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International Women’s Day: thoughts from the frontline

I’m a woman; here are some things I’m thinking about today:

1. Mary Poppins and that feminist sub-plot:

 

2. The war being waged on women and their reproductive rights (which, in many countries, like the vote, were won long ago):

• In ‘Lucky girl’, Bridget Potter recounts what she went through to get an abortion in 1962:

Michael and I checked around for remedies … One night I sat in an extremely hot bath in my walk-up on Waverly Place while Michael fed me a whole quart of gin, jelly jar glass by jelly jar glass. In between my gulps, he refreshed the bath with boiling water from a sauce pan on the crusty old gas stove. I got beet red and nauseous. We waited. I threw up. Nothing more …

When my period was a month late I gave up hoping for a false alarm and went to visit Emily Perl’s gynecologist. His ground floor office in a brownstone on a side street on the Upper East Side was genteel but faded. So was he, a short, stern old man with glasses perched on the top of his head and dandruff flakes on his gray suit-jacket. As I explained my problem, he shook his head from side to side in obvious disapproval of the loose behavior that was the cause of my visit. He instructed me to pee in a jar. The test results, he said, would take two weeks.

At that time pregnancy testing involved injecting a lab rabbit with human urine and watching for its effects. I waited to hear if the rabbit died. I learned much later that all lab rabbits used for pregnancy tests died, autopsied to see the results. It was code.

My rabbit died.

• All the proposed laws encroaching on women’s bodies:


• And absurd analogies promoted by groups like the American Life League:

(Some background.)

3. This statement: ‘You can blame women for not coming out in droves to attack a system that constantly undermines them and their talent or you can change the fucking system.’

4. The fact that little has changed in a century; the police act the same, as does oppression, and if you want rights, you have to fight for them (watch from 56 seconds):

5. Gig Ryan:

I’d shoot the man with things dangling over his creepy chest

in the park when I was contemplating the universe

I’d shoot the man who can’t look me in the eye

who stares at my boobs when we’re talking

who rips me off in the milk-bar and smiles his wet purple smile

who comments on my clothes. I’m not a fucking painting

that needs to be told what it looks like,
who tells me where to put my hands, who wrenches me into position

like a meccano-set, who drags you round like a war

I’d shoot the man who couldn’t live without me

I’d shoot the man who thinks it’s his turn to be pretty

flashing his skin passively like something I’ve got

to step into, the man who says ‘John’s a chemistry PhD
and an ace cricketer, Jane’s got rotten legs’

who thinks I’m wearing perfume for him

who says ‘Baby you can really drive’ like it’s so complicated
male, his fucking highway,

6. All those women who went before.

And you?

Equal pay

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Jacinda Woodhead is the editor of Overland. Her PhD research examined abortion politics in Australia and nonfiction as political intervention.

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Comments

  1. Superb stuff! I love the footage and Gig’s poem. One of the banners in the film made in 1913 read, ‘Life without representation is tryranny.’ Great!

  2. Hey thanks, Jacinda. We’ve come a long way but not nearly far enough – shame that IWD pays too little attention to what still needs to be done – Isy’s post and Finn’s comments here a really good example of what many women’s lives are like.

    On Q&A I last night I was stunned to see everyone agreeing that it was very difficult for women (with children) to succeed in politics because of the hours and the demands – no-one mentioned that men have kids and careers.

    Footage was great!

  3. Jacinda Woodhead you are brilliant – thanks for this post, it is just what I needed.

    I’m thinking of my mother (mother of four, I’m the youngest) who was a keen housewife, worked and went to uni and in the middle of her exams week (1976 or thereabouts) roared at my father, ‘I don’t care where your underpants are and I will never again be responsible for making sure they are rolled up and put away in your drawer!’ I was about eleven & it was an awesome moment. Something kind of ridiculous, one might think: but no, it was an upheaval of magnitude and a revolution that continues to this day. Dad is much educated. They are still married (57 years). So that’s what I’m thinking of, this International Women’s Day.

  4. Great clips and essays. That Yellow Rage video is one of my favourites from the first season of Def Poetry.

  5. Well, you know it’s hard to believe it’s 2011 sometimes, and not 1411. Across my work desk this morning came the latest Newsletter from the No To Violence network (based in Melbourne). They are sounding the alarm over the Vic Coalition government’s policy on protecting children from violence, along with DV Victoria and Cathy Humphreys from Melbourne Uni. The Coalition’s policy on family violence is in effect to criminalise those who ‘fail to protect’ children. This means in practice that the ‘criminals’ will be women, the mothers of the children affected, who of course are also the victims of the violence.
    And on a further cheerful note, the NTV also report that the Brisbane District Court recently slashed a woman’s compensation payment for the violence she had endured from her husband, because she was “conditioned” to family violence.
    In other words, if you are a woman and your partner is violent to you and your children, and your children are injured physically or psychologically, it’s your fault. If you make a later claim for victim’s compensation, your payment may be reduced because, guess what, it’s your fault.

  6. Stephen, this is so depressing – women cannot be equal until violence against them is addressed. Yet it seems the few gains made, and in spite of the rhetoric and the profile of the white ribbon campaign, they are not huge (just look at the stats and look at the papers over the last two days or on any day), are slipping away.

    Makes me think of the video clip posted by Jacinda of women marching together in 1913 demanding full rights.

  7. Violence is at the root of the systemic bias against women and children, and really needs to be addressed head-on as many women (and men) are doing. On last year’s IWD Phillip Adams hosted a discussion between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Anne Summers. Hirsi Alsi’s position on feminism was that the battle was over in the West,and there was nothing left to achieve.Summers’ position was that we still needed to address the issue of more women in boardrooms. Both of them made my blood boil to be honest.
    There’s lots of stuff happening to tackle violence against women directly, but it’s right at the nitty-gritty of how oppression is constructed.I wasn’t, in my hasty manner, trying to put a downer on what should be a great celebration, IWD’s 100th, but just wanted to respond to and amplify the stuff on my desk, and in my work.

  8. Sounds like the Victorian Coalition’s policies are building on the foundations of the difficulties women have historically had getting enough Legal Aid to fight violent husbands who would often have secured double the funding for the same case. The reason given by Legal Aid for doing this was because they judged which party in the case was more likely to win and gave that applicant, on that basis, more money to fight it.
    Eight or so years ago a paper titled ‘Trial By Legal Aid’ was written to highlight this and caps on that money were introduced, caps which are often inadequate when a determined perpetrator keeps taking a mother back to court.

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