Hey! Ita! Leave them kids alone.

Is it so bad if someone needs a hug at work?

Ita Buttrose (image: Getty)

No one could read accounts of Ita Buttrose’s early days working in the male-dominated media industry without some level of respect. Starting as a copy girl at the Australian Women’s Weekly aged 15, Ita followed in the footsteps of her father Charles Buttrose (journalist and editor of The Daily Mirror) to become an Australian media icon. Only months after launching the Packer-owned Cleo magazine Ita fell pregnant with her second child yet persisted in working through her pregnancy and returning to work after the birth, at a time when women were expected to completely cede their careers once they began having children.

Whatever we think of her politics today, Ita does know what hard work and resilience look like. Or at least, she did.

In 1972, the year Cleo launched, the median annual full-time income in Sydney was $7133.80, and the median house price $27400; a year’s income was worth roughly a quarter of a free-standing home. Fast forward to 2019, the median annual full-time income in Sydney is $75000, and the median house price $973664; a year’s income is worth less than one twelfth of the cost of a free-standing home. This is a pattern that is repeated across the country, and for many (especially the younger generations) the dream of home-ownership is becoming ever more elusive.

Other significant factors contributing to the growing wealth inequality affecting younger generations include the increasing casualisation of the workforce and attacks on workplace rights, exorbitant increases in rental and utilities costs, and neoliberalist policies rendering tertiary education (which many of Ita’s generation accessed for free) inaccessible due to the demands of casual work and rising debt associated with obtaining a degree. Food costs more, petrol and transport cost more, and with thirteen people per advertised position competing in the Australian job market, the realisation of a liveable income and accessible education is beyond the reach of too many younger people. And woe betide the unemployed or underemployed individual who requires income support from the state; the government, the media and your next door neighbours will be baying for your blood.

I could reference my own experience as an example of the hard work and resilience Ita fails to recognise in any but her ilk (as someone who technically falls within the “millennial” category). I became a single mother just before Christmas in 2003, one year into my undergraduate degree. In 2007 I graduated with an Honours degree in Latin epic literature, having at times throughout worked three casual hospitality jobs to keep financially afloat whilst writing a thesis and raising a child. But my experience differs to so many in that I had the physical and often financial support of my parents, my ex-partner was present as a father to our child, and my university degrees “only” left me with debts in the tens of thousands. And whilst I am immensely proud of my achievements, I recognise that so many younger than I are struggling in an environment that is increasingly hostile to them as individuals and to their inherent needs.

Nevertheless, they persist.

These younger people whom us older folk love to disparage as fragile snowflakes with no commitment to hard graft (to the extent that it has become a national past-time) are persistent, and passionate, and are creating; art, poetry, photography, music, books and zines, revolutionary online content, and global protest movements that have the power to bring entire cities to a standstill. They’re questioning and challenging, pushing back against a society still firmly entrenched in the idea that the young should be seen and not heard. They’re fighting financial inequality, political inequality, climate inequality, social inequality, personal inequality, all whilst managing to educate, feed and house themselves in a world that views them as worthless. The members of the younger generation I know personally will work two jobs, do a full days study in a few hours, then that night support a soup kitchen for the houseless or distribute jackets and sleeping bags to rough sleepers. All whilst the Itas of this world are relaxing in the climate-controlled comfort of their Sydney-side mansions.

The issue is not that younger generations have no resilience, nor that they don’t understand the value of hard work. It’s that much of their resilience and labour is expended within spaces that aren’t dedicated to the creation of profits, or areas that directly challenge the capitalist politics that keep so many at a financial disadvantage. This is an affront to the capitalist class, and using their media power they seek to sway public opinion against a economically disempowered demographic.

The world Ita inhabits is very different to the vast majority of people living in Australia today, and the 70s were a long time ago. Perhaps it is time Ita learned what hard work and resilience actually look like today for those she is so disparaging of. And if at the end of the day, a person needs the occasional hug to get through their working life (providing there is consent and notwithstanding COVID-19) is that really the worst thing to imagine in a workplace? Or have we become so accustomed to negative workspaces that the thought of support is anathema to us?

collective liberationist, anti-speciesist theorist, and author living on mumirimina country, in lutruwita (“tasmania”).