Mavis would have been proud of Jane Caro, the writer and documentary maker, last week, when she delivered stirring speeches at the annual ‘Mavis Robertson International Women’s Day’ events held by Women in Super. Caro managed to make even the men present both laugh out loud and sigh with despair. It was a masterful performance.
Caro, whose 12th book, ‘Accidental Feminists’, was published early last year, spoke to full houses of, mainly, women in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane last week, ahead of the actual International Women’s Day today (March 9). Her speeches were all off-the-cuff but undoubtedly were years in their making.
Caro, the entertainer, became particularly poignant when she spoke about all the women she’d met on her promotional tour for the latest book over much of the past year. Some of the stories were very sad. The saddest were about the “good” girls; the ones who in their younger years did as they were told. Their ambition was to “meet a spunk, get married, have children and live happily ever after,” she said. “There’s been a lot wrong with that scenario throughout history.”
The book is, she said, the life story of many people over 50. Caro is a youthful 62. Of her 12 books, three were novels. She made four series of documentaries for the ABC. She is still married to her own “spunk” who she met in her late teens. If it wasn’t for him, her retirement super would have been insufficient to maintain any sort of dignified lifestyle.
The fastest growing cohort among the homeless in Australia is women over the age of 55. How can that be? Caro asks. She is a part of the first generation of Australian women who earned their own money. “We were pitied by many because we didn’t have a husband. We went to university and were influenced by the women’s lib movement… The ones who ended up living out of their cars were the good girls, the ones who did what they were told…”
But those who went to university and valued their independence, such as her, were not only revolutionary in going out to get jobs, they were still doing most of the household domestic work and the caring work for the family. “It’s at least a triple job,” she said. “It’s a penalty that women face for the rest of their lives when they become mothers. It’s no wonder that when young women look at us, they are filled with anxiety. It’s just too bloody hard.” It was time for men to do 50 per cent of the domestic work and 50 per cent of the caring work.
“Child care should be free and provided in the same way as public schooling is provided. We are one of the richest countries in the world, yet we have one of the most expensive child-care systems… We should be furious about this. I can tell you who are furious: women over the age of 50. They have the shits big time.”
As everyone in the super industry knows, women are disadvantaged within the super system for several reasons, one of which, according to Caro, is a “lifetime of inequality”. This leads to poverty for women in old age. “It is our right to have an equal part in society. Otherwise, it is a betrayal.”
She suggested that the world needed quotas for influential positions for women. “I’m sick of it,” she said. “I don’t have enough time to wait for things to improve.” The three reasons why she was behind quotas, as a part of affirmative action, were:
- We won’t get lasting change without them. “Everyone in the advertising industry can tell you that you can change attitudes but it is a lot harder to change behaviours.” Using the analogy of a significantly reduced road toll following the introduction of random breath testing for drivers in most states, she said: “Quotas are the random breath testing of feminism”. We can’t leave it to people’s good will.
- Australia has quotas already. For example, the reason the hapless Barnaby Joyce was a deputy prime minister for a time was because of a quota system. “Surely it won’t surprise you to hear that he was not elected under a merit system. Politics is full of quotas among the factions and the senators from different states.”
- “And the most important reason, is that pesky little 100 per cent quota which has operated in favour of men for 2,000 years which has given men a leg-up and an advantage over time. People say we should look at quotas of, say, 30 per cent for women. That should be the target, they say. If we were really going for ‘even stevens’, it should be a 100 per cent quota for women for the next 2,000 years.”
Next WIS scholarships open for applications
The Women in Super scholarships for NSW members to attend their choice from a variety of short post-graduate courses presented by the University of NSW’s Australian Graduate School of Management were launched at the WIS lunch in Sydney last week.
Lata McNulty, the NSW chair for WIS, said it was the fifth year of the partnership with AGSM. She reminded attendees that the late Mavis Robertson was a “great leader and a formidable woman” who fought for many other causes as well as the advancement of women, such as peace and disarmament. “She was not a woman you said ‘no’ to,” McNulty said.
Alison Brown, the head of brand and communication at the AGSM and the uni’s business school, said that it was important that members had the opportunity to attend various short courses to help with their career paths. There were more than 40 courses to choose from.
Info on the scholarships: www.womeninsuper.com.au