Thursday, December 05, 2013

Women's Liberation: What is it?

My Nan and Papa were great storytellers and their children are preserving their writing and sending it out to their grandchildren to read. Mostly the stories are anecdotes from real life and stories told to their children.

This piece of writing from my Nan about Women’s Liberation was a surprise inclusion, but I was particularly glad to read it, because it was a testimony to the daily hard work, from my grandmother’s generation onward, of women intent on social and political reform.

If you want to see exactly how my Nan embodied the ideas in the writing below when imparting her own practical advice for women educating children in the home, here is her article for the Journal of Agriculture.

Even more interesting is the correspondence between my Nan and Mrs Alwyn Scott of the Journal of Agriculture.

These thoughts on Women's Liberation also show that while extraordinary strides have been made in attitudes towards women since my Nan wrote this piece, there is still a long way to go.

I felt compelled to reply to my Nan’s words with my own because I wanted to let her know that all her hard work had freed my generation to widen the influence of Liberation ideas to more people, including children and men, and more areas of inequality in ability, ethnicity, residency and education.

As long as women have existed, they have thought deeply and practically about their position in the world, and it is a pleasure to be able to see some of that recorded in my own family history.


Today, as it was for you Nan, it is a great way of thinking about the world and how to change it so people can be humans and not resources.

If it’s encouraging women to think for themselves as individuals, I’m for it.

Women today now hope that men can think for themselves as individuals too. We hope that men are allowed the choice not to buy into the male violence and constant work outside their families that the current work system requires of them.

If it’s widening female horizons beyond the domestic chores, I’m for it.

Women today now hope that male horizons can include something other than the public sphere, including equal time at home with their family, enjoying childrearing and sharing the chores.

If it’s taking the female away from the sink for a break and putting the male there to relieve her, I’m for it.

Women today now hope that the work at the sink is shared equally by all who produce the mess, no matter what their gender.

If it means liberating the female and allowing her to work alongside men I’m doubtful. Does this mean she will be allowed to chop the wood, fight the bushfires, and carry heavy loads? Does it mean she is allowed to stand in a crowded bus? If it does I’m against it as I’m just not capable.

I’m for it if it means women following physically possible men’s careers such as carpentry, boot making and bus driving.

Women and men today would concur that small, slight people of any gender, age or ability are not capable of the physical work that other taller and bigger people may do. But they would also say that gender, age and ability do not determine physical workloads; training, attitude and necessity determine physical workloads.

If it means that woman is to cease to be a sex symbol I’ll carry a banner for Women’s Lib.

I don’t think you’ll find a woman who does not agree with this! From the dawn of Women’s Liberation thousands of years ago to now, this has been the constant cry.

If it means wearing no bras, I’m against it. I saw too many ruined breasts among Papuan women to wish this upon anyone.

Women now and in your time concur, the movement was about quite a bit more than the concept of not wearing bras. Women’s Liberation was about education, the vote, better working conditions, safety on the streets, child care, social welfare, women’s refuges and reforms in the law. The bra issue was a headline grabbing ploy used by Women’s Liberation and their opponents, not a central plank in a platform of social reforms aimed at gender equality.

But if it means that woman renounces her place in the home as mother and centre of family life, I’m very much against it.

Education, voting, working conditions, safety, economic independence, welfare, refuges and reforms ensure that the mother is part of a family in which all members are treated equally in the public and private sphere. Women’s Liberation does not detract from her position as mother or as a part of her family, it allows her to be free to shape that position as she wishes.

If families cease to look upon and treat their mothers as the drudge whose work never ends and never should, I’m for it.

Women today are still fighting for this respect from society. Reading your words made me glad that there has always been a call for equality in the family. Reading your words made me sad that my generation still has to fight for it, despite the hard work of the women who have gone before us.

I’ve even heard that allowing little boys to cry if they feel like it is part of Women’s Lib! I can’t see how, but I agree.

This is a very logical step from the ideas of Women’s Liberation to the freedom of men to also start to questions traditional ideas of behaviour. Just as women are questioning and freeing themselves from gendered social expectations, they are beginning to hope their sons can escape those same constraints.

If it means that children are left in child care centres while mothers are liberated to work – or more especially if children roam the streets or stay home alone after school for the same reason I’m very much against it.

Balancing parenthood and economic participation is still a problem for women and men today. Of course, what needs to be considered is the idea of bending the public sphere work patterns to accommodate parents of both and all genders taking time to raise the next generation. Children are the social and economic workers of the future, and the system is created by us, so we can change it so parents’ time with children does not have to bend to the ancient constraints of a 300 year old work pattern.

If it involves allowing girls to play boys’ games then I guess I’ve been an unconscious Women’s Libber.

Not unconscious Nan, just sensible. When it comes to games and toys, there is only one question to ask:

Is the toy/game operated by the genitals of the child?

If yes, it is NOT a toy/game for children. If no, it is a toy/game for all children, regardless of gender.

My boys have all learnt to cook and sew, clean house and wash dishes. The girls on the other hand do farm work when needed and play football and cricket with the best.

And I think that is the essence of the matter for you and for me; gender is taught and learnt, not inherent or essential. Gender is constructed. And Nan, you decided not to construct gender so as to restrict the freedoms of your children. And women are still trying to do this for their children today, to the best of their abilities, and in their own ways.
Thanks Nan, you are inspiring.

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