Saturday, July 30, 2011

Young women today versus young women of yesterday


And in the journey, women themselves have overlooked the sacrifices that women in earlier decades have made.  When talking with young women in their 20s and 30s, it comes as a great surprise to them to learn that thirty years ago:

(a) women who were employed by the Public Service had their employment terminated when they married (the official policy of the day). Even in private enterprise, asking for a "raise" in their wages was unheard of.  There was no such thing as Work-Choices, or collective bargaining.  Superannuation was an unknown word.  "Unfair dismissal"?  If your employer didn't think you did your job well, you were fired.  That was that.  Equal pay?  Whoever thought that would ever be discussed.  ***

(b) single women who had babies did not receive social welfare payments - there was no such thing.  Other than  "child endowment" which amounted to a few shillings (equal to one dollar) bringing up a baby (or babies) was seen to be the sole duty of a mother.   If the woman was not married or if the father refused to marry her, most times she had to rely on her mother or other relations to help in bringing up the child/children.    In many cases, (far too many), the other option for single women was that they were persuaded to give their baby up for adoption, or as rumoured at the time, and now spoken about openly, they had their babies removed at birth, never to see them again.   Many excuses were made at the time, including that the baby had died at birth (many times far from the truth).  There was very little that a young unmarried girl could do to find out the truth.

(c)  there were no creches or daycare centres available; there were no kindergartens as such.  Occasionally a woman in the same suburb would open her home to looking after three or four children, for a whole day, part of a day, or before or after school, for a fee. One had to trust their baby or child sometimes to a complete stranger, hoping that that baby was being looked after.  Supervision was left entirely in the hands of the person looking after the children, and there were no audits by government bodies or legislation to cover the safety and health aspect.

(d)  women were NOT "invited" (patronising word isn't it?) to join superannuation funds.  It was unheard of, and if a woman had the audacity to request her inclusion, once they had been more readily accepted in the workplace,  she would have been laughed at.  She was always treated as secondary to a male employee - even if she did exactly the same job.

(d)  women were NOT permitted to take out bank loans.  In fact as far as banking and financial aspects of a woman's life, she had to have a "male" sponsor or guarantor willing to stand for her.  Sometimes it meant even asking a stranger to act as guarantor, which gave them a "hold" over the woman until she repaid the loan.

(e)  women did not own their own homes therefore - based on (d) above.  Women did not own their own motor vehicles.  Very seldom indeed did women own property (unless they inherited it from parents).

(f)  women were considered to be chattels of their husband.  They had very few rights - in the home, or the workplace.  Certainly in the court of law - should there be a divorce.

(g)  most employment opportunities were in factories - processing, manufacturing, the car industry, backyard sewing rooms etc;  shop assistants - mostly shops such as grocers, greengrocers, fish and chip shops.  Girls with higher ambitions aimed for "higher" grade retail positions such as a salesgirl in Myer or David Jones;  or as a theatre girl selling programmes;  or as a hair dresser, etc.  Many girls initiated their own career - such as millinery and/or dressmaking.   The more skilled they were, the more successful they became.

(h)  it was very seldom that a woman initiated a divorce.  To do so was to place herself in an extremely vulnerable position and public scrutiny. She was usually seen as being the guilty one regardless of the reason for the divorce. She would have to prove her need to rely on social welfare (if she had never had a job or if she lost it as a result of the divorce) - which was a pittance, and she underwent repeated investigations into her private life as it related to her "behaviour" and her private income.  That private income was usually zero.  She could very easily fall through the gaps of social interest and concern, and become destitute.

To be continued ...

*** Equal pay - even though women were awarded "equal pay for work of equal value" in 1968, it still remains unattainable for many women, regardless of their career position.  

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