There is no straight line from darkness into light, says Dr Amanda Foreman at the beginning of the British documentary The Ascent of Woman.
To change the metaphor a bit to that we are more familiar with… We, who have lived long enough, have seen the different waves of women’s success in getting equal shares. With each wave, a generation of women thought they were there, or nearly there, in having a fair share of men’s freedom and power. The waves receded leaving behind a few, but not all of our gains.
I have just turned 82. I know what I’m talking about. I know what I’m weeping about. We convinced ourselves that it would be onwards and upwards towards equality. Particularly since the beginning of this century, when more women than ever reached positions of national and international power. Yet the struggle of women to get fair shares goes on and, especially among the lower middle class and poor, it is as basic as ever. How else can we view the struggle for affordable childcare, for equal onus on men to share responsibility and costs of every child they father, for free and private abortions, for an existence free of sexist abuse and the constant threat of violence?
Now women in our parliaments are speaking about the sexist abuse they suffer day in and out in debates and Question Time. No “straight line” even for women elected to shape and govern our nation.
We have only one life to dedicate to this struggle from darkness to light. A long life like mine has experienced through my mother the first wave of women’s struggle for equality, then the second wave through my own experience and now the beginning of a third wave, with the #MeToo movement. Already it is fading by means of the age old men’s tactic of turning it into a joke.
Sarah Hanson-Young did an excellent job of outing Mr David Leyonhjelm for his foul sexist remarks. Many men expressed horror, yet within a week, there were jokes being made. Buoyed up by this, Leyonhjelm rode the crest of a publicity wave. By no means did he regret his disgusting and mean remarks. Men clustered around him justifying everything: “What about free speech?”
How feeble and unexamined is their defence, but how agreeable is it to some (most?) men. There were no more concerted efforts to surrender anything to women’s arguments that the remarks were foul.
How sad it all is. How unnecessary. When we would live better lives if women and men were equal. But who gives up power, any kind of power, particularly power over half the human race? Only good men.
And there are not enough of them. And that’s why there’s no straight line from darkness into light.
My niece and her husband have just driven across the Nullarbor Plain in their car with a mobile home behind it. How wonderful that seems to me. Was the Great Australian Bight, seen by me only from a plane, a vision splendid, I asked?
My niece looked as though she regretted having the job of answering, “Well, yes and no,” she said. They had been shocked and appalled by the rubbish thrown at the side of the road and at rest stops. And a sad curiosity drove them to look further into places more remote, far beyond the rest stops. Rubbish everywhere. They and I found it hard to believe that people would spoil what they had travelled far to see. It is shameful.
As a Third Ager, I hope the grey nomads did not contribute to the mess.