1970s - Before equal opportunity

Tackling an ANU PhD as a woman with children in the 1970s meant MARIAN SAWER AO, BA ’68, MA ’70, PhD ’75 was often on the outside.

Starting a PhD in the Research School of Social Sciences in 1971, I was something of a category mistake.

I was a married woman with two daughters born in 1968 and 1970. What was I doing there?

In the era before personal computers there was a generous supply of female attendants in the ivory tower, whether typists, secretaries or research assistants.

There were also the academic wives, thanked in the preface to their husband’s book for typing or proof reading. The ambition to be a research scholar was not expected.

“Mrs Sawer mixes Marxism, nature” was the subhead in The Dominion, when I attended my first Australasian Political Studies Association conference in Wellington in 1972.

On the other side of the page were all the classified advertisements still listing job opportunities for young men only.

There was great anxiety at the time that married women should always be labeled as married.

When Elizabeth Reid, a philosophy tutor at ANU, was appointed as Women’s Adviser to the Prime Minister, The Canberra Times asked her former husband what he thought of her use of ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Mrs’. 

Thankfully he said he thought it was a good idea and he had no objection. 

Women’s liberation had arrived in Canberra but I was so busy with babies and my incipient academic career I scarcely noticed. My husband did give me copies of Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch and Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood is Powerful for Christmas.