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It wasn't too long ago when jobs were once advertised by gender

A gender gander at the situations-vacant pages of the 1970s.

It has been illegal to advertise jobs by gender for many years, although perhaps not as many as you might think. Specifying male or female applicants for particular positions has been unlawful since the passage of the Human Rights Commission Act 1977. (More than 40 years later, it still happens on a de facto basis, of course, but that’s another matter entirely.)

In the first week of 1970, Hello Dolly and Easy Rider were on at the pictures; the inquest was being held into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island; a “political wonder boy” with the surname Trudeau was swept into office in Canada; and the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly was looking for a bloke to take pictures.

In the Auckland Star of 2 January, under “Situations Vacant Male” we find the housewives’ choice sought “a photographer experienced in both colour and black and white work. This is an excellent opportunity for a young man to join the staff of New Zealand’s leading family magazine… A good salary will be considerably increased by our profit-sharing bonus.”

Females were judged not just unfit for photography but too frail to ride around on bicycles putting newspapers in letter boxes every morning, hence this Auckland ad for “Delivery Boys – over the holiday period in Remuera and other areas. Top wages paid.”

Among the standard Delivery Boys and Office Girls (“advantage able to drive”), there were some unique positions available, such as this somewhat enigmatic listing under Household Help: “Unmarried expectant mother offered good home with young company, return mind two-year-old, no housework. Small wage. Ample free time.”

Other positions are no longer likely to exist for any gender, such as the opportunity to work as “Sock Menders – We require two women 30-45 years to commence work in the sock finishing department in February 1970. Training will be given to successful applicants if necessary…”

Here and there, one sees a window opening onto the future, which at this stage was still expected to be gender-specific. New Zealand Newspapers (publishers of the Auckland Star) needed a female: “Senior Punch Card Operator (Supervisor). We require an experienced keypunch and verifier machine operator with a mature and pleasant personality to set up New Zealand Newspapers Ltd punching installation. The equipment to be installed is the latest I.C.L. punches and verifiers. The person we want must be able to take responsibility for accurate and timely output from the punch room and be capable of training other girls.”

Would-be employers did not baulk at getting down to the nitty gritty of applicants’ personal lives. For instance, young men who wanted to have a crack at being a rep for one firm of engineer merchants had to meet the following criteria: “AGE: 25-35 years. STATUS: Married. EXPERIENCE: Knowledge of safety and allied products essential.” When it came to their “FUTURE”, they were advised portentously, “Promotion is over to the individual.”

Looks were seldom specified as a criterion for employment, although one “Shop Assistant” needed to be “A young lady of good appearance” if she hoped to work in the main depot of Velva Dry-cleaners.

A very few jobs were open to both genders. In fact, “Advertisements marked XX indicate applications will also be accepted from women.” It’s a matter of regret that this “XX job” was so short on details of what the actual duties involved would be:

“Young Men and Women Interested in a Rewarding Career: Psychiatry is a field that offers unlimited prospects, specialising in one of medicine’s most fascinating fields, and one in which astonishing advances have been made in recent years… AGE: Applicants, 17 years of age, are accepted if judged to be fit and suitable. Apply KINGSEAT HOSPITAL.”

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our fortnightly email for more great stories.