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Memento : Issue 31
Controversies In a year filled with political drama, International Women’s Year was not without its own controversies. The Australian Government attracted criticism for the Women and Politics conference. Many of the complaints were directed towards Elizabeth Reid, the first adviser to the Prime Minister on women’s issues. Over 600 women from across the country attended the conference in Canberra in September 1975 (see ‘Sisters’ story, right). The organising committee also invited several overseas speakers, including flamboyant American feminist and civil rights campaigner, Flo Kennedy. A year earlier, American magazine People had labelled her ‘the biggest, loudest, and rudest mouth’ in feminist politics. Elizabeth Reid was asked if Australia was ready for Flo Kennedy. Outraged letters to the government suggested that the answer for some was most definitely no. Writers were offended by her ‘filthy talk’ and her ‘unfeminine presentation’. One correspondent could barely contain her disapproval, describing Kennedy as an ‘obnoxious shrew of a reprobate mind’. Following Elizabeth Reid’s resignation in October, the coordinator of the Advisory Committee, Pat Galvin, replied to these correspondents, referring to Flo Kennedy’s international standing as a lawyer, black activist and proponent of women’s rights. Galvin expressed regret that Kennedy’s language had caused offence, but added that ‘the colourful nature of her speech does not appear to have decreased the effectiveness of her work’. Criticism extended beyond Kennedy’s involvement. One woman commented that delegates behaved like ‘degraded low-type prostitutes in pubs’. Another letter-writer warned that women must be wary of demanding ‘more than our share of the cake’. And from another: ‘I can chop wood, dig, sew, cook etc., fix fuses but just dislike the feminist idea because it is so obviously male-imitating’. Not all of the public feedback was negative. One delegate thanked Reid for a magnificent job well done. Contrary to press reports, she wrote, the conference was productive, inspiring and exhilarating. She had spoken to other delegates and they were agreed: ‘we would never be the same again’. For some women, at least, International Women’s Year had achieved its aims. Kellie Abbott SISTERS IN LOUNGE SUITS While the 600 delegates to the 1975 Women and Politics conference all received an invitation to the reception in King’s Hall of Parliament House, not all of them complied with the invitation’s request to wear a lounge suit. But some Canberra women did. The Daily Telegraph described ‘Miss’ Meredith Hinchliffe of the Women’s Electoral Lobby leading her ‘girl’ friends into King’s Hall. Ms Hinchliffe was quoted as saying, ‘the invitation is a truly thoughtful effort on the part of the men to make us feel at ease in the political arena’. Nevertheless, she pointed out, it had caused some inconvenience. Perhaps, she suggested, ‘the men who have come, including Mr Whitlam MEMENTO WINTER 06 5 Photo:NewDawn (the Prime Minister), should have made a reciprocal gesture by bringing a plate’. These women’s actions caused ripples in the world of fashion. Sydney Morning Herald’s fashion writer, Tess Lawrence, suggested that, as a consequence of the faux pas, the lounge suit had been desexed. She reported that the lounge suit was reappearing as a leisure suit. The leisure suit was more casual in design and was a compromise between a suit and shorts. Ms Lawrence advised readers that these fresh fashion items would be available in speciality shops soon. Meredith Hinchliffe and Mary Sexton [above] A suited Margaret Holding at the reception for the Women and Politics conference in King’s Hall, Parliament House.