Saturday, March 08, 2008

International Women's Day

Its funny, but when I was a girl growing up I knew there was a difference between sexes.

I mean, growing up on a cattle property, you learn pretty early what the male role was, what the female role was and what happened to the males when they were deemed not "up to par" - in cattledom, at least.

And in terms of humans, I knew that men were there for the physical work, women were for brain work - and the rest was shared fairly equally by all.

My maternal family is one steeped in feminism - although the forebears possibly did not put such a high-faluting title on it. My great-great grandmother was the first teacher in a remote North Queensland community. Great-great aunt S secretly studied her teaching certificate to run away and work in Western Queensland. My great-grandmother independently ran a boarding house in Pialba - and brought up a virtuoso pianist in a very rough town. My grandmother and her siblings were brought up by aunts, whose lore was "never rely on a man". My aunt was a federal politician. My mother had a career before meeting my father.

My paternal family also has its matriarch - and the common sense to acknowledge and admire the women of the family.

So it was a great shock to me when I came upon sexism firsthand. I was in Year 6, and we had a new teacher.

Thommo first set the tongues wagging before school even started. As part of the immersion into the local community, he and his wife were invited to barbecues, dinners and parties.

Strike one was when he turned up separately from his wife - she in the car and he on his motorbike. It was not the problem that he rode a motorbike - it was the seventies, everyone could understand the freedom that offered. It was the fact that he let his wife drive alone on dirt, country roads she did not know by herself.

Strike two was his insistence that Australian Rules was the football code of choice. This was very much a Rugby League area - heck, we had direct relatives of Bunny Pierce in the area, and Mal Meninga was a local hero as he had carried the dirt in Biloela.

But his most telling error of judgement was to assume that he could teach and promote the boys as the holders of all the grey matter with the girls applauding quietly on the sidelines. That may have worked in some of the Southern school - well, actually, it obviously didn't, as he had been demoted to this two teacher school in the sticks.

I remember him asking me to act as his secretary to organise the school cricket fixtures - when I was needed to be on the bus NOW for the softball games as I was pinch hitter for our unbeaten (for five years) school team. I also remember detention every single day for two years for being a smart arse - it was a skill I finessed with him.

When he left, his last act was to give the inaugural dux prize for the school - which went to the only boy in our class. We, and the whole area, knew such an act was preposterous - the five of us had been in class together from the start and we knew where we all stood in academic rankings. Our last act was to present him with the detention chair, as he had made such good use of it over the two years. The education department had found a posting even more of a demotion and he was going to ruin the lives of children in a remote Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland. We only hoped he would leave the industry before he did too much damage.

I went to an all girls boarding school, founded in 1893 on the principles that women should be able to access and receive quality education. It did that, but it also cotton-wooled me against what some sectors of the "real world" thought of the capabilities of women.

Despite this, I have read enough, observed enough and worked in enough workplaces to know that my cocoon does not always protect, and that many women every day are discriminated against in many aspects of life.

As I have to rush out the door in 25 minutes and have yet to pack, I just hope on this IWD that people will keep focus on what needs to change, where and what sort of future we want to hand to our daughters, and the daughters of others.

Happy Women's Day everyone - and I will be back next Tuesday.


Alison said...

I like the sound of your cocoon. May it grow in size and strength and offer the wonderful women around you, strength, safety and knowledge.
Happy International Women's Day to you :)

Julie Pippert said...

IT ATE MY COMMENT, that nasty blogger!

Endeavoring to reproduce...

I don't think you had to grow up on a farm to know the difference, LOL.

And I didn't grow up in a cotton-wooled world but I am still startled by sexism at times.

Debby said...

In my growing up years, there was no difference in how hard the girls worked, but we were raised as very much second in importance to my brother, the golden child, the bearer of the family name. It is still that way today. This bias has torn my family apart. My father is gone, my brother more important to my mother than ever, and she cannot be bothered with two of her four children at all.

♥.Trish.♥ Drumboys said...

wow - your women rock !
Sounds like you had a riotous upbringing.The women is your family contributed a great deal to our community.