27 September 2023

Don’t Be Too Polite, Girls

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Wendy McCarthy, Allen & Unwin, $34.99.

Educator, activist and a revolutionary agent of change, Wendy McCarthy is one of Australia’s most influential women. She has lived – with purpose and passion – an extraordinary life that has been full of rich and diverse experiences.

Don’t Be Too Polite, Girls is a personal, political memoir about life, love, family, a career and politics over the course of eight decades. This is a powerful way of sharing stories.

It is also a narrative of how her generation of women changed Australia.

Wendy’s first experience as a political lobbyist was around 1968 when she joined the Childbirth Education Association, campaigning for, amongst other issues, the rights of fathers to be present at the births of their children. In fact, you do find Wendy McCarthy among the believers and protestors at many a significant reform of policy affecting Australian women.

Wendy has championed change across the public, private and community sectors – in education, family planning, human rights, public health, overseas aid and development, conservation, heritage, media and the arts. From sheltered country schoolgirl to relentless campaigner for abortion and contraception, from passionate teacher to lifelong advocate for education, to smashing that glass ceiling again and again, Wendy has successfully shown the way to subsequent generations of women on how to live life admirably.
In the prologue, she recounts listening to the debate on the Abortion Bill in 2019 and remembers it as being “a long, hard slog – fifty years, in fact.” However, she “… could now relax, secure in the new reality that no woman or her doctor will go to jail and be treated as criminals for this particular medical procedure.” This rings true, especially when “we feel cynical or disbelieve that planned change never happens.”

This motivating and illuminating memoir includes cautionary tales and insider stories about being female in Australia – as well as a few helpful survival tips.

The book’s title is taken from a song by Glen Tomasetti – in the 1970s: “Don’t be too polite, girls. Show a little fight.”

Don’t Be Too Polite, Girls is a call to action – particularly for girls and women –because “we fought to have our voices heard and imagined a different Australia.”

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