Updated: Apr 30, 2021
When I was growing up I was aware of feminism but not personally touched by it. I'd heard I Am Woman, I'd read about 'bra burning' and seen protests on TV but it was an abstract awareness, something that didn't seem to directly apply to my life.
When I started work as a teenager in the late 70's that changed.
My first bosses in the bank were all women who had had to out-fight or outlast the men around them to finally attain their positions. They came from an era where women had to resign if they married so they were all still single and absolutely dedicated to their jobs. As they advanced, they were told position by position that they could not fulfill the role as they were in some way inferior to men.
These women had all been firsts; the first female Signing Officer, Ledger Supervisor, Sub Accountant, Assistant Accountant, Accountant. Eighteen-year-old me could not believe that anyone had ever said no to these women. They were confident, competent and powerful and yet at every stage, their career paths had been blocked and were still being slow-tracked. They had had to be twice as good and twice as “nice” and fight each step of the way.
"Women need to be angry. If not for ourselves then for our sisters and for those that come after us. We need to own our anger and use it as a positive and directed force."
Even in what we then considered our emancipated state we were aware, as young female bank officers, that getting engaged and married was going to slow our progress. To those higher up, getting married for women inevitably meant "having babies".
Women who married and had families found that it took some time for the workplace to catch up with the idea that they intended to continue with their careers. During this period we gained the right to Maternity Leave but in private companies that meant that at the end of 12 months you were guaranteed a job at the same salary level - there was no maternity leave salary. Nor was there a guarantee that the job you returned to would be the one you left or even in the same location.
Still, we were the first generation with those options. I could have a family and work and study and change careers, which wasn't easy with three children and a husband who was often away, but I could do it.
There were and are many women for whom the idea of having choices like mine is beyond contemplation. The big picture that I was probably too tired to see back then was that, regardless of how difficult it was, the fact that I could do it was a by-product of privilege. I was standing on the shoulders of the women who came before me.
The idea that feminism is no longer needed is a dangerous concept. Equality doesn’t just happen, it is a process and usually one that comes painfully slow and at a cost. It takes action and positive reinforcement.
Women need to be angry. If not for ourselves then for our sisters and for those that come after us. We need to own our anger and use it as a positive and directed force. Instead of just crying quietly and in private over abuse and the misuse of power we need to call it out.
We need to recognise that for countless generations women as a whole have been the 'other' - those without power or agency. That what we have even now can be a fragile veneer of equality when it really counts, one that cracks and fissures regularly in the push and shove of the 'real world'.
It is into those cracks and fissures that women who are victims of abuse, domestic and other violence fall.
If we can’t be angry for ourselves in our relatively safe and privileged world it behoves us to be angry for what is done to or suffered by others. In that anger we should examine what we accept and what we have accepted as normal, the things that women just do. We all need to be angry until we can all be safe. We all need to vocalise until we all have voices. We all need to listen and share with empathy the stories of our sisters and our allies who feel that they will never be heard.
We need to stand with honour supporting all women in memory of those who went before us and with strength for those that follow.