Women’s rights all throughout the twentieth century was a constant battle of getting the right to vote, making choices for their own bodies and allowing themselves to choose what happens to their life. A large factor that has contributed to women’s rights, especially during World War Two, was workplace rights. When the World Wars sent young working men to the battle field, the people to replace them were women. World War Two changed women’s lives forever by increasing the amount of labour required to win the war, and having women step up to take those jobs. However, despite the efforts made by women in the twentieth century to gain the right to vote, work and control their lives and bodies, they have and still do experience sexism against them due to the patriarchal society they live in. The effects of sexism in the workplace is analysed in this essay, so we can get better understanding of how gender inequality against working women in the twentieth century has influenced not only their workplace life, but domestic life and family as well as education - all had impacts on women’s professional lives that have shaped the professional lives of women today.
Sexism in the workplace against women, especially in competitive areas of work such as law and medicine meant that women had a much harder time than men to find and have a successful career. The medicine course during World War Two was reduced to five years instead of six, so more doctors were sent to the front lines, and since Australia was reluctant to send women to the front lines, they were often rejected from medicine courses, and went on the be nurses, not doctors. Those who were considered ‘bright enough’ by universities were taken to teaching schools and ran practices in their communities. My interviewee, Penny Cameron attended and has interviewed many women from Sydney University’s Women’s college and has interviewed many women who have studied medicine and become doctors. Due to their high levels of education, however, their experience of sexism while working was not as extreme as other cases, and their main challenges were getting their degree and finding a job, but once they got their job they didn’t experience as much sexism as women would in other competitive areas of work. So the doctors had very little trouble, mainly because what they were offering to their community was greatly needed.
Another profession included Law, and there was one woman who Penny Cameron interviewed, Jane Mathews, who was a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, her father was a chief engineer at a steelworks company and was extremely well connected. His initial belief was “no daughter of mine shall be an engineer or a lawyer.” However after graduating with extremely good grades, she gained support from her father, who ensured that she received good articles* from his connections. With his support, she gained a lot of strong articles which then led to her being appointed as chief justice for the New South Wales Supreme Court. However, despite Ms Mathews’ amazing success before her death August this year, it is interesting to note that a major factor for her success was due to her very fortunately having a father who was well connected. Thus further addressing that point that perhaps if Ms Mathews’ father wasn’t as successful as he was, then there was a high chance that she would not have been able to reach such a high position in the court justice. This demonstrates that even though female power was increasing through predominantly male-orientated careers, they were less likely to be as successful unless they were fortunate in another area such as connections and powerful family members.
Another profession that many women went into after graduating from university was teaching, and a lot of those teachers were very successful, mainly focusing on arts and sciences. However a lot of these women, like many others in various types of workforces, had to leave their jobs once they got married. This was expected of them since once they got married, it was very likely that they would have children, which put a strain in their professional careers.
The societal expectation for women to stay home and look after their family was especially prominent in the early twentieth century, although during the world wars, when women took over men’s jobs, they were perfectly capable, there was still an extreme amount of competitiveness between men who were more easily employed than women. Even today, women are still significantly more disadvantaged than men due to the expectation to have and take care of their family. Penny Cameron was an example of this. In the 50’s she worked as a producer at the ABC broadcasting company, which was an extremely competitive field of work. However, “Once I got married, they said goodbye.” the main reasons behind this was first, women took over jobs that were originally taken by men, and when they came back in 1945, women were expected to leave those jobs and return to their household to have children. After World War two, when the men came home, there was a drastic increase in childbirth, that resulted in women having to leave their jobs and raise their child while their partners went to work, relaying the same lifestyle pattern that was happening in the early twentieth century. The second reason, that is closely related to the first was in the fifties and sixties, contraceptives were less common and less acknowledged. The use of condoms was still less popular due to family, societal and religious views. When the contraceptive pill was released to the public, it was still in its infancy during the late fifties and sixties. And due to the lack of recognition for these contraceptives, meant that when women got married, it was a given that they would fall pregnant and be unable to work. Many women returned to work once the child was old enough to look after itself, however, due to the years they skipped to raise their child (or many cases, more than one child), they are significantly less advantaged compared to their male counterparts, who remained at work and gained more experience.
Many of the women that Penny Cameron interviewed have noted that while the changes during the twentieth century has improved the lives of women, the overall economy and the wellbeing of countries and the working lives of women have greatly improved. Efforts such as the equal pay act, which was introduced in 1969 has ensured equal working rights for women and men. These efforts for equal rights for women and men have been carried on through the years to fight for feminism. “It is good to point out that [people today] are not the first people to go out and demand respect, this has been carried on for many decades.” Penny Cameron’s experience dealing with sexism in the workplace is one of many occurrences, as proven by the women she interviewed. The development of legal acts protecting women’s rights, societal acceptance of female empowerment and innovation making day to day life easier has empowered women more than ever and allowed them to not just choose between work and family, but to be able to have both. All these efforts made by women in the twentieth century have led to many amazing results such as a female Australian prime minister, more freedom of career choice and more control over their lives and bodies. All these feats have not only improved the lives of women but also the lives of everyone.
Thus, women’s professional rights and lives had changed dramatically during the twentieth century. The rise of working women during World War One and Two, proved that they were strong and competent at working. The obvious prejudices against women, especially after World War Two made it more difficult for women to find work and were encouraged to stay at home. Women who were successful in more competitive professional areas such as law and medicine were extremely well connected, and that led to a difference in class, making it not as much a female achievement, as opposed to luck from being from a family of wealth and good connections. However, women who were successful in those career areas made a big impact to professional feminism, which made it easier for women later on to achieve those careers. Personal life also impacted women’s professional careers greatly. During the late forties until the late sixties, it was socially acceptable for women to be terminated because they were married. This was due to the fact that women would likely fall pregnant and companies wanted their jobs to be open to men returning from war. Empowerment from working women has lead to modern day feminism and even though there has been so much achieved for female rights, modern feminists today still has to continue the fight for equality.
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