Looking to the Past

This past week UQ has been celebrating 40 years of Women’s Studies as a field of study. There was a lovely seminar on Thursday featuring women who had set up, taught and studies women’s studies there, from the very beginning as well as very recently. It was lovely to see so many people together who all shared the same feminist background and same general ideology! In particular there were some great discussions on the role of the nuclear family discourses of women’s inequality – it’s interesting how the basis of inequality seems to always come down to that once single aspect: the ability to bear children.

The guest of honour and major speaker for the seminar was Merle Thornton, who pretty much started off women’s studies at Australian universities. She is also quite famous for chaining herself and a friend to the bar of the Regatta Hotel in protest against the laws that made public bars men-only. On Friday there was a bit of a gathering and photo shoot to commemorate that event, which really kicked off a lot of the women’s liberation movement in Brisbane.

It’s very interesting, as a young, newbie feminist, to listen and talk to someone who’s been there from the very beginning and achieved so much for women’s equality. The differences in our social and economic contexts, the situations that Ms Thornton experienced that I would never have to face (such as being forced to quit her job as soon as she married). It’s heartening to see how feminism has come – and at the same time, it’s sad to see that all those seminal changes in law and education still did not manage to completely change the way that women are perceived as lesser beings. I think society has become far more adept at masking these mindsets and perceptions – I think it’s easier for men to say now that women are equal in all respects, because look at Margaret Thatcher and Julia Gillard! Look at this random female olympian! Just the other day someone tried to tell me that feminism was obsolete now, because of those few individuals who did seem to “make it.” Never mind the stats and the sacrifices.

I think feminism still has a long way to go. And surrounding myself with people who have achieved things in their lives gives me energy to keep trying to change things myself. One person at a time.

Me (in a geek shirt) and Ms Thornton, at the Regatta Hotel where she once chained herself to the bar in protest.

(Photo used with permission)

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