The feature below is by a leader of Australia’s largest Marxist organisation, Socialist Alternative, and appears in the latest issue of their theoretical journal Marxist Left Review, here; while there are obvious differences between Australia and New Zealand, the feature deals with fundamental questions going beyond national particularities – indeed many of the trends towards formal legal equality, promotion of women in business etc have gone further here than across the ditch
by Louise O’Shea
“When I am by myself, I am nothing. I only know that I exist because I am needed by someone who is real, my husband, and by my children. My husband goes out into the real world… I stay in the imaginary world in this house, doing jobs that I largely invent, and that no one cares about but myself.”
“Woman and Her Mind: The Story of Daily Life”, Meredith Tax, 1970
“I always feel like I’m about to collapse. Since I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted – the kids are just irritants, and so is the job. Every day is a giant struggle, and all I can see, for years and years ahead, is more of the same.”
“I’m so tired of feeling like I don’t measure up in every aspect of my life. Go to work? Miss time with kids. Work from home? Can’t give undivided attention. House dirty, laundry piled up, kids sick. The thread is breaking.”
“My partner is great about sharing tasks. That’s not it – it’s the finite nature of time and money. And the complete lack of financial security that I guess almost everyone feels – it hangs over me like a cloud.”
Testimonies from a survey of women, 2011
The lives of women today are a world away from those of their counterparts fifty years ago. In the early 1960s, unequal pay was accepted as legitimate, divorce was restricted and stigmatised, abortion was illegal, women in the public service did not have the right to work after marriage, rape in marriage was not recognised as a crime, sexual harassment was rife, childcare virtually non-existent and women could not get a bank loan without a male guarantor. Governments, the mainstream media, bosses and other powerful forces regarded the concept of women’s rights primarily as a target for ridicule. Mainstream popular culture was prudish and held little place for women outside traditional romance. Representations of women typically involved aprons, meal preparation, smiling children and vacuum cleaners, reinforcing constantly that the primary role of women was to create an environment of domestic bliss. Boredom and a sense of isolated frustration, summed up by Betty Friedan as “the problem with no name”, came to symbolise the experience of women – if in reality mainly middle class women – in this period.
Today, the contrasts couldn’t be starker. Formal equality in relation to the law in most of the Western world has effectively been achieved. Women account for nearly 50 per cent of the workforce in most of the developed world and can be found in a range of traditional and non-traditional industries. Gender studies courses of some description are offered at most major universities, and there is an entire academic industry dedicated to the study of women and gender. There has been a proliferation of government departments and programs aimed at the well-being or advancement of women in some capacity. Women’s representation in high office and in boardrooms and war rooms has risen dramatically. Brutal imperialist wars are justified on the basis of liberating women, and the Western world is presented as superior and a sense of national cohesion forged around its supposed “tolerance” and “respect for women”.
At a personal level, far from being afflicted primarily with soul-crushing boredom, the majority of women today struggle with conflicting demands of (more…)