Academic journal article Outskirts

Sisterhood and Women's Liberation in Australia

Academic journal article Outskirts

Sisterhood and Women's Liberation in Australia

Article excerpt

Made in America: two moments of origin.

In 1969, Martha Ansara, an American, was in her early twenties, living in Boston with her three year-old son, and splitting up with her husband. 1969 was a big year for Ansara. She moved first to California with her new Australian boyfriend, and then, with the same boyfriend, to Australia. In Sydney, she made left-wing friends through Bob Gould's Third World Bookshop, in particular with Sandra Hawker and with two Australians who had recently returned from the United States: Margaret Elliot and Coonie Sandford (Wills, 20). Together they formed a group and discussed the pamphlets that Ansara had brought with her and their own experiences. Towards the end of that year they decided to hold an open meeting about Women's Liberation. The official story is that those three women composed a leaflet headed Only the Chains Have Changed to distribute during a protest march against the war in Vietnam on 14 December 1969, calling a meeting about Women's Liberation for January 1970. Many years later, Ansara confessed that, being a young mother, she had been exhausted and had fallen asleep, so the leaflet was the work of Hawker and Sandford and Ansara's film-making journalist boyfriend (Ansara, 7).

The meeting should have been a failure, Ansara was to recall: 'Nobody in their right mind holds meetings in January. I knew nothing you know'. But even though it was January - when everyone goes to the beach - the meeting was packed. This was, Ansara remembered, a 'new phenomenon': 'we were swept up, I guess, in the sort of new wave of interest in this imported phenomenon'. (Ansara, 4)

Early in 1969, Warren Osmond, a Tutor in Politics at the University of Adelaide, had been reading anti-war publications which made a great fuss over the Miss America Protest of 7 September 1968. New York Radical Women organised about one hundred women onto buses to travel to Atlantic City where they picketed the pageant, performed guerrilla theatre on the boardwalk, and tossed 'instruments of torture to women' - high-heeled shoes, bras, girdles, typing books, curlers, false eyelashes, and copies of Playboy, Cosmopolitan and Ladies Home Journal - into a 'Freedom Trash Can' (Echols, 93-4). Just for the record, they did not, despite the endlessly reiterated myth, burn these objects: the city prohibited any burning because its boardwalk was flammable. In an article published in the Adelaide student newspaper, On Dit, Osmond drew a parallel between the Miss America Pageant and Adelaide University's 'Miss Fresher' beauty contest, part of the Orientation Week celebrations at the beginning of the academic year. Was it not, he asked, 'Just about time for a new feminism?' (Osmond, np; Kinder, 31).

A year later, in March 1970, a group of about fifty young women calling themselves Women's Liberation picketed the 'Miss Fresher' contest at Adelaide University. Anna Yeatman, another Politics Tutor, said that they were protesting against being seen simply as objects of male desire, 'sex slaves', 'to be gaped at by pathetic, goggling men'. The media (briefly) went into a frenzy: Channel Nine's newsreader interviewed Yeatman on television, and the evening newspaper, the News, with uncharacteristic prescience, headed its report, 'Women's liberation is quickly shaping as a major world issue of the seventies' (News, np). Women's Liberation - made in America - had arrived in Australia.

A Movement for the Liberation of Women

It was nothing if not ambitious. One of the movement's earliest publications, called MeJane, signalled a newspaper that would leave Tarzan out of the picture altogether. 'Our changes will be total', its editorial declared: 'they will not be immediate, but we want to start now, changing life styles, changing the family and above all, changing ourselves' (MeJane 1, Editorial).

It would be different from other political movements which involved men as well, and women behaving like men. In May 1970 Anne Summers travelled from Adelaide to Melbourne to a conference on 'Female Conditioning' which she found entirely antipathetic. …

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