I must start this off with an admission, I am a bloke – worse – an old bloke – even worse – an old white bloke.

Old enough to remember the Eurythmics combining with Aretha Franklin and singing ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’ which became the feminist anthem of the 80s. Women had been ‘coming out of the kitchen’ for some years, but at that point the trickle of revolution became a flood.

Some feminists believe that there were matriarchal societies in the past, and should be again in the present. Other anthropologists deny their existence. Nevertheless, in past times there have been strong women leaders. We had Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, who fought against the Romans. Then there was Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who believed her role was to save France from the English at the Battle of Orleans.

In the UK, males had a legal preference in succession to the throne, unless the only alternative to losing the line was a female. The longest (and some would say, most successful) monarchs were female. These included Queens Elizabeth I, Elizabeth II, and Victoria, with the latter spreading her progenies around the Royal Houses of Europe. Russia had Catherine the Great, who took power in the late 18th Century by overthrowing her husband in a coup where he mysteriously died soon after! She ruled for over 30 years and introduced many modern concepts to the country.

Most of ‘the fair sex’ at the time were believed by men to be weak and overtly emotional. To use such phrases in modern times, no matter how well-intended, would be deemed an insult. The emancipation of women, giving them equal voting rights, occurred over many years. The Isle of Man led the way with limited suffrage in 1881, followed by New Zealand with its Electoral Act of 1893, Australia followed at Federation in 1902, Russia following the revolution in 1915, the UK and Canada in 1918, and America in 1920.

Up to 1960, two-thirds of countries had given women the vote. There were some surprising late starters, with Switzerland in 1971 and Portugal in 1976. Some countries still do not have voting for anyone. Islam is the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to rights for women, with countries like Iran locking women up for not covering their hair, even worse, the barbaric assault on Jewish women on October 7th. Remind me, where were the protests from feminist groups and organisations like Amnesty International?

Women’s liberation from the kitchen was slow to develop in Britain. In Victorian times, women had few rights. At marriage their property became the husband’s. The first unsuccessful attempt at introducing a vote for women was made by free speech advocate, John Stuart Mill, in 1867. It was not until Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Suffragettes in 1903, that demonstrations, sometimes violent, led to progress.

The final catalyst was the outbreak of world war. The need for women in the workforce meant partial suffrage was introduced at war’s end in 1918, with the first woman elected to Parliament in that year. Universal suffrage followed, with a further Act of Parliament in 1928. Since that time, the proportion of sitting MPs has steadily increased, now numbering one-third. There have also been two women who have held the office of Prime Minister.

Australia, followed a different course. Despite the early right to vote at Federation in 1902, it was 40 years before a female was elected to Parliament. Current representation varies from 30 to over 50 per cent in various state and federal bodies, with disparity between different parties. There have been several female Premiers, and in 2010, the first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was elected. Her misogyny speech hit the world headlines. There have been muted responses, perhaps with concerns about re-awakening of the misogyny label, regarding the appointment of Sam Mostyn as our new Governor General. Apart from perceived Woke agenda, it is surely inappropriate to appoint an avowed republican to the post…

There have been some international surprises, with India, Pakistan (the first for any Muslim nation), Bangladesh (the second), and Sri Lanka, in the subcontinent, having female Prime Ministers – despite women in general being viewed as second-class citizens. America is yet to have a female President. Like Trump in the subsequent election, Hilary Clinton believes she was robbed of the post. 12 of the 50 US States, however, have female Governors.

For centuries, as is still the case in many countries, lack of contraception resulted in large families and the need for a permanent homemaker. The initial appearance of women in the workforce started with industrialisation and factory production lines, a need dramatically increased by labour shortages in both world wars. Those shortages continued post-war and the female cat was out of the bag (at least out of the kitchen).

In the recent era, women’s views continue to evolve. Perhaps the first modern exponent was French philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, who challenged traditional views on sex, religion, and society in the 1930s. Many occupations were unavailable to women, and if available, were at greatly reduced rates of pay. Feminist movements developed from the 1960s, inevitably starting in the US, as activists moved on from the Vietnam War protests. Over the next several decades, they looked to change society and their roll in it. In 1968, a pivotal moment took place at a Miss America beauty contest when one protester took off her bra. Although it was never burned, the phrase lived on with women’s liberation.

Australian Germaine Greer, described as the feminist’s arsonist, played her part, with her 1970 book The female eunuch, discussing the sexual and social repression of the typical domestic housewife. The advent of the contraceptive pill resolved unwanted pregnancy and gave women more control of their existence, opening doors to previous off-limits education and activities. The ‘no fault’ divorce legislation, introduced in 1975, has allowed escape from unhappy marriage, 50 per cent now end in divorce. As marriage is no longer obligatory, the proportion who cohabit has increased to 80 per cent.

Modern males seem to be increasingly failing in education, and the proportion of females at university is increasing, reaching over 60 per cent in many colleges, the highest being 75 per cent at The Australian Catholic University. Some areas remain a male preserve, with only 12 per cent of engineers being female. In IT only 17 per cent are women, but the proportion of women involved in STEM subjects at Uni continues to climb with their numbers reaching 37 per cent in 2021. Females remain in the majority in education, nursing (87 per cent), welfare science, and humanities.

Medicine was an early adopter of non-discrimination, with parity in doctor training for decades. There have been female trail-blazers, such as Priscilla Kincaid-Smith, a world-renowned kidney expert, who became President of the Australian College of Physicians. Law has also been an available career, with now over 50 per cent female qualified representation. The first Commonwealth judge was appointed in 1973, in 2021 they made up over a third. There are three representatives out of the seven high court judges, with women briefly holding a majority.

In the business world, more than 10 per cent of the top 500 companies have female CEOs. In Australia there are also over 10 per cent of women in charge of ASX 200 companies, including Lynas, Harvey Norman, CSR, AMP, Macquarie, Woodside, Telstra, Coles, and Ramsay.

One of the regular complaints is that of pay disparity, but it is illegal to give different pay for the same job. Women’s lifetime earnings are often less than men as they take time out for parenting, want part-time work, and have less interest in demanding jobs that require extra working hours. This results in an average weekly pay difference of around 15 per cent. Lifetime average total pay has been estimated at $3.3 million for men and $1.8 million for women, where women live on average four years longer than men (the ultimate discrimination). Changes have reduced that impact, with paid maternity leave and greater availability of child care.

One downside has been the modern increased expectation of a career pathway, allowing less time for procreation, at a later age resulting in increased infertility and falling birthrates. The activist push to belittle women who prefer to care for their children and the home has been given a reality check, with the Irish referendum failing to support a change to the Constitution which would have erased mothers and women, and substituted gender-neutral terminology.

A new wave of feminism occurred in 2017, with concerns about sexual harassment and abuse. The #MeToo movement became associated with rape, and some subsequent court cases have been distorted by a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ philosophy.

Another belated catch-up has been in levelling the playing fields of sport. Whilst traditional activities have continued, women’s competition has exploded in new areas, such as various codes of football and cricket. As participants increase and the crowd numbers expand, professional sportswomen’s salaries are approaching those of men. This has coincided with another sexual development, with a wave of transgender players, identifying as female, invading women’s sport and spaces, putting female bodies at risk. The book, Men are from Mars, and women from Venus, by John Gray in 1992, pointed out the differences in size, strength, and temperament between the sexes. At its most obvious, it used jail statistics citing 39,000 male prisoners opposite 3,000 females.

Despite, or because of its small number, the next wave of sexual identity politics has assumed higher victimhood status and created problems for feminism and homosexuality, with both now labelled transphobic, and putting their social advances at risk. Supporters of traditional feminism, such as JK Rowling, are being viciously trolled and cancelled, this is now spreading to the LGB community. Perhaps this aggressive transgender activism will be recognised for what it is, and fade away. The latest, hopefully well-intended, anti-hate speech legislation, in Scotland, may well pave the way for Rowling’s views to result in jail terms.

In Australia, damage was inflicted on the women’s cause last year by the misguided leader of the Victorian Liberals, John Pesutto, who made regrettable comments about a leading British women’s rights campaigner and his party colleague Moira Deeming, in the context of the neo-Nazis who gatecrashed the Let Women Speak. A mistake shared by the ABC.

There is one area of discrimination that has been permanently resolved… When they were first given names in the 1950s, all cyclones were given female names. It’s only been since International Women’s Year in 1975 that Bill Morrison, Australian Science Minister, decreed that the sexes should alternate names in our area, a similar move was adopted in the Atlantic and Pacific areas, in 1979.

It appears women’s rights still have some way to go, with some activists not necessarily going in the right direction.

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