[Editor: This article by Mary Gilmore was published in “A Women’s Column” (“Conducted by Mary Gilmore”), in The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 2 January 1908.]
There is an idea with some (men and women alike) that The Worker is peculiarly a man’s paper, and that the inclusion of matter connected with the domestic (which is almost woman’s life) is an intrusion.
Sport may come in, general items, theatrical news, etc., but matters relating to the world that is peculiarly that of woman must be kept out. This is an error, for women are as much a part of that world for which The Worker is written and printed as are the men who make and read it.
Also, there is a degree of impression that if anything connected with women enters the paper, it must relate to woman and politics, woman and the organisation of labor, woman as a sexless unit of the industrial world, rather than to woman the fulfiller of her all-round destiny. This, too, is a mistake, because woman, as a politician, is only in her infancy, for, after all, politics and a knowledge of industrialism are but a part of that life which is so good to be truly lived, and which woman can never wholly leave and be woman, whatever man may do.
But though woman may live her life, and know nothing of politics, yet is it necessary she should know something. Woman rears the child,and as the child questions (as every child does) she should be able to answer. The woman who tells her boy who wants to know “what a tariff is,” as my boy did, and who answers, “Oh, go away! and ask your father,” fails in her mission as mother, and gains nothing in any other direction. And this is the very type of woman we, most of all, need to interest.
To do that we must give something she will understand, something she already knows and likes. It was not for the good son who stayed at home and did the work that the fatted calf was killed, and the feast made, but for the prodigal who wandered far and then came home, at last — unjust and all as it seems. It is not the sheep within the fold who need to be found, but those without; not the women who read intelligently and take an understanding interest in things political and social, but the women who can make excellent, plain bread and good plum puddings, and know no more of Parliament than that it begins with the letter P, and that tax rhymes with axe. And outside the cities (and cities are few in Australia), ninety out of every hundred belong to the latter class — and these are the women the Women’s National League looks after.
The wise women of the Women’s National Leagues do not give these women long slabs of political argument, for they know they would not be understood, and would only tire the unaccustomed mind. Instead they give afternoon teas, and talk crochet patterns, and the quickest and best thing to do in case of croup. Thus they win interest; with interest a sense of human community, one with the other; and, by natural sequence, the interested, charmed, and grateful woman’s vote. I write from the bush, and I have seen and know. Even if one will go open-minded, open eyed, and opened eared about the city one finds the same sort of thing.
The main thing in order to awaken knowledge is to awaken interest. And if cookery recipes, health notes, flannel stitching, etc., will unlock the door of interest, by all means let us have them.
The tired woman rocking the cradle with her foot, while she peels the potatoes in her lap, or darns the dreadful stockings that mark the passage of boy life, has no time to read the Prime Minister on the Tariff, or the effect of Wages Boards on Trade and the wage earner. The very title frightens her, the length of the article frightens the mind timorously groping for a little understanding, and drives her back into an attitude of apathy similar to that of the criminal who “reckons he never had a chance,” and, therefore, it is useless trying to reform. The man who would shift a load of sand cheerfully would stand appalled at being asked to move a mountain, and the woman who takes up a paper to look interestedly at “a good way to use cold meat,” or to make “an economical tea cake,” will read on the same page: “God made the white man, God made the black man, but the devil made the half-caste” (Livingstone), and sow the seeds that will lead to realising the importance of the color question, when forty papers might have forty columns on the same subject, and she would not look at one. The Too Much kills as surely as the Too Little.
One of the commonest experiences among the working women is for those who have time to read, to talk, to think and to understand to be asked to explain what, does this mean, what does that mean. Here in Victoria women who have voted labor have asked me again and again, “What is the tariff?” “What is the meaning of Freetrade and Protection?” These vote Protection because it is Victorian; they refuse Freetrade because it is New South Wales. They understand neither, and are too tired to try to even begin to understand, unless told simply.
Little by little such must be led, but first we must interest them, or they will never be led. And, as I said before, to interest one must write of things known, not things unknown; of things understood, not of things not understood; of things that can be taken up for a moment, and laid down the next; of things that are of the home and the child, of making and contriving, of saving and sparing, of women, and the women-known needs of women.
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And if men (who look on The Worker as peculiarly their own paper) object to this as trifling, ridiculous, derogatory to the dignity of the man’s paper, let them ask themselves: “Do we want the women’s vote? Do We want that women shall understand? Who teach the little children, so that the three-year-old says: I am an Eight Hour man, and the four-year-old boasts that his father is a unionist, and the child, grown man, is a unionist from his babyhood? And, finally, who hungers with them when times pinch?” — and then ask themselves if what is interesting to women is trifling and unworthy. I doubt if they will think so.
The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 2 January 1908, p. 15