Flight of fancy?: Gender inequality is an ongoing challenge, says Roland. Photo: SUPPLIED

From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 17 January

January 17, 2021 BY

The boss of American South West Airlines said, “The girls must be able to wear hots pants and kinky leather boots, or they don’t get the job!”

He was serious. That’s how it was in the 1970s, and for some time after that decade. Much has changed, but only slightly in some areas of endeavour. We have a long way to go in the pursuit of equality. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime.

Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street, sporting a blue singlet, a fat beer-gut hanging over the top of their shorts, their tradie’s crack clearly visible, and believing they are the sexiest thing on two-legs!

The standing sexist joke about an air hostesses was, “Coffee, tea, or me, Sir?” A school chum of mine, and who was exceptionally bright, she did chemistry, physics, and advanced maths for her Leaving Certificate (Matriculation), and wanted to do law. It was considered outside a woman’s purview so she joined the Commonwealth Bank and then Ansett Airlines, as an airhostess.

On one occasion, while she was backing down the aisle with a trolley, she felt a hand run-up the inside of her leg. In an instant she turned and wacked the culprit across the face. He smirked and threatened her with repercussions. A man, sitting on the other aisle seat, leaned across and said, “I saw what happened.” My friend thanked him and she never heard another word about the incident.

Airlines were rife with gender inequality. Qantas introduced male flight stewards in the 1970s with a maximum wage of $28,000 a year. Flight hostesses were on a maximum wage of $18,000 after ten years’ service.

The late Sir Reginald Ansett, the founder of Ansett Airlines Australia, found himself in a very precarious situation when he called the domestic union executive a “batch of old boilers” (even though they were aged between 28 and 35) when they supported a two-day strike for better pay; the opportunity to fly until they were three-months pregnant; and an increase in the retirement age to 45.

In those days, hosties were routinely weighed, and if they were a pound overweight they were stood down until were weight perfect, again.

There was a time when, if a female teacher married, she had to leave the Education Department. Obviously she was no longer capable. Being married instantly addled her brain, depriving her of all intelligence and capacity. Clearly, with wedded bliss she no longer knew the difference between and noun and a verb!

There were no married women in banks, nor were they allowed to work as tellers, obviously, they could not count as well as men, and they were paid at a different rate.

The same applied in the theatre. In repertory companies, which were the major employers, contracted actresses were paid less than actors, even if they were playing the lead. Also, they had to provide a wardrobe of suitable clothes for modern plays, including evening dresses. Men were required to provide their own dinner jacket, a business suit, double-breasted blazer, and white flannels!

It is hard to imagine how many fine brains have slipped through the cracks of patriarchal discrimination simply because they were female. One has to marvel at the implacability Marie Curie, the French-Polish physicist; the first woman to win a Nobel Prize; the first person, and the only woman, to win the Nobel Prize twice; and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields; and the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris in 1906.

Most of us, if we look back over our lives, have a primary school teacher, usually a woman, to thank for our success.

Roland can be heard each Monday at 10.45am on 3BA and contacted via [email protected].