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  • Writer's pictureDamon Young

Simpler times? Nah, simpler minds

Late last year, musician Kirk Pengilly lamented the loss of the "simple" nineteen sixties, when you could slap a woman's ass with impunity. My reply was just published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Life was simple," musician Kirk Pengilly said recently. He was speaking of the 1960s, when you could apparently smack a woman's bum without censure. It was taken as a "compliment", he explained, rather than as sexual harassment.

The media cycle has moved on, but Pengilly's sentiment is unfortunately still widely shared. It pays to examine this idea a little further. Some statements are such knots of idiocy and obliviousness, they almost become a public service: offering their fraying threads to be unravelled. Almost.

Most obviously, life was not simpler in the '60s. Looking only at Australia, domestic violence was largely ignored and sometimes encouraged. Marital rape was not a crime, but abortion was. Women were more financially dependent, and their work less secure. Those in the public service, for example, had to resign after marriage. Well into the '60s, women were banned from drinking (but not from working) in public bars.

This is to say nothing of our broader record on human rights and justice. For example, Indigenous Australians couldn't vote in federal elections until 1962 and Queensland didn't extend suffrage until 1965. Two years later, Australia finally counted Indigenous Australians in the census. During this period, Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families. Abuses and deprivations worsened gender inequalities – and still do.

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