It’s International Women’s Day and all I’m hearing in my head is lots of no’s. No you can’t. Not you won’t. Oh you couldn’t and heavens above, what are you thinking? Now where, I ask, did I learn this? My finger inevitably drifts in the direction of my mother, and my grandmother, but not necessarily accusingly.
Pointing fingers is generally considered rude, but it happens a lot. I don’t like it while wearing my social history hat, because you’re supposed to see and understand people in the context of their own times.
Their times were tough. My mother was born during the Depression, a hair’s whisker on the side of legitimacy. A wedding night conception. My grandmother’s ambitions to be a music teacher had been crushed by a manipulative father who allowed her to train, but not to do country service. As that was essential to graduating, she was stymied. She ended up teaching privately at business college. The box of her sheet music that I have is a testimony to a murdered dream.
Fairly soon in marriage and family life, he got bone cancer. One of the few photos of him with Mum, who is about seven or eight. They are posed formally, out the back, him on one leg and crutches, she is a sweet white dress and curls. A child embroiled in a personal tragedy embroiled again in a world tearing itself apart in global war. I can confidently say she never recovered.
By the time I showed up, delivered by the government, the feminist revolvition was in full swing. Despite owning a copy of Betty Friedan, it seemed to pass my mother by. Indeed, it seemed to pass all the women of my comfortable middle class suburb by. Of course this is probably not true. I don’t know how they negotiated their lives, their marriages or how they treated their sons and daughters. But I can safely say I never saw any of them do or say anything remotely different or feminist. Only one went into business, for herself, and that wasn’t until the mid-1980s.
These memories of growing up have resurfaced in the context of exploring my own passivity recently. I find it ironic that my attempts to move forward are constantly hampered by the past, and that I am a ‘past’ professional. I have a doctorate in history. Six generations ago, the women who left Cornwall and landed in Adelaide was illiterate and remained so until she died in Bendigo in the 1890s. A feminist victory, of sorts.
PS: Although…spell checker is sexist. I left the ‘r’ off her. It defaulted to ‘his’. No feminist victories then.