So, desipite my laryingitis, I drove out to Guilford yesterday to attend a lunch put on by Perth Labor Women & EMILY’s List to celebrate the 80th birthday of former-Senator Pat Giles.
Now, I was totally sick, but I’d RSVPed for this months ago, and even though I knew little about Pat Giles before I went, I knew the person organising it, and I had totally pomised myself that I would to go to more of these events. Plus it was a good excuse not to sit around being miserable.
Well, the birthday girl was this little old lady (well, duh, it was her 80th) with bright white hair and the sweetest smile, but on hearing her biography I came to realise that this woman had broken some balls in her time.
After working as a nurse, she did a BA as a mature age student (as much as I complained about them when I was in 1st year, they totally have guts; I came to realise that not all of them are wankers). She then went on to work with the Hospital Employees Industrial Union — which later became part of the Missos, a union I care a lot about through my time as a LMWEP kid — and was one of the first women working in an industrial position in the trade union movement in WA.
Her résumé (here taken from a handout based on notes by Lekkie Hopkins at Edith Cowan Uni) pretty much uses the phrase “first woman to” as dot points:
- first woman elected to the WA Trades & Labour Council executive (1975);
- member of the first ACTU Women’s Council (1977); later chair (1978);
- first woman advocate before State Industrial Commission (on the introduction of maternity leave in to WA awards)
Pat was elected as a Senator for Western Australia in 1981 and chaired the Senete Select Commitee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes. She was a Senator for 12 years and during that time she was also a big part of the international women’s movement:
- Member, Australian Government Delegation to Tribune, Mexico, International Women’s Year 1975;
- Leader, Australian Government Delegation to World Conference for the End of the Decade for Women, Nairobi, July 1985;
- Leader, Australian Delegation to Meeting of Commonwealth Ministers for Women’s Affairs, Nairobi, 1985; Harare, Zimbabwe, 1987; Ottawa, Canada, 1990;
- Parliamentary Adviser, United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), New York, September-December 1992.
She then served three terms as President of the International Alliance of Women.
Oh, and she also has 5 kids (and now lots of grandkids).
Some little old lady, huh?
Now, we’re definitely talking about a graduate from the Old School of 70s and 80s feminism, but I am personally of the opinion that us young’ns can still learn a shitload from feminist pioneers like Pat Giles. And what’s more, we need to be genuinely grateful for, as Sharryn Jackson described it, the path through the jungle that these women have hacked through ahead of us.
One thing that struck me from the masses of adulation about Pat was an ex-diplomat who spoke of how highly world leaders regarded Pat for her work and her approach — a key approach being, saying anything that might be a little harsh with a smile backed up by genuine kindheartedness. Now that’s a good approach to diplomacy.
It got me thinking back to an article I’d read the night before. It was from US magazine the Atlantic (picked it up from Borders on Friday, at those dumb air freight rates; I’m subscribing this week) and is entitled ‘Should Women Rule?‘
The book review goes through several publications that essentially lead to the conclusion that, because of biological and historical givens, women aren’t very good at leading the world. The reviewer then asks this question:
so what if women are power-wielding-impaired? Is ruling the world the only way to change the world?
After going through one final book about the one ‘mom’ who lead a million others to fight the gun lobby, the conclusion is this:
Today, the Barnes & Noble “Women’s Studies” shelves are thick with books on women’s self-esteem, on women’s bodies, on women and money. But to exert more true power in the world, we need to pay less attention to our feelings, our clitorises, and even our 401(k)s. Why in five decades of modern feminist writing have we never seen any serious consideration of, for instance, the PTA, a hugely powerful, 100-plus-year-old, women-founded and women-dominated organization, whose well-funded and effective lobbying arm can actually help push through legislation? The women’s movement has ignored millions of PTA women—women busy baking brownies and zooming about in their Kohl’s wear, who can’t rule the world but who can change it. My fellow PTA mothers—“change agents” all—we need more books that teach us to build and direct our networks to do the work we value.
That’s fair enough; I am all for change agents (I think my dad pioneered some “change agent” program when he was at CARE?). But I think while international diplomacy may not be for everyone woman, there are skills in which women can be a lot better at than men that can be used for ruling as well as changing.
As shown by Pat Giles — she was a P&C mum before she was a Senator.
Now, I’m done blogging for the day; I’m going to bake a cake so that I can eat it (I need to practice that stuff to prepare myself for when I rule the world).