Friday, October 21, 2011

Issues in old movies

I was raised on Bill Collins Golden Years of Hollywood. So I love watching the old films on ABC2 on a Saturday night. Two I’ve seen recently have made me think about social issues: Kramer Vs Kramer, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Which movie seems outdated now?

Kramer vs Kramer
was made in 1979. It stars Dustin Hoffman as Ted, and Meryl Streep as Joanna, a married couple who have one son, Billy, aged 5. The film opens with Joanna leaving the family home. Ted has no experience of caring for his son, nor of running a household. The film shows his struggles. It also shows his career slide as care work interferes with his working life. Joanna returns, wanting custody, and explains she felt she needed to work but Ted never listened to her. She felt being a SAHM was crippling her sense of self. She needed to get away, have therapy, get a job, but she never stopped loving her boy. They go to court, and hurt each other in ways they don’t intend. Ted asks why can’t a man be as good a parent as a woman? Joanna win custody, but decides to leave Billy with his father, as he is already home there.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
was released in 1969. It is about the problems of a prospective interracial marriage. The prospective groom is Sidney Portier playing a doctor - who could object to him? But, at the time, interracial marriage was illegal some states of the USA. Hard to believe now. Interracial relationships don’t turn a hair now. I live in the one of most multicultural municipalities of Australia. I can’t imagine anyone questioning interracial relationships. It feels strange to even say the words. My children watched this movie one afternoon and I had to explain that people used to consider interracial marriage a problem. They couldn't see why.

So, we’ve come a long way on one issue, but not on the other. My children would recognise the issues in Kramer vs Kramer.

This letter was on the SMH site recently.

THANK you (name) and (name) (Working women owed a break, September 25). It is about time we had some serious public debate on the genuine feasibility of female participation in corporate Australia and the need for our government to extend more than just platitudes to help solve the problem. As a mother of two pre-school children, I recently returned from a seven-year stint in Canada, taking up a full-time management position in the financial sector.
Putting aside the free obstetrics and paid maternity leave that met my introduction to the world of motherhood in Canada, childcare was a breeze. Canada encourages migration of caregivers under a scheme whereby they are employed as live-in nannies or elder-care nurses for a specified period of time, after which they may apply for permanent residency. Employers of live-in caregivers receive a significant tax credit which is not means-tested. Is it any wonder that few (if any) of my female colleagues care to join me in this ridiculous working-mother juggling act?
As long as the Australian corporate culture expects ever-increasing hours, our childcare centres continue to close at 6pm and our government fails to support flexible, in-home care options, there will continue to be a dearth of female role models to inspire and mentor the next generation of working mothers.

name Sydney letter SMH site 9.10.11

So, another ten years, perhaps, until this is sorted? I'm hoping my grandchildren will be able to watch Kramer vs Kramer and not understand how the care work of parenting was ever in conflict with being in paid employment.

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