Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: October 2017

Part I - Women's Liberation


The first section of this book is concerned with the history of the Women's Liberation Movement in Australia. These chapters are about sex, politics, joy and anguish. They are not in the order in which I wrote them, but, instead, in an order approximating a chronology of the Women's Liberation Movement. Chapter One is concerned with the pre-history of the upsurge of activist feminism at the beginning of the 1970s, and argues against the widespread contention that its single cause was the appearance of the contraceptive pill on the mass market. Causes are, I would argue, usually plural. What about Ann Curthoys's conviction that the new movement originated in ‘radical New Left politics’? ‘The early Women's Liberation Movement’, she contended,

while in part a revolt against New Left men, was nevertheless imbued with New Left politics. It was concerned with imperialism, socialism, and the oppression of Third World and minority groups, with ideologies sustaining an evil capitalist system, with revolutionary strategy and tactics.

Others’ experiences brought other explanations to the fore. One focused on the women of the post-World War II baby boom gaining access to tertiary education in far greater numbers than ever before, learning about societies absolutely different in time, place or kinds of relationships from our own, and thence being able to contemplate changes to our own. Sara Dowse begins the memoir of her marriage titled ‘Bride Price — 1958’ with brief accounts of the marriage of a young Gogo woman of central Tanzania, and of Princess Sophie Augusta Frederika Anhalt-Zerbst of Stettin, married to the unlovely and incapable Grand Duke Peter Feodorovich, who would eventually sit at her side as she occupied the throne of All the Russias as Catherine the Great. Sara learned about these two, she tells us, in tiered lecture theatres at the University of Sydney, ‘enrolling in the last stages of pregnancy and taking night classes for the first year while my mother-in-law looked after my baby boy in her pub’. That mother-in-law, Sara decided, was her father-in-law's slave: ‘She still did most of the cleaning, much of the cooking, and most of the accounts; my father-in-law went out every morning to one of his buildings, came back for his lunch, and spent the rest of the afternoon either at bowls or with his cronies at the bar’.