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Back to the Kitchen?

April 17, 1944 – Broadcast on ABC Radio’s National Program, Australia


There is a good deal of talk just now about what they are going to do after the war with
the women: Must they be made to return to the home? Are they going to take them out
of the factory, the office, off the land?

To me, this sort of discussion is very disquieting. It makes me think we’ve already
forgotten the reasons why we’re fighting this war. Aren’t we fighting for liberty, for
democracy and to eradicate fascism and Nazism in every form? Surely we don’t mean
liberty and democracy for men only? Indeed, I hope women will enjoy the liberty which
they have helped to win and be permitted to choose what they want to do. Do you
remember that one of the first things the Nazis did when they came to power was to put
women out of the professions, out of the factories? They barred the doors of the
universities to all but a few women and they severely limited women’s opportunities for
any kind of higher education; by these methods the Nazis forced women back to the
home – back to the kitchen. I can’t help thinking that if any attempt is made here after
the war to force women back to the home, it will be proof that facism still has strong
roots in Australia.

Women should not be forced to return to the home, but they should be free to returnthere if they wish to. I don’t like what’s implied in the suggestion that women will have to he forced back into the home – that’s a slight not only on home life, but also on the
work of bearing and rearing children, don’t you agree? The greatest happiness for many
women is to care for a home and to raise a family. The trouble in the past has been that
society has failed to make it possible for all the women who wanted to have homes and
raise families to do so.

And while we’re on the subject of women in the home, I think that this life could be
made attractive to many more women by developing amenities and customs that render
home less of a prison than it is to many women with young families. Just think of the
prospects of family life, as lived under present conditions, to a clever, energetic, bright
young girl. Soon after marriage there will be a baby, and from then on she cannot move
unencumbered. The more babies, the harder she has to work and the greater her
restrictions. If we want more women to choose home life, we must make home life less
hard. But how can we do this? Well, we can have crèches and kindergartens and
supervised playgrounds where children can be left in safe surroundings. Then we must
change many of our conventions. Why should a woman do all the work in the home?
Why can’t we, for example, have community kitchens and laundries? If a woman wants
to work outside the home, why shouldn’t she? Let her be free to choose. There’s just as
much and more reason to believe that the best interests of her family and of society will
be served by giving a woman a free choice than by expecting her to adhere to a lot of
worn-out conventions.

Anyway, the contribution that women can make to public life through the professions or
in industry is important. Women in the past have been very much hampered by their
inexperience in these spheres. They haven’t had the opportunity to qualify for
representative positions or positions of control and direction. In other words, because of
the lack of opportunity to gain experience they’re denied the opportunity of exerting any
influence in framing policies or directing public affairs.

I am pretty sure that many women will remain in industry after the war, for we shall be
in need of more skilled hands rather than less. Remember, we couldn’t exert a full war
effort until women were absorbed into industry; therefore, how can we exert a full peace
program without making use of their services? Everyone knows how short we are of
houses and hospitals and offices, of furniture, of bathroom and kitchen fittings, of
curtains, wallpaper, clothing, foodstuffs, in fact, hundreds of commodities. Can you
imagine the tremendous amount of work that will be required? Not only have we to
make up the deficiency of the war years, but we must provide all these amenities on a
much larger scale after the war. There were large numbers of people before the war who
had no homes, not even enough to eat; hospital accommodation was inadequate, and so
on. Although all these could have been provided for a few million pounds, we believed
we could not afford to better these conditions. It took a total war to show us what we
could do with our own resources. If we can raise money for war we can raise it for
peace, surely. It would be inexcusable in the future to condemn people to live under the
conditions so many endured before the war.

Why is there so much opposition to women remaining in industry? The secret isn’t far
to seek. It’s simply that they got paid less – they are cheap labour, certainly not, as so
many have alleged, because they’re weaker or less efficient. Unfortunately, because
their labour is cheaper, women not only threaten the wage standards of men workers,
but they also threaten the standard of living of all workers. The obvious and just way to
avoid this is to give equal pay to men and women.

To put this in a nutshell, I believe that in a democratic, free society women should be at
liberty to choose whether they will take up home life or work outside the home; that
men and women should receive equal pay and equal opportunity; that home life should
be made less of a tie and the burden of raising a family be lightened. If we can face
these peacetime problems with the spirit of determination and conciliation with which
we’re facing our war problems, we may hope to solve them.