I, like the little old lady in Sandra Paterson's Weekend Herald column headlined "Feminist agenda reaches fruition", remember the outcry when the media concentrated on the presence of baby Oliver at the 1973 United Women's Convention in Auckland.

It was an outcry based around the fact that the male-dominated media was not taking seriously a conference that had attracted thousands of women from all over the country. Rather, the male photographer and reporter had assumed boredom on the part of the male baby, and their coverage reflected this.

Women wanted to be taken seriously. They wanted to be a part of society on an equal footing with men and, yet again, their needs were being trivialised in a very public way.

Perhaps if Paterson were a little older she would have experienced some of the many oppressions women felt, and she would not be so scathing of our combined efforts over many decades to try to overcome them.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a growing number of young women were realising there were more job choices than the usual secretarial, teaching or nursing training that young women were encouraged into while they waited to be married. We were getting fed up with being treated as an appendage to men, and we wanted to be treated as a person with equal rights.

When we set up in business on our own, we did not want to have the power, gas and telephone companies go to our husband or father for payment of the bills. If we attended university and we had young children, we wanted access to a safe childcare centre for the children while we were in class.

We objected to photographs of scantily-clad young women being used to sell anything from a vehicle to a lawnmower. We objected to advertisements showing only women doing the cooking and the housework in a home and looking after the children, the assumption being that the men in the family either did not or could not do these daily household chores.

We objected to having political decisions at all levels - local government and central government - being decided solely by men. There had been very few women representatives in Parliament until then, and fewer still elected to local government positions.

In earlier years, if a female teacher or nurse married, she was expected to give up her job immediately and to rely on her husband's wage for her keep. Equality of pay came later, in the 1980s, when it seemed unfair that a female nurse with three years' training earned much less than a male policeman with three months' training.

Paterson is (mildly) grateful for pay equality. That concept was introduced by Labour Party women MPs into legislation, and removed by the conservative politicians she suggests people should vote for instead.

We objected to the fact that if a woman's husband left the marriage and the children, she had no money available to support her family. We thought such a woman had earned the right to share in the family's home and income.

We objected to the fact that a solo mother was expected to give up her baby for adoption because she had no other choice. There was no domestic purposes benefit in those days, and few, if any, childcare centres where a mother could leave her baby so she could earn a wage to support them both.

We objected to the fact that if called out to an assault in the home by a man on a woman, the police downgraded this to a "domestic incident" and rarely took action to protect the woman. And we strongly objected when a woman was killed in such a "domestic incident" and the male offender got off with a mere slap on the wrist.

At the same time, we were not anti-family. Most of us married and had children. We joined the local play centre or kindergarten committee, and when the children started school we helped out with school lunches, sports days and camps.

We retrained for another "career" and, as the children got older, took our first steps back into the world of employment - juggling work, after-school activities, school holidays and sick children all the while - and we remained committed not only to our families but also to our feminist ideals first honed at those United Women's Conventions.

And because we were concerned about equality for women, we took that concept further and fought for equality of all people - taking part in massive protests against the 1981 Springbok tour and boycotting South African products in an effort to break down apartheid in that country, and objecting to armed invasion in countries such as Vietnam.

Instead of deriding the public actions and speeches of feminists throughout past decades, Paterson could give thanks she is now living in a society that takes for granted the rights of a woman to be equal to those of a man.

* Jenny Kirk is a former Labour MP and North Shore City councillor. She is responding to Sandra Paterson's view that an increasing number of people are uncomfortable with the way the 1970s feminist agenda has undermined traditional family values.