Monday, November 13, 2006

Quaint memories of DFAT's "battleaxe spinster"

Don't you call me a battleaxe spinster, mister! Geoff of the RadWaste blog has posted an absolute gem! This is a minute paper from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the pros and cons of hiring women as trade commissioners. Here's a sample of the list (which was almost all cons):
A man normally has his household run efficiently by his wife who also looks after much of the entertaining. A woman Trade Commissioner would have all this on top of her normal work; (source)
I think that for me, and plenty of other cusp gen-Yers and gen-Xers, it's easy to under-appreciate the truly radical shift that occurred in the way the role of women in society was viewed. Because it happened before we were born or were old enough to see it, we kind of have this feeling that women must have been liberated from unwanted/undeserved domestic drudgery and child-bearing ever since the condom and washing machine were invented.

But as late as 1963 — just six years before they put a man on the moon — the value of a woman was still clearly seen to be 99% in her ability to attract men by her charms (and, by default, to "run HIS household efficiently").

Given this knowledge, it's no surprise that the Trade Commission was seeking young women since they pointed out that only a "relatively young attractive woman could operate with some effectiveness".

But the problem with young women at the time was that they either got married...
...most of them [single graduate trainees] would probably marry within five years... (source)
...or that they remained unmarried...
...A spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows... (source)
(That one is hilarious!) Then if all else fails to prevent women entering the Trade Commission, residual misogyny could be trusted to prevail.
...such [a female] appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem... (source)
Germaine Greer's writings suddenly seem so much less loopy and like something that was truly influential in galvanising action at the time!
It's a very expensive process [hiring women], but External Affairs lack courage to slam the door because of parliamentary opinion, pressure groups and so on. (source)
Update: For clearer source images on the National Archives website (thanks to Colin's comment) see PAGE 1 and PAGE 2.

Battleaxe spinster image thanks to Banner generator.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is absolutely my mothers generation, or rather the generation just older than her. The social taboos for women of even that generation were very severe. Insights like this make some of the barriers that women have in the work place now seem relatively minor by comparison. The link to a clear copy is in the comments section of the original post. Much easier to read.

November 13, 2006 7:19 pm  
Blogger Sarah said...

Classic! What's scary is that our parents' generation was growing up with attitudes like that still entrenched.

Was this in the news when it was first released? I vaguely remember reading it somewhere before...

November 26, 2006 12:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wait until yr hooked up in yr 30s & 40s & perhaps you'll see those traditional values have insidious ways of reasserting themselves, even if you thought people of yr age had moved beyond, you be forced to wake up & smell the coffee. That or you just don't commit at all because no-one wants responsibilities & sacrifices

December 05, 2006 11:40 pm  

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