“Even conceding these points, such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem.”

Via Letters of Note, Why Women Should Not Be Trade Commissioners. The following document was written in 1963 to the Director of Trade Commissioner Services as a protest against the possible appointment of a woman as an Australian trade commissioner.

Although the woman, Beryl Wilson, was later appointed, the Deputy Director of the Department of Trade and Industry (now DFAT) stressed that her appointment should not be treated ‘in any sense as a precedent.’


The Australian government has made the letter available here. Go to the cut below for a transcript of it.

I am absolutely fascinated that something like this could have happened as late as 1963; it feels like a relic from a time beyond current human memory, or from my grandparents’ era at the very earliest, but instead it was written while my parents were very much alive. In only 45 years, Australian (and American) culture has changed so much that the document not only reads like satire, but that if it were penned today, the writer would most likely be fired for it.

In particular, I love how the letter frankly states that the only woman who could possibly-maybe-conceivably-potentially be of any remote use is a “young and attractive one,” but because she will turn into a nasty old battleaxe eventually, that could be a problem.

Also interesting from the letter is point vi, “If we engaged single graduates as trainees, most of them would probably marry within five years”, is a reference to the Public Service Act 1901, which prohibited married women from working in Public Service. (See for instance Ruby Payne-Scott, one of the early developers of radio astronomy, who worked for the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization until her secret marriage was discovered and she was discharged.) The Australian Federal government did not repel the marriage bar until 1966.

My favorite line (that is, aside from the absolutely amazing “battleaxe” comment) is this one: “It is difficult to visualise them as Trade Commissioners, firstly because they could not mix nearly as freely with businessmen as men do. Most mens clubs, for instance, do not allow women members[.]” It forthrightly recognizes that such men’s-only spaces are a barrier to women in the work place — which is itself correct, though of course the letter writer draws the conclusion that this means women should go and that the discriminatory institutions should remain.

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
MINUTE PAPER

THE DIRECTOR:

WOMEN TRADE COMMISSIONERS?

Even after some deliberation, it is difficult to find reasons to support the appointment of women Trade Commissioners.

In countries where publicity media is well developed, such as North America and England and where there are no other major drawbacks, such as the Islamic attitude towards women, a relatively young attractive woman could operate with some effectiveness, in a subordinate capacity. As she would probably be the only woman Assistant Trade Commissioner in the whole area, as other countries employ women in this capacity hardly at all, she could attract a measure of interest and publicity.

If we had an important trade in women’s clothing and accessories, a woman might promote this more effectively than a man.

Even conceding these points, such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem.

It is much easier to find difficulties, some of which spring to mind are:-

(i) Women are not employed, except to an extremely minor degree, as career Trade Commissioners in any known service;

(ii) It is difficult to visualise them as Trade Commissioners, firstly because they could not mix nearly as freely with businessmen as men do. Most mens clubs, for instance, do not allow women members;

(iii) Relationships with businessmen would tend to be somewhat formal and guarded on both sides. This would make it more difficult for a woman to obtain information;

(iv) It is extremely doubtful if a woman could, year after year, under a variety of conditions, stand the fairly severe strains and stresses, mentally and physically, which are part of the life of a Trade Commissioner;

(v) A man normally has his household run efficiently by his wife, who also looks after much of the entertaining. A woman Trade Commissioner would have all this on top of her normal work;

(vi) If we engaged single graduates as trainees, most of them would probably marry within five years;

(vii) If we recruited from the business world, we would have a much smaller field from which to recruit, as the number of women executives in business is quite small;

(viii) A spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows;

(ix) A woman would take the place of a man and preclude us from giving practical experience to one mail officer. She could marry at any time and be lost to us. she could not be regarded as a long term investment in the same sense as we regard a man.

CONCLUSION

It would seem that the noes have it.

(Signed)

(A. R. Taysom)

13th March, 1963.

P.S. I have since ascertained the following, which, it would seem, only serves to support the foregoing views –

Mr. H. W. Woodruff, U.K. Trade Commissioner:

They have a few women Trade Commissioners but only in capital city posts, for they have found that women cannot operate where contact with businessmen is necessary.

The women are fairly senior people from the U.K. Departments and presumably handle trade policy work only.

Mr. N. Parkinson, External Affairs:

Since their recruitments of trainees are made under the Public Service Act, there is no way of precluding women from applying and in fact, many more applications are received from women than from men. Some are chosen and all appointments are made on the basis of the quality of their educational achievements. About one woman is appointed to every twelve men. This year one out of sixteen, last year one out of twelve and the previous year, none.

They have to be trained for 18 months before going to their first post. The average marries within five years.

It is a very expensive process, but External Affairs lack courage to slam the door because of parliamentary opinion, pressure groups and so on.

(Signed)

(A. R. Taysom)

-Susan

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