Women are silenced. The process may change over the decades, but the outcome is the same. Womens' voices are throttled and womens' words and images are stricken from the record. Those who speak out are abused and those who don't speak out are abused. The abuse will be manipulated to fit the circumstances, but the outcome is the same. Women are silenced.
The author, Caroline Ambrus, was the only daughter of parents whose beliefs were based on Christianity, Victorian attitudes towards sex and the post World War Two discrimination against women. They made sure that their only daughter did not speak out, that she was compliant, pleasant, obedient and saving her virginity for marriage. Her autobiography traces how she survived their toxic ministrations to become a writer, a publisher, an artist and a feminist.
In the 1950s when she was a teenager, the author became an unmarried mother. Consequently, she experienced sexist discrimination such as, restrictions on abortions, the shame of illegitimacy, the distain of the police, the disinterest of politicians, the harassment from welfare, prejudicial decisions from the bureaucracy and the mealy mouthed concern of the clergy. Domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape and kidnapping was her intermittent nightmare for over twenty years.
The women's movement of the 1960s addressed many of these issues and through women's advocacy some of them were resolved. However, the reforms that got off the ground were mostly of benefit to men such as de-facto relationships, birth control, abortion and illegitimacy, all of which gave them a free pass for sex. Economic, political and judicial equality was out of the question, then and now, for the conservative governments which have ruled since Gough Whitlam's progressive government.
Women's stories from the past are important today. Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. In recent decades there has been an escalation of misogyny in every quarter, from the leaders of the land to the wife killers in the suburbs. Women of today need to know the stories of their foremothers. There may be lessons to be learned.
The tactics of feminists from the last century most likely ensured the failure of the movement. Activists were bought off by government grants. They were bribed with jobs. Others poured their energies into creating services to help vulnerable women and children which should have been the business of government. Women paid taxes which were returned to them in a drip feed of meagre proportions to solve problems the government couldn't or wouldn't abide. Women today need better strategies than that.
Even now, when women try to speak to Australia's male dominated governments about their concerns, witness the machinations, including diversions, silence, misunderstanding, misinterpreting, abusing, forgetting and so on, anything to make the problem go away.
Feminists used to say "sisterhood is powerful" which today's bright young things might feel is "old hat". But these days the women of Australia are getting together, yet again, and the slogan is rightfully "enough is enough". The men of Australia need to listen and be supportive.
In her eighties, Caroline Ambrus is bringing her memories, which were written in the 1970s, out of their digital anonymity, to reach out to other women who are going through the same excruciating hand to hand combat with men as she did last century. She hopes that by discarding the unacceptable, and reaching out to those who are prepared to listen, her book will stand as a record of her times and as a road map for those following on.