‘Woman – Post WW2’ Research Essay
By Isabella Martin
“Account for the Continuity and/or Change in Woman’s status in Aust. Over Time.”
The evolution of the rights of woman in Australia owes much to successive waves of feminism, or the woman’s movement. The first of these took place in the late 19th century and was concerned largely with gaining the right to vote and to stand for election into parliament. The second wave of feminism took place in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on gaining equality with men in other areas, such as work, the law and general social standing. These protests for the changing rights and freedoms of woman targeted many different aspects of life and presented a broader challenge to traditional ideas of woman’s rights. This therefore led to more fundamental changes in the daily lives of mainstream Australian woman.
As mentioned before, the first wave of feminism brought woman the right to vote in federal and state elections. Halfway through the 19th century Australian colonies began to grant manhood suffrage, however, woman were not originally included. When Australia reached Federation in 1901, it was agreed that all woman should be given the vote at a federal level since woman from South and Western Australia already had a State vote. In 1902, all women were given the vote in federal elections except for those who were Indigenous Australian’s, or of Asian, African or Pacific Islander descent.
Despite the enfranchisement, no woman was elected to an Australian parliament until 1921, for instance the first federal female parliamentarians were not elected until 1943. This is just one example of how enfranchisement fell short of truly improving the lives of Australian woman or changing attitudes about them, woman were still being seen as nurturers who had no other destiny than to marry and raise children. In terms of the workforce, few women did work and the few who did not only had to find paid work, but also had to carry the burden of all housework and child caring.
Despite societies definition of their role, many married women sought to improve the family's economic security and gain some economic independence of their own by entering paid employment, generally working in areas that society believed reflected traditional expectations of them as careers, the common occupations included Teaching, Nursing, and Secretarial work. Few woman gained entry into the recognised ‘male’ occupations such as Engineering, Law and the Sciences. A key issue for all women was wage discrimination in favour of men.
The idea was placed that all men should receive enough pay to support family, and that women in the paid workforce should earn lower wages than those earned by men. The notion of what jobs a woman could do expanded during World War 1, but a women’s role in public life was still very limited especially during the 1950s when the idea of the stereotypical ‘Housewife’ was well known.
Throughout 1950s Australia, matters such as Education, paid employment, religion and social attitudes all reinforced the principle that a ‘Women’s place is in the home’. Their role was to primarily to be a good wife and mother, society expected woman to conform to the idea of woman as homemakers and that’s all they could ‘supposedly’ be. Marriage, being a popular trait for woman during the 1950s, restrained them from having their own freedom. By way of illustration, the typical wedding vows had the female partner promise to ‘love, honour and obey’ her husband, while he promised only to ‘love and honour’ his wife. Unfortunately at that point in time, law reinforced women’s subservient role within marriage, and society general assumed that woman required a man to look after their interests.
The ‘Nuclear Family’, which was known as the basic family unit throughout the 50s, is a perfect example in reference to the statement that a ‘Woman’s place is in the home’. The ideal family usually lived in a home placed...
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