‘It’s time today’s women recognised how far equality has come’

May 17, 2020
Equal rights has come a long way thanks to the Baby Boomer women, but is there still a long way to go? Source: Getty Images

As International Women’s Day 2020 approached on March 8, I reflected on what feminism means for the young women of today. For women over 60, it represents the struggles of the past. The struggles women have overcome including suffrage, the right to equal pay, ending discrimination in the workplace, freedom to marry and divorce, access to child support, access to financial credit in your own right, reproductive control and access to superannuation.

For millennials, like my daughter, it is a blip in the past she never needed to consider. “That’s the old days,” she said.

Young women of her generation assume it is their right to obtain equal educational and career opportunity. She has never known it to be any other way. She and her peers have no understanding that all the gains women made in the last century paved the way for their unfettered opportunity in the current one.

Her generation mulls over the long-disputed gender pay gap whilst my generation and those before me fought — and in some cases died — for the legislation to remove the barriers imposed upon half the population. There is a reason why women my age are the fastest-growing group of homeless people in Australia.

Most older women earned their income within a framework of legislated, entrenched financial disadvantage, perhaps staying home to raise their children thanks to the marriage bar or only working part-time for decades. Toss in the end of a bad marriage, a damaging divorce combined with little superannuation or perhaps no home and you are well on the way to understanding why the many women within this unfortunate statistical group are not in a position to rectify their circumstances despite having worked for decades.

With the advantage of a good education my daughter enjoys a promising career path ahead in a workplace filled with senior career-focused women and unremarkably most of her role-models are parents in a family-friendly workplace. Such mythical creatures were rare to spot in my 20s.

My first workplace had just 20 women on a warehouse site employing 400 men. Two of those women were under 40 and to say we were subjected to a lot of unwelcome attention is an understatement. There were no senior women, most were typists I was not and thus had better career opportunities.

My daughter did not consider herself fortunate, like most young women she took her opportunities for granted. It’s easy to ignore the past when its problems have not been knocking on your door. As a woman who cut her teeth breaking into non-traditional career areas for women in the 1970s and ’80s, I bristled when she was dismissive. If only she knew what it was like I thought.

She has not suffered routine daily humiliation at work where male coworkers ran a competition to see who could get the most paperclips tossed from a distance to land in my shirtfront as they passed by my desk when I had my head down. Nor has she heard mass objections that a woman, a damn woman, was appointed to a senior operational role in a highly technically skilled area because after all it’s all blokes here and they deserved my position just by their very existence and seniority.

She has never had to front her senior manager to explain why she objects to the bulk cheque printer being used to digitise the nude centrefold of Miss February just so the giant poster can be mounted on the office door as a welcome present. I explained that objection to my manager and he explained that I “had to understand they were shift workers with a funny sense of humour”. I further explained that the legislation did not care what hours these men worked and he needed to inform them of that fact.

By contrast, her days are filled with forms and spreadsheets in the comfort and safety of an air-conditioned office. Nothing too threatening, nothing more than the risk of a deep paper cut. In her ultra-modern office in a landscaped hi-tech industrial park everything is ship-shape and totally politically correct.

When she suffered the unwanted obsessive attention of an admiring male coworker, she took the issues of workplace safety and harassment more seriously. It was then she sought my help in drafting her complaint relying on the legislation so hard fought for by my pioneering contemporaries to protect her.

“Best written complaint I’ve ever received,” said the Human Resources Manager upon reading it.

It would seem that sometimes the experiences of the past do come to be relevant. Okay Boomer sisters, we salute you.

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Do you think women today have it easier in the workplace than you did?

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