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Back to the future


As I said at the outset the world of Thornleigh, New South Wales Australia, is gone forever. And the world the children of those children live in  has undoubtedly changed for the better. 

The 21st century offers advantages to children, particularly to girls,  that were only imagined in Utopian dreams in the 1950's. 

In the 50's only those children who were migrants had been overseas, let alone flown in an aeroplane. 

I first put my daughter Emily on a plane, unaccompanied, to visit her mother in England, when she was eight. She flew back and forth several times to England and France and later to Korea.   Later in high school she travelled with her boyfriend.  She is now a professional Engineer and living in Berlin.  Her younger siblings are almost as well travelled; as are her cousins of similar age.

Today our children accept international air travel as a fact of life.  Not because we are wealthy; it's a lot cheaper and they now largely pay their own way; but because their world has far wider horizons than did ours as children.

Women of my mother's generation had to fight almost overwhelming odds if they wanted a professional career; to leave and unhappy marriage; or simply to control their own fertility without interference from others; only a few succeeded.  Girls of my generation at last began to achieve these things in significant numbers; and now, at last, our daughters, and society in general, regard them as a fact of life.

For some in that almost forgotten time, the 1950's,  modern licentiousness was the stuff of dystopian nightmares. They would be profoundly shocked at what children would know from and early age; and the sexual freedoms that they would enjoy as young adults in fifty years.  Brave New World, writ large:

From a neighbouring shrubbery emerged a nurse, leading by the hand a small boy, who howled as he went. An anxious-looking little girl trotted at her heels. 
"What's the matter?" asked the Director. 
The nurse shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing much," she answered. "It's just that this little boy seems rather reluctant to join in the ordinary erotic play... 
"Honestly," put in the anxious-looking little girl, "I didn't mean to hurt him or anything. Honestly." ...
"Run away now and see if you can find some other little boy to play with."... 
Then, turning to his students, "What I'm going to tell you now," he said, "may sound incredible. But then, when you're not accustomed to history, most facts about the past do sound incredible." He let out the amazing truth. 
For a very long period before the time of 
Our Ford, and even for some generations afterwards, erotic play between children had been regarded as abnormal (there was a roar of laughter); and not only abnormal, actually immoral (no!): and had therefore been rigorously suppressed. 
A look of astonished incredulity appeared on the faces of his listeners. Poor little kids not allowed to amuse themselves? They could not believe it. 
"Even adolescents," the D.H.C. was saying, "even adolescents like yourselves …" 
"Not possible!" 
"Barring a little surreptitious auto-erotism and homosexuality–absolutely nothing." 
"In most cases, till they were over twenty years old." 
"Twenty years old?" echoed the students in a chorus of loud disbelief. 
"Twenty," the Director repeated. "I told you that you'd find it incredible."  

Aldous Huxley: BRAVE NEW WORLD; 1932



It is many years since parents were shocked to find a companion, of either sex, present for breakfast, having spent the night with their eighteen year old child. 

It was actually our parents who were the first to deal with that; without calling the police or immediately organising a marriage.  But I was a little older when my mother calmly asked what we wanted for breakfast when my girlfriend and I accidentally slept in.   A friend was equally surprised when his mother crept in to play Santa on Christmas eve and left presents for both him and his girlfriend.

It is now a central tenant of anti-discrimination law that adults have the right to their own choice of partner according to their sexual preference.  For some couples another law presently dictates that marriage is not an option. 

We hope and expect that the decision to engage in sexual activity is our adult children's own, mutually based on their own desires and preference; not at the insistence of someone more powerful or dominant. They expect that we will respect their decision and know that they have the support and understanding of their family should they make a mistake or two in finding the right partner to share their life with; if any.

But because they have understood responsible reproductive behaviour for almost as long as they can remember our girls do not expect to become pregnant until they wish to.

These principles would have been scandalous and socially impossible just 50 years ago; even in Hollywood.  There were some very nasty people about in Sydney back then; not just to unfortunate girls who, because of inadequate knowledge, unwanted attentions or accidents, became pregnant.

Homosexuality was illegal and sexism and racism was rampant. Even my mother, still a young English girl in her 20's, was mocked 'til she cried for her posh accent and English fashions.  It took a lot to make her cry after that.  Migrants from elsewhere were often much more cruelly treated. 'New Australian' was not a term of endearment. 

Girls now have educational advantages once the preserve of boys; as well as access to a vast wealth of information only dreamed of in science-fiction in the 50's.  They expect to match men in almost any non-physical endeavour.  They assume without question that they will have a career and that they may well be relied on as the principal income earner. 

Back then working women were paid less for the same work; could be required to resign when they got married and were not even permitted to have superannuation.  The career options for girls were very limited: nursing, teaching, work in an office or shop, or perhaps modelling, cleaning or factory work. 

Most girls expected a short working life and looked forward to attracting a good breadwinner as a husband who would be loyal; not a drunk, a gambler, or violent; who she could cook for and clean for and have children with.  This was often the best that girls could hope for; it passed for 'love'.  Boys looked for the most attractive girl who befitted their social status and 'pulling power'.  Girls from 'good homes' went to finishing school to attract a better class of man.

Boys too, looked forward to a limited number of career options; more or less those that had been available to their fathers.

No one anticipated the the many new careers that technology would deliver in the next 50 years: the growth of computers; electronic media; communications; entertainment; personal services; and even new forms of banking and financial services.   

Our children have much wider horizons in this way too.  They know the the career they decide upon will change over time and may eventually be in an area that has not yet been thought of; or one that is still science fiction.



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