For Love or Money: Equal pay paradox

For Love or Money: Equal pay paradox
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This clip examines the situation for women in the 1930s Depression when many were forced to work as the men in their families were unemployed. Denied equal pay and still being paid piece-rate wages, women were then vilified and unfairly blamed for causing unemployment. The clip finishes with a segment from the feature film Caddie. Summary by Adrienne Parr.

The clip includes a reference to the landmark text, Are Women Taking Men’s Jobs?. Published in 1935, and written by long time advocate of equal pay, Muriel Agnes Heagney, the book was a detailed study of women’s work, revealing the inequalities in opportunities and rates of pay between men and women. It argued that equal pay should be fought for on the basis of working class unity rather than as a means of protecting men’s jobs at the expense of women’s.


For Love or Money synopsis

Using a vast array of historical footage, the film proposes a history of women and work in Australia, from 1788 to 1983.


For Love or Money curator's notes

A concurrence of initiatives arising from the 1977 Women’s Film Production Workshop and the 1978 inaugural Women and Labour Conference, resulted in four filmmakers – Megan McMurchy, Margot Nash, Margot Oliver and Jeni Thornley – commencing a film history of Australian women at work. Meticulous research unearthed an extensive collection of material – feature films, home movies, news and newsreels, documentaries, television shows, commercials, photographs, radio shows, diaries, popular music, letters and interviews – dating back to the 18th century and showing women, of every decade and every background, at work in all its myriad forms. Over five years in the making, the film – an epic 109 minutes long – is set out in four parts: Hard Labour (1788-1914), Daughters of Toil (1914-1939), Working for the Duration (1939-1969) and Work of Value (1969-1983). A narration by Noni Hazlehurst connects hundreds of excerpts from hundreds of historical sources, painstakingly collected and reproduced. At a time when historical footage reproduction meant interpositives and internegatives, and costings per feet and frames, it’s almost impossible to imagine the methodical cataloguing and ordering of the material involved.

Released in the wake of films like The Song of the Shirt (UK 1979) and The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (US 1980), For Love or Money was one of a new genre of historical documentaries, where young filmmakers took command of the archive and used its images (both those that had helped determine national histories and those that had been denied a contribution to these histories) to attempt to reformulate – or at least refocus – collective memories. Most of these films today, some 25 years down the track, stand the test of time. For Love or Money is no exception.

However, while a film like The Song of the Shirt investigated a particular moment in history and used it to expand into broader political debates, For Love or Money set for itself an extraordinarily ambitious project. Using almost totally historical material and including only small segments of new footage, it embarked on a history encompassing the role of all Australian women (young, old, Indigenous, colonial, modern, white, non-Anglo, middle class, working class, et al) in both paid and unpaid work, over a 200 year period. There was almost no choice but to funnel this massive compilation into a chronology – albeit one with three sides. On one side is the story of the struggle for equality and better conditions in the broad spectrum of the paid workforce. On another side is a proposal for a radical analysis of women’s work as mothers, carers, householders and lovers. And on a third side is a dialogue on feminism and history.

It was the project’s ambition, and the consequences of that ambition, that generated criticism at the time of its release – in particular the film’s attempt to unify its content, and produce a single position (the narration’s ‘we’) from which to both speak about the content and to move forward into the future. In their 1987 essay 'For Love or Money: A Work of Loving’ (included in Don’t Shoot Darling), Ann Curthoys and Susan Dermody pointed out that ‘the rewards of this approach can be great, as the film amply shows. But the accompanying dangers – closely related to the blurring and blending of modes of address and appeal in the voice-over – are also great. The film risks being seen as eliciting a kind of homogenising sentimentalism, one that counters the whole vast work of its analysis of history.’

A decade later, Felicity Collins, in her 1998 essay 'The Experimental Practice of History in the Filmwork of Jeni Thornley’ (included in Screening the Past, Issue 3), argued for a retrospective viewing of the film ‘in the light of a renewed interest, since the late 1980s, of feminist film theorists in questions of history’. Collins saw the image of female unity in For Love or Money as ‘fragmented into multiple reminiscences which work against the unifying voice of the narrator and against the linearity of historicist time’. She went on to add however that the film attempts to subsume these ‘multiple reminiscences’ into ‘one temporality’, in order to find an resolution – that is, to find a position from where a feminist future can begin. The attempt results in what Collins saw as multiple endings to the film.

Today, another decade later, it’s these multiple endings that most strongly articulate a particular problem for the feminist telling of history. They point to why, even by the time For Love or Money was released, significant numbers of younger feminists had begun looking for new modes of identifying themselves. This unresolved problem of feminism and history was explored, in varying degrees and to greater extent and effect, in later films made by the filmmakers individually: To the Other Shore (directed by Jeni Thornley), Breathing Under Water (produced by Megan McMurchy) and Shadow Panic and Vacant Possession (both directed by Margot Nash).

Following its release, For Love or Money was accepted into just about every international film festival on the map, picking up a swag of awards on its travels. A book, For Love or Money: A Pictorial History of Women and Work in Australia, written by the three of the filmmakers (McMurchy, Oliver and Thornley), was released in conjunction with the film. Published by Penguin Books, the book was edited by Irina Dunn, with Lyndall Ryan the historical consultant.

Notes by Adrienne Parr


Secondary Curator's Notes

For Love or Money is an interesting documentary that, through archival footage and photographs, attempts to give a feminist perspective on the role of women in Australian history. The inclusion of archival footage of Indigenous women in traditional, urban and rural settings within various periods of history, is somewhat tentatively placed. The inclusion of stolen generation issues, assimilation practices, blackbirding – or the theft of Melanesian people for cheap labour – was included with good intentions by the filmmakers, but to link the issues of Indigenous womanhood with white womanhood is somewhat misleading.

While the story of the Suffragettes, the fight for equal pay for women and the historical struggle for equality for women that continues into the present day is greatly informative, the issue for Indigenous women is one of racism as well as sexism, for the struggle for liberty of Indigenous women, like Indigenous men, is the struggle against racism. The rights and privileges of white womanhood for example, are not the same simply in that Indigenous women endure fewer rights than white women. Indigenous men also, arguably, have less rights than white women. The feminist framing of Indigenous womanhood suggests that the struggle of Indigenous women is aligned with white womanhood, when in fact, the struggle for Indigenous women is, like Indigenous males, one against racism as well as subjugation based on gender.

Secondary notes by Romaine Moreton


Education notes

This clip shows scenes that illustrate the story of women’s work in Australia during the Great Depression. At that time women were able to find work, particularly piecework, because employers could pay them lower wages. Film of women working in tobacco factories, canneries, restaurants, a food production line and the fields is accompanied by a narration and a jazz-inspired soundtrack. The argument, prevalent at the time, that women were taking men’s jobs, is explored with readings from commentators of the period. Scenes in a girls’ school and a childcare centre and footage of letters to the editor explore the banning of married women from the teaching sector. The clip closes with a scene from the film Caddie (1976).

Educational value points

  • The clip refers to women’s experiences in the labour market during the Great Depression (1929–33). Heavy industry, which employed mostly men, was more affected by the stock market crash of 1929 than manufacturing, which employed most of the women in the industrial workforce. Manufacturing also recovered more quickly. As a result, more male workers lost their jobs than women. Women also had more wage-earning opportunities in essential non-industrial work, such as teaching, nursing, domestic and office work, than men did.
  • The clip alludes to pressures placed on women during the Great Depression. Married women felt additional pressure to re-enter the workforce when their husbands were laid off. The plight of unemployed, unmarried women was recognised by union activist Muriel Heagney (1885–1974) who organised a 'girls week’ in Melbourne in 1930 to raise funds for them.
  • In the period shown, wages for working women were very low compared to men’s. Wages had been cut by 10 per cent across the board at the onset of the Great Depression following the Commonwealth Arbitration Court declaration that the guiding principle in fixing wages was the capacity of industry to pay. It was easier for women to find employment, but there was still relatively high female unemployment. The 1933 census reveals that during the earlier stage of the Great Depression 25 per cent of women in Australia were breadwinners and 13 per cent were classed as unemployed. At the same time, 26 per cent of men were unemployed.
  • The hostility towards women workers during the 1930s in Australia is referred to in the clip. This hostility, expressed by the public and in the media, was linked to economic fears that women would take or were taking men’s jobs, and the belief that the man was the breadwinner while a woman’s place was in the home. Male trade unionists criticised married women workers and blamed them for male unemployment. Women were also severely criticised for leaving their families in a time of need, of abdicating their roles as homemakers, wives and mothers. This is despite the fact that most working women were working out of necessity to provide for themselves and their families.
  • In 1932 a number of countries, including the UK, USA and Germany, responded to the high level of male unemployment by introducing legislation to remove married women from the workforce or deter them from entering it. The view was that married women brought a second wage into the household and thus denied others their fair share. In Australia such policies of exclusion had been introduced during the economic downturn in the 1890s and were re-introduced in the 1930s. In 1932 the Married Women (Teachers and Lecturers) Dismissal Act was passed in NSW and 220 married female teachers were dismissed. The legislation was repealed in 1947 and similar legislation in Victoria was repealed in 1956.
  • A publication written by the Australian trade union organiser, feminist, writer and equal pay advocate Muriel Heagney is shown in the clip. She was a founding member of the Labor Party in Victoria and represented the Melbourne Trades Hall Council in the first British Commonwealth Labour Conference in London in 1925, but her main ambition was to establish equal pay for women. In 1937 she helped found the New South Wales Council of Action for Equal Pay and for the rest of her life continued her work on behalf of women and the Labor Party. The National Wage Case decision to grant women and men an equal minimum wage occurred a week before she died in 1974.
  • Women who were employed under the piecework system, whereby payment is based on the number of 'pieces’ produced rather than the hours worked, are depicted in this clip. Piecework is the oldest form of performance-related pay and has been employed in a variety of factory and sweatshop settings. Advocates of the system say the hardest working and most talented workers are rewarded for their efforts and that it provides incentives to produce at a high rate. Opponents claim that it is an unnecessarily competitive system that overworks workers, offers insufficient remuneration and encourages inferior quality production.
  • Growing tension between professionalism on the one hand and radical feminist politics on the other characterised the period and the team that made For Love or Money. The tension led to splinters in the various women’s and feminist collectives of the day. The filmmaking team of For Love or Money embodied some of these differences. The fact that the film, book and study guide were completed and successful, both in terms of wide distribution and returns to the AFC, was a testament to the team’s ability to resolve differences and to manage film industry, trade union and community investors.
  • For Love or Money draws from a wide variety of archival sources, including home movies, newsreels, documentaries, diaries, popular songs and interviews. These are unified by a voice-over narration by actor Noni Hazelhurst. It also draws from more than 200 films made in Australia between 1906 and 1983 and has original music by Elizabeth Drake. The film won many awards including the United Nations Media Peace Prize of 1985.
  • For Love or Money, produced in 1983, is an Australian archival compilation documentary. Other examples of this style of documentary from around the same time are The Song of the Shirt (UK, 1979), about women working in the clothing industry in 19th-century Britain and The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (USA, 1980), about women replacing men in US factories in the Second World War.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Flashback Films
A film by:
Megan McMurchy, Margot Nash, Margot Oliver, Jeni Thornley
Music by:
Elizabeth Drake

This clip starts approximately 49 minutes into the documentary.

Footage of 19th century women working in factories and on farms is accompanied by narration and voiceovers of fictional male and female characters.

Narrator Ironically, it’s the industries that rely on cheap female labour that survived the Depression best. It’s an employer’s market. Wages are held down by forcing workers to compete against each other. Under the piece-work system, women have to work at enormous speed to make up a full wage. The threat of sacking hangs over those who can’t keep up the pace. 
Man 1 (voiceover) Fitting is done by girls, whose nimble fingers are much better adapted to such work than those of the clumsier male. Constant practice gives them amazing speed. Needless to say, the girls work on a piecework basis and the cannery champion – here she is – draws a weekly wage which would turn most of us with envy. 
Man 2 (voiceover) What a crazy society it is today, with nearly 100,000 men out of work and nearly 200,000 women at work in factories. Those women are doing two enormously harmful things. They are displacing men, in whose sphere they have intruded, and they are not producing in the field where they were created to produce; that is, they are not making homes and bearing the children our nation so desperately needs. 
Male announcer October 1932. On a day to be named, married women, teachers and lecturers will cease to hold office and no further appointments will me made. Wives of teachers in charge of fifth and sixth-class schools may, however, continue to teach needlework or domestic arts. 
Woman 1 The disparaging attacks on women workers are most unfair. That they are cheap labour is not the fault of the women, who have repeatedly stressed their claim for equal pay. Turning out women workers will not cure unemployment. It will only shift the burden. The money earned by a woman is as necessary to her and her family as the money earned by a man is necessary for him.

A scene from the feature Caddie plays.
Caddie Oh, I’ve learnt all the tricks of the trade. Look after the boss’s interest. He pays the wages. Be the popular barmaid. Brings in more money. Be nice to the drunks and the smart alecks – you get a bigger tip that way. I know barmaids have a bad name. ‘She’s only a bloody barmaid.’
Man You are not like that! You are different. 
Caddie I’m not different at all. You’re just like all the others. Look, most barmaids are decent, hardworking women and there are plenty like me who are slaving to support their kids? But do we get paid a parent’s wage? Officially, women aren’t supposed to be supporting anyone. Well, I’m determined that my children won’t go hungry.