advisory Committee was established in September 1974 with Reid as convener. Its role was to publicise and coordinate the government’s IWY program, and to allocate funding to individuals and groups for projects that supported the three objectives: to change attitudes, reduce discrimination and encourage women’s creativity. The National Advisory Committee was supported by the IWY secretariat which was located within the Department of the Special Minister of State.
International Women’s Year also marked the debut of ABC Radio 2’s Coming Out Show dealing with women’s affairs. The weekly program covered issues of importance in the struggle for gender equality. Behind the scenes, the show was a training space for women in broadcasting, a place for skilling up and enabling women to take over the airwaves – or at least to claim some of the airtime.
To hear the Audio of the inaugural ABC “Coming Out Show” please click HERE
For this inaugural edition broadcast on 8 March 1975, reporters took to the streets to record some of the excitement of the International Women’s Day demonstrations. Comments from those interviewed in Sydney range from the chauvinistic to the evangelical, including a precious cameo from the late Bessie Guthrie who founded the first refuge for women and children in Australia.
Collectively the women driving these initiatives were known as the Australian Women’s Broadcasting Cooperative. The Coming Out Show ran for 23 years and changed forever the way ABC Radio sounded and the issues it canvassed.
As I said, it’s very difficult to explain to the younger generation(s) just how very different life, opportunities and expectations were for women “back when I was a girl“.
This video explains it far better than I ever could. Please click HERE to view.
The Women’s Movement, those heady days of the 1975 International Year of Women, combined with the many reforms of the Whitlam Labor Government, after a lifetime of a Conservative policies, all combined to provide opportunities I’d never dreamed possible. Of course I paid the price with spiteful behaviour, attempts to undermine my confidence, my marriage and more examples of negativity than I even care to think about, but who cares??? … I certainly came out the winner which is reflected in the achievements of my 3 beautiful children.
Mum always said that it’s a parent’s responsibility to give their children a “leg up” that rickety ladder of life. She did that… I did that… and my children are now doing that with their own “chickadees”. Life is good.
RESOURCES & FURTHER READING:
Copyright © 2013. Catherine Ann Crout-Habel