For 30 years from 1966 to 1996, The Age published a section called Accent, which provided a forum for social issues affecting women. You may remember it?
In The Age’s 150th commemorative edition (1854 – 2004) journalist Jane Holroyd wrote a short story about Accent’s place in the history of the paper.
As the story says, Accent was a significant departure from the traditional women’s pages, which focused on society news, fashion reports, weddings, home management and child raising.
By the time I joined Accent as a reporter in 1987, under the editorship of Rosemary West, I was more likely to be writing about social issues affecting women rather than their social activities.
Equal pay, child care, abortion, health care, employment and income security, surrogacy, adoption, gay and lesbian issues, transgender issues and women’s contribution to music, art, literature, science and history were common topics.
Accent also provided a powerful voice for women from all walks of life, not just those who identified as feminists.
It also played a significant role in affecting social policy on several occasions. The campaign to retain the historic Queen Victoria Hospital towers, now the QV Centre, is one example.
Rosemary West did a valiant job in keeping Accent’s profile high, catering for its huge and loyal readership by inviting prominent feminists to speak at our anniversary lunches. American feminist, activist and journalist Gloria Steinem was the guest speaker at the 21st birthday lunch, which was also commemorated by a series of stories looking back on its history.
The photo below of an Accent International Women’s Day luncheon in Melbourne was typical of the Accent lunches where readers were entertained by a line-up of local or international speakers.
The book, 21 years of Accent, the changing role of women, edited by Helen Kon, was produced for the occasion.
Accent’s 30th birthday was commemorated by a reflective piece by Sonia Harford, who ended her story with the words “Feminism itself has become an immensely popular talking point, with the words of Wolf, Garner, and Paglia revitalising women’s liberation perhaps for the next 30 years.”
Possibly, but not in Accent. Questions were always raised about its relevance, and by 1996, The Age management argued that as women’s issues were now more generally covered in the paper, Accent was redundant.
These days, it is ironic that this section of the paper, which gave a voice to those who might otherwise have been forgotten, risks being forgotten itself.
While many Accent stories were once available on The Age archive if you searched for specific topics, users must now pay for this service.
Helen Kon’s book commemorating Accent’s history is also no longer available, unless from sellers of rare books, and a search on the internet for The Age +Accent provides nothing.
Since the death of Accent, “women’s issues” have indeed become more mainstream and more women are employed in the media as reporters and managers and presenters.
However, as this study shows, they are under-represented in reporting politics and sport, and over represented in the traditionally “female” sections, such as celebrity, lifestyle, health and retail, and the gender pay gap is more than 20 per cent.
And while issues affecting women are reported generally throughout the paper, they are not always examined from a feminist perspective. As a result, many of the issues and people whom Accent championed are now left to niche publications or are simply ignored.
Accent, and all the women who wrote for it, deserve better, which is why I would like to hear from former readers and contributors who may like to contribute to a further history.
If you have any anecdotes, memories, pictures or stories that you would like to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Caption: From left, artist the late Mirka Mora, another woman I sadly can’t identify, ABC radio presenter Ramona Koval, writer Helen Garner, Accent reporter Jane Cafarella and journalist Wendy Harmer.