Sunday, September 21, 2008

Quick history tutorial and show of hands

From today's Sydney Morning Herald (online version):

Not so many years ago the federal public service was a no-woman's-land if you happened to be married. Documents just released by the National Archives of Australia show it was no more inviting to single women.

"A spinster at work, can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows," the director of trade commissioner services, K.L. Le Rossignol, was told by a subordinate on March 13, 1963.

"A man normally has his household run efficiently by his wife, who also looks after much of the entertaining. A woman trade commissioner would have all this on top of her normal work."

The memos came as the public service was resisting the idea of married women working. The National Archives has put the bureaucratic exchange on its website as part of a monthly display of "quirky, amusing or nostalgic little gems" researchers sometimes unearth in its collection.

A glass ceiling did not exist in the public service for married women at the time. They were not even allowed in the room and were required to quit their jobs once they uttered "I do".

In 1963 I was a curious, wide-eyed, big-eared ten-year-old, soaking up whatever I could in the way of information about how the world worked and what it meant to be a girl. Imagine my electrification a mere eight years later when I read The Female Eunuch and heard the tectonic plates of my world view shifting and grinding and crunching.

Hands up anyone who finds Mr Le Rossignol's subordinate's remarks quirky, amusing or nostalgic. Don't be shy.


Rachel said...

Sigh...they weren't quirky or amusing then, let alone now, and they certainly don't evoke nostalgia, just the slow, deep rage that still simmers inside those of us who grew up absorbing those 'values' and needed the militant feminist movement to wake us up. The National Archives could have found a different category for these reported remarks: "little gems" they certainly are not!

Now that I have stopped spitting pins, I must say what an interesting blog you have, multifunctional indeed. I shall enjoy reading it again, having just stumbled on it today.

tigtog said...

I remember being utterly astonished when my mum told me that she'd had to resign her job in the public service when she got married (1960). It seemed a horrible injustice to me.

I wonder how many women deliberately lived "in sin" instead just so they could keep their jobs?

Anonymous said...

And later on the evening of March 13, 1963, the long-suffering wife of the subordinate burnt her husband's chops, smashed the plates on the kitchen floor, and left for Paris with her new girlfriend.

Pavlov's Cat said...

So one would hope, yes.

I particularly loved the bit about how the woman with a job would have to deal with the 'entertaining' as well.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's time we all read Dymphna Cusack's play 'Morning Sacrifice' again - circa 1940's, I think. It's setting is in a girls' school staffroom over a few days and it's a chilling account of the ramifications of saying "I do" in those days.


Anonymous said...

Just wearyingly sexist & stereotypical of many males (& even some females) of that generation, eh.

When I got married in 1961, I had to resign from the S.A. Education Dept. for 3 days, after which I was reinstated as a "Temporary Junior Assistant (on loan)." Gawd. Did nothing for recognition of your contribution & self esteem, but you remained dedicated, & got on with the job of teaching, knowing that there was a desperate shortage of teachers & you were unlikely to be put off.

It was a great achievement when all that nonsense, *and* the concomitant injustices regarding pay, leave, superannuation, etc. for female teachers, were wiped out.

Btw, I enjoy your site & cat pics very much.


Amanda said...

My mum had to resign as a switchboard operator for the PMG when she got married in the late 60s but they hired her back as a "temp" or whatever doing exactly the same thing for less pay. Tres amusement.

I can the see the quirky amusing side of showcasing these --- I do enjoy looking at ridiculous old ads and whatnot but I do think they should make a bit of an effort to put then in the context of their real life consequences.

Anonymous said...

This bit caught my attention, in particular:

"A man normally has his household run efficiently by his wife, who also looks after much of the entertaining. A woman trade commissioner would have all this on top of her normal work."

Why not throw the children into this mix as well to make it doubly amusing! Have things changed much, though? We call this combination of work + 'play' 'double shift' nowadays. A 'wife' still needs her own 'wife', even in 2008.

The only quirky aspect of these times, for me, are the new 1950s cards depicting the fashion and looks of women and men of that era, with captions. There's one showing a man, suited and grinning, and a woman in her 50s dress, pearls and studs, both lovingly gazing at each other in a cafe, with the woman thinking: 'I wonder if it was worth shaving my legs for him.'


Mindy said...

While hubby was home with sick children recently, and did lots of the housework I came to understand what it's like to have a wife. So much time to myself. I was wonderful but brief.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'I was wonderful but brief.'

Typo of the year!

(Word verification: ebook.)

froginthepond said...

Such little gems of amusement, I don't think. You'd think the National Archives might have been a leetle more sophisticated in their analysis of this material.

The slow passage of time doesn't make misogyny nicer or more acceptable. Mostly it makes us realise the progress made and the lengths still to go. Abortion law reform, anyone?