I’ve come a long way, baby


We have a tribe of nieces and nephews. Occasionally, like on International Women’s Day, I mellow out and tell the girls a tale or two of life at the barricades in the 1970s, when I was a placard waving, young radical feminist.

Respectfully,  they  don’t say ‘whatevs’ or ‘*amazeballs’ or ‘were you a man-hater’, yet I’d like to  get across to them a picture of how things were so skewed against us women and girls.

In my world, women were second-class citizens. I wanted a seat at the front of the bus. I wanted to be taken seriously as a cadet reporter, not patted on the bum and given the women’s pages to write.

My editors were men of their times, niggly with prostate problems and crook livers.  Picture a busy newsroom in 1978. Over the chattering wires came a new study finding women and men had different brains. Apparently there were more nerve connections between the two hemispheres in female brains. I  wrote up the story about why women might be better at multi-tasking. The editor rejigged the piece and published it under the headline: ‘Men more specialized’!

An accident that reportedly killed “three people and a woman”,  said it all:  Men were the default humans.

When my boss came on to me at 16, there was not yet the phrase ‘sexual harassment’ with which to frame a complaint. My mother suggested a hatpin would do the trick! I actually got depressed and had a breakdown.

A single mum got no help from the government—the bones of 800 babies and children recently found in a septic tank in an Irish convent speak to society’s view of pregnant unmarried girls.

I was paid less than the man who sat next to me because he was a man.

Once I interviewed one of Sydney’s richest self-made women and she told me she couldn’t get a bank loan in the 1960s without her husband’s signature on the application. She married a guy even though she was gay.

I worked briefly in Entomology and met Claire, an outstanding scientist, a world expert on beetles, who couldn’t go down to Antarctica because there were no women’s toilets. I know her suicide wasn’t because of sexism, but she was always battling the men at work. It can’t have helped.

If you were a public servant like a teacher and you got married, you lost your job.

In rape trials it was openly put to mainly male jurors that a woman ‘asked for it’ by the way she dressed. I was a young court reporter who saw a lot of rapists walk free and this poster was on my wall at home:


Black eyes and broken bones within marriage were nobody’s business. And in Church we were told women were carnal or maternal, but not fit for ministry, and I think back on how many priests were defiling the collar they wore like a disguise.

I wrote one of the first major reports on child sexual abuse in Australia in 1982 and was pooh-poohed for exaggerating the problem when, we now know, it couldn’t be over-stated. I tried for five years to get a film made about an incestuous father and was told the script  was “too worthy”,  yet today child sex abuse is the default plot in crime stories!

In 1975 the UN said women did two-thirds of the world’s work and owned 1% of its wealth .  Frankly, I’d say to my nieces and nephews, any young woman worth her salt was ok with being a feminist in the 1970s. “Get your laws off our bodies” we demanded of the mainly male polity (still mainly male today with just one woman in our Federal cabinet).

In Australia in the 1970s, women weren’t allowed to drink in the public bars of hotels; some chained themselves inside and the laws changed. We won the right to swill it down and we certainly weren’t going to be told ladies didn’t smoke. We smoked our heads off.

A lot has changed. But . . . but . . . just this week a study has found hurricanes with female names kill almost twice as many people as ‘male’ hurricanes because people are less likely to take female storms seriously, so fewer take precautions or hide in shelters!

In the 1970s we formed ‘consciousness raising groups’, read  American and French radical thinkers and drank and smoked long into the night, talking about biology versus destiny.

Ironically, my own destiny appears to be in my biology, as a new study has found even emphysema is not an equal opportunity disease.

Not long ago, Copd was considered a man’s disease.

Today, more women than men have Copd. The trend started in the 1960s, when marketing campaigns like the famous Virginia Slims ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’ ad made smoking socially acceptable for women. (See my post ‘An Open Letter to Big Tobacco’). Women in their millions embraced the habit.

“Given the lag time in lung disease, we’re probably just starting to see the apogee of the trends in cigarette smoking,” says Dr Dawn DeMeo, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and pulmonologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


Researchers are discovering that women’s lungs may be even more vulnerable than men’s to the toxic effects of smoke. For every cigarette smoked, women seem to develop more severe lung disease at an earlier age.

So, I have a genetic and gendered vulnerability to lung disease, and I say to any of my beloved nieces and nephews who might be sneaking cigarettes,  this is not a piece of fruit toast.

Not  fruit toast

*PS I know nobody says amazeballs.

Love,  Aunty Barb.

This is for you: Maree, Michael, David, Isis, Ayla, Sarah-Rachael, Gabrielle, Anna, Julian, Jake, Bronte, Lucy, Michael, Matthew, Emily, Harrison, Oliver, and Jessica.

11 thoughts on “I’ve come a long way, baby

  1. All so true, Barb. What a pity we have to keep re-stating feminist issues for each new generation. When young women say to me: “I’m not a feminist!” I reply: “So you’d be happy to earn half the male wage, leave your job when you get married and see all the best jobs go to men, based on their “seniority” or general superiority ?” Just look at the current Federal Cabinet! If Barnaby Joyce et al are the best politicians on offer, God help us all!
    Women are still disadvantaged when it comes to superannuation, because of their time spent out of the workforce or working part-time while child rearing or caring for elderly parents. And they will be further disadvantaged by the increases to university fees and the interest the government plans to charge on HECS which will double their repayments if they take even a meagre 3 years off work to have one baby.
    The battle for equality is not even nearly over. When half the judiciary and half the parliamentarians are women, when half the big business boards are run by women and half the world’s resources are owned by women, we may be making real progress, but that’s a long way off on existing figures. Keep talking to those nieces and nephews, Barb. It’s the only way things will change.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. although I agree in what has been written Barb..and value most sincerely your comment..biowoman..I disagree that we have a long way to go…be true to thy self..my examples of who I am..what I believe in..and the examples I set..is my light..my truth and I do think I HAVE made a difference …by my spirituality..and I am a woman..feminine in and feminine out..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A huge thank you for both your comments biowoman6 & Cathy Hynds.
    Yes, there are indeed many strong, free, and empowered women (and men), and like you Cath, I rely on the Divine Feminine or Goddess power as an infinite source on which to draw.
    When I am wretched about the global status of women—the violence, lack of education injustice, disease, and poverty—that falls so heavily on the shoulders of my sisters, I remember the words of my heroine, Ingrid Newkirk, who founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She says every movement for liberation has so far eventually succeeded.
    But of course the latest UN Report on the Global Status of Women shows the gender gap is far from closed.
    A bird needs two wings to fly, and without respect and equality between the sexes, both women and men are unable to soar as high as I dream we one day might.


  4. Barbara, What an interesting and honest discussion, during this time period I was just starting my Navy career, and we had equal pay, but the women got all the good shore duty because they weren’t allowed to serve onboard Navy ships. I grew up with a strong female presence, who was the prime bread winner for the family, so early on I had developed great respect for women in the workplace and in general. So during the 70’s I wasn’t paying attention. But I can remember being surprised when I saw the difference in pay outside the military. Oh please don’t get me wrong, the Navy women had a very real glass ceiling they had to contend with. But then also I lived in the States, and women and been smoking and drinking in public for a long time. I just never saw the issues as you did, I never dealt with these issues as you have. But it doesn’t make them less important to me. Just makes me less aware. But I have come a long way since the 70’s as well. Take care, Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill, one of my dearest friends is an ex RAN. She’s just shy of 70 yet ‘the girls’ have never missed an annual reunion. Rock solid friendships. Happiest days of her life were in the Navy. Nowra, the town near where I live, is a Navy town and home to HMAS Albatross. Out back of my place I can sometimes hear the ships practice bombing. (In 1958 New Zealand shelled our general store and that has not been forgotten)!
      I wrote this because of the June findings from Harvard that Copd is worse for women (I put the link in now, sorry). Smoking is more toxic to female lungs, they’re saying. Estrogen may be the culprit, not just us having smaller lungs.
      I seem to be going back a bit and telling a few tales because of course I’m reflective at this stage of the game. I have a great sense of humour. I’m lucky I like people, but I’ve never had the stomach for injustice.
      I’m lucky to have witnessed a lot change, certainly not all good.
      I really appreciate your point of view and your responses. (My partner calls you Santa and you do indeed bring gifts into my life). Cheers from Oz. x barb


  5. Barbara, long before “woman’s lib” I was respectful. That’s how was taught. You continue to educate me. I had found out early in my research that women in general were more impacted by COPD than men, and probably even spoke of it, but as you know we share our message differently, so it’s not something I would address one a regular basis, but will address from time to time. So your posts are important to me to keep me sharp.

    I have been mistaken for Santa more than once and loved it. I have even written a post about those experiences. And I smile whenever I think about those incidents. Take care, Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well it’s a two-way street, Bill, as you continue to educate me too. I’m privileged to hear how you are approaching Hospice care, for example. You are upbeat but also very real and recently reminded me how ‘expectations’ (of ourselves and of others) are toxic. Thank you.


  6. You & I must be “of an age” because I faced a lot of the same prejudices you did in the 70’s. I also was sexually harrassed at work & nearly committed suicide over it, but just had a breakdown instead. And I was a smoker. Both my parents smoked & I started at 12! I smoked for over 40 years before pleural effusions & double pneumonia more than once convinced me to quit. No one ever mentioned COPD, although I was told 15 years ago that I had chronic bronchitis.

    Liked by 1 person

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