Colonial-made Hip Bath (with arm rests). Japanned, tinned steel or galvanised iron
photo: Shev Armstrong
All this past history is very much with us in relation to the present when, despite many more women in parliaments, many things have not changed much at all or may be going backwards. There is a current perception of a new 'birth strike'. On 1-2 September 2001, Mike Steketee in the Australian talked of 'couples increasingly abandoning the idea of children on the career altar.' In 2000, when the Lisa Meldrum case ruling allowed single women and lesbians to access reproductive technologies, John Howard denounced it as 'a denial of the rights of the child', echoing George Pell who had suggested that the way was now open for 'a massive social experiment on children.' The bishops appealed the case and the government tried to amend the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 in order to discriminate in this area. This year, a British television programme that showed a child with 'two mothers' on ABC Kids created some anxiety, recalling Fred Nile's earlier peroration that 'God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve', and there was more rhetoric of panic about a 'gayby boom', with non-heterosexuals described as the mothers of 'bent babies'.
Tony Abbott stated in 2002 that a compulsory paid maternity leave system would only be implemented over the 'government's dead body' (Age 22 July). Australian women were in 2004 exhorted to have three children - 'one for the husband, one for the wife and one for the nation.' A cash payment of $3000 is offered for each. (Back in 1912, the Labor government introduced a £5 Maternity Allowance. This was available to single women - although not to 'Asiatics, Aboriginal Natives of Australia, Papua or the Islands of the Pacific.') Lake suggests that Labor women earlier pursued motherhood and child endowment mainly because 'if men no longer needed to support women and children...then unequal pay could no longer be justified', and progress would have been made against institutionalised economic inequality.
But John Howard on talkback radio in 1998 asserted that it was:
unfair that when a mother, or father for that matter, elects to stay at home and provide full-time care for their children and their young, they tend to get sneered at and looked down upon and treated as second class citizens. And I think that is wrong, and the stridency of some of the ultra feminist groups in the community who sort of really demand that every mother be back in the workforce as quickly as humanly possible, now that is ridiculous. (Alan Jones 2UE 16 March)
And in April 1999, Jeff Kennett urged girls at the MacRobertson Girls High School to make a career out of motherhood. Mary Helen Woods from the Australian Family Association endorsed his sentiments with turn-of-the-previous-century rhetoric:
I think we live in a rich, large, almost empty land and that, ultimately, we won't be able to keep it. It would be better if we populate it ourselves... [Kennett] wants to see that [women] don't get so successful in other areas that they put aside childbearing.
In early November there was also a most unusual intervention by the Governor General, exhorting women to avoid abortion (Australian 13 November 2004).
Alexa in Maybanke Wollstenholme Anderson's Sydney journal, the Woman's Voice of 18 May 1895 objected to Walter Balls-Headley's advocacy of 'rabbit-like fecundity'. His Victorian sexology (which might seem still with us) elaborated, Magarey suggests, an account of sexual difference that 'enshrined man's lust and woman's desire for maternity at the heart of the Australian paradise, making intrinsic to it a sexual double standard within, as well as outside marriage'.
The nineteenth century dominant ideology of complementary and separate spheres for the genders was addressed in 1904 in Hobart by Ida McAulay (aunt of CEW Bean)
We are told that giving the woman the franchise will take her out of her own sphere.... I believe that a woman's sphere is just that which she chooses to make it.
At the present time, Dever and Curtin suggest, newly debated is 'who constitutes proper families, correct mothers and the right (white) babies.' They consider that these debates 'give expression to shared anxieties about race, (reproductive) biology and nation' and 'depend upon one another in their efforts to re-constitute familiar hierarchies of meaning and merit in the realms of motherhood and family.' These old ideologies are newly materialising in relation to policies, practices and attitudes in relation to the family, welfare, work and immigration, that are not necessarily in the interests of many, let alone all women.
This text reproduced from the editorial by Carole Ferrier in Hecate 30.2.2004.
Paper quoted: Maryanne Dever and Jennifer Curtin, The Politics of Reproduction: The Howard Government, Paid Maternity Leave and Family Friendly Policy." Working Paper no. 3, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Feb. 2004.