To Be A Woman is a short film from the 1950s. It open with that plummy voice, “What of the woman of today? What does she want in the 1950s?” The Pathe News male voice puts forth these questions against an RP female voice setting forth the arguments for equal pay.
You’d think this would be amusing to watch. That outdated method of addressing the viewer directly with authoritative dictates in ‘British Empire’ voice, watching people trip about in black-and-white in clothing from a bygone era, arguing over a won debate. But it’s not. Not least because it isn’t a won debate. People are happy to let the legislation state equal pay for equal work, even if every year every study shows women earning less for similar work performed by men. And women continue to be underrepresented in positions of power in every sector. In fact, it’s a little withering to see, an entire generation on, how identifiable our grandmothers’ issues are with our own.
The truly lovely thing to see is women being called out by name, and highlighted as the first woman to sit on a coal board, the first woman to lead a mixed-gender union, a painter, a composer, a nurse, a pilot, a head teacher, a typist, a machinist, a factory worker. Despite how history will only spit out a few names, as if these exceptional women moved the world on their own, the world was moved by every woman who kicked open a door that was closed to her. Each in their own corner became the first, so no other woman would have to be.
And it’s amazing how much that is said in this would still sound radical today. That the vote was won to materially improve the rights of working women, and those elected on it must be held accountable for this, that workers’ rights are human rights. In 2021 you could post that on Twitter and still get a spewing torrent of resistance and condemnation.
Watching it 70 years on, it may seem a little depressing how familiar the issues are, but it’s also a good reminder, that there have always been women fighting for acknowledgement of their equal humanity, and we have a long tradition to follow in.