Sunday, July 13, 2008

Down Under - Men at Work

It's been a while since I thought about or listened to this song. It was released sometime while I was in college for sure - maybe 1983. I remember that we all thought Men at Work was really cool, with "Who Can it Be Now," and then "Land Down Under." Australia seemed like an exotic place a LONG plane ride away. We got into it when a bunch of friends who played on the UC Davis women's basketball team went to Australia to play.

I was reminded of Men at Work while mulling over the book I just finished: The Road From Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway. All I knew about Conway was that at some point in the 70s she became the first woman President of Smith College. The book is a memoir of her formative years, first on the family sheep farm in the outback, and then in Sydney in the 1950's. I had first seen the book years ago, but recently my mom sent me a copy, suggesting I might enjoy it. I was only moderately enthusiastic about reading it, but cracked it open nonetheless.

I'm so glad I did.

Life for educated, intellectual women in Sydney in the late 50's probably wasn't that different from life in most parts of the United States at the same time. Jill Ker was a girl under the manipulative control of her widowed mother. But more so, she was coming to grips with her self-expectations as an Australian, as a woman, as a professional. Toward the end of the book, which ends when she is about 25 and heads to Harvard to get a PhD, Ker Conway writes aggressively about experiencing explicit and initially devastating discrimination in the job market.

And then I thought, "Wait, why was there not a woman leading the most famous women's college in the world until the 1970s?" Hmm. I realize how much I, a 45 year old, took for granted about what doors were open to me in the 1980s as I went to college and entered the working world. But I grew up in a very progressive household - my mom was the 12-year old tennis champ of San Francisco Parks & Rec in 1942 for goodness sake. I guess my frame of mind was shaped by having played sports, and the changing views and rules of that era - including the passage of Title IX - but I was in a cohort that represented the beginning of a different mindset.

The evolution of womens' views about their "equality" has really been on my mind for the last few months - Hillary's run at the White House, seeing Billie Jean King (Can you say Women's Sports Foundation?) in DC recently, a conversation with someone working on Obama's "women's outreach" strategy. This last one - the Obama friend - mentioned that they are debating inside the campaign what to call this "woman thing (my words)." And she admitted that "they" are mostly women 45 or older, for whom the term "post-feminist" is insulting at best.

At the same time I'm struck by the crop of female summer interns we have this year at GlobalGiving. These young women don't feel hindered by their gender. They do not relate to "the women's movement" or the concept of "feminism" in the historic definition of these terms. It's all pretty much a given for them. But they do appreciate the leaders who paved the way for them. And they do realize that, conceptually, women are still not equally compensated for the same jobs, are still objectified in many/most US sub-cultures, and are still sometimes subjected to institutional sexism. It's just not how they view the world.

As someone who came in the "tweener" generation, I feel a strong obligation to be a bridger between the generations that came before and after me, who seem to not really understand each other's perspective yet.

The band is called MEN at Work...miles to go before we sleep.

1 comment:

Alison said...

First, I don't know how you're just now listening to "Down Under" for the first time in forever. I have it rotate on my playlist at lease once a week.

Second, I really liked this blog post. It was really thoughtful and pretty much spot-on. I think I'll add that book to my list.