The Australian Legend and Feminism

The Australian Legend and Feminism

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The Australian Legend And Feminism
Until recent years it has been believed that there are two sexes, being male and female, and with these there are two genders, with these being masculinity and feminity. It may also be argued that sex is biology determined where as gender is socially and culturally constructed as studies of societies, both present and past, have shown that there is no relationship between social roles and biological sex (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner, 2000). With the introduction of post modernist feminist theories we have begun to question whether or not there are only two genders and how to classify transgender (Flax, 1990).

It can be argued that masculinity has socially and culturally been constructed as dominant within the public world. In western countries, such as Australia, it is upon men that “autonomy, control over the world and mastery of others” (Porter, 1998, p. 27) has been placed. Parsons (Porter, 1998) suggested five alternative sets of positioned values which are structured as being either expressive or instrumental. Parsons (Porter, 1998) was of the belief that men embodied the instrumental values of affective neutrality (capable of unemotional and impersonal interaction), self-orientation (primary pursuit of own interests), universalism (making objective evaluations when interacting with others), achievement (ability to achieve set goals and related status) and specificity (interacting or working within a specific role). Parsons theorized that these five instrumental values were associated with western ‘advanced’ societies (Porter, 1998).

In Australia, women and children are seen to be subservient to the male superiority. Parsons (Porter, 1998) believed that women embodied the expressive values of affectivity (highly emotional), collective orientation (putting others interests before your own), particularism (responding differently towards different people), ascription (having status ascribed regardless of intrinsic qualities), and diffuseness (role covers a wide range of interests and is non-specific). To Parsons these roles were seen to belong to primitive society and in modern times were to be associated with women and private life (Porter, 1998).

These roles have been reinforced through popular media, for example by the bible which is the worlds’ best selling and most distributed book (Guinness World Records). Within the bible the word "man" may be found 5,335 times in 4,536 verses whilst “woman” may be found 379 times in 347 verses (Christ Unlimited Ministries, n.d.). Passages of the bible may also reinforce the notion of male superiority for example in Genesis 1:26-28 (Christ Unlimited Ministries, n.d.) which tells of god creating Adam in his own image and then creating for Adam a helper, Eve, whom God calls Woman as she is created from the rib of man.

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Another example is Proverbs (White, n.d. b),

“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil… She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life…”

The book continues of what the woman will do for her husband, her family, and all those around her but does not tell of what her husband will do for her.

The Australian books How To Succeed In A Man’s World and Woman’s World, both of which were published in Australia, are another two examples of media that have reinforced feminine and masculine stereotypes. How To Succeed In A Man’s World, published approximately in the early to mid 1900s, was written for men “to supply [the reader] with a window on to the world, to broaden [their] horizons and increase [their] opportunities (White, n.d. a). The series, of four volumes, contains forty lessons on understanding the business and social worlds. The courses include management, leadership, marketing, management, political science, law, etiquette, home decoration and handyman, women and motor cars.

In contrast to this book is the book titled “Woman’s World”, published approximately in the early to mid-1900s, is designed to be a ‘bible’ for the “woman who cares and is as vital to her as feminity” (White, n.d. b). The book has nine courses that cover beauty, fashion, poise and personality, cooking, how to ‘catch’ your man, love and marriage, the home, the family, and interests and hobbies. The book contains limited information on career choices or employment itself although it does acknowledge that a woman ‘may’ work.


With the rise of feminism in Australia during the late 19th century, male dominance has come under attack. In 1902 Australian women secured the right to vote in Federal elections under the Commonwealth Franchise Act (Banham, 2002; Summers, 1994). At this time Australia laid claim to be the first country in the world to allow women to vote, this claim showed the benevolence of men whilst at the same time misled the truth. Although it is true that Australian women were one of the first in the world to be enfranchised the privilege was only for white women and did not extent to indigenous women unless they were unless entitled under section 41 of the Constitution (Banham, 2002; Summers, 1994). Additionally, the right to vote in Federal election was not inclusive of the right to vote in state elections which was slowly obtained state by state over a period of eight years (Summers, 1994).

Feminism can be classified as a particularistic anti-bureaucratic movement as it promotes the rights of a particular category of people, but does so by appealing to widely-shared values of justice and equality (Bessant & Watts, 2002; Burgmann, 1993). In contrast, Pakulski (1991, p. 196) classifies feminism as “a distinctive sub-movement within the broad eco-pax spectrum”. This is because the feminist movement converges with the eco-pax movement in a variety of ways (Bessant & Watts, 2002; Burgmann, 1993). This conjunction has resulted in the emergence of a number of hybrid organisations known as eco-feminist bodies. Pakulski (1991) argues that the feminist movement in Australia is constituted of two distinct streams. Pakulski (1991) refers to the first stream as being the women’s rights groups which focus on particular issues, and the second stream as being a more radical liberation stream that outwardly reject conventional political participation.

Feminism is often recorded as occurring in waves or peaks but this is not to discredit the movement, or to suggest that there was no action taken or forward movement in the years between the ‘waves’(Bessant & Watts, 2002; Burgmann, 1993). ‘First-wave’ feminism which emerged in Australia during the mid- to late-nineteenth century was mainly focused on the question of suffrage but was also concerned with extending the liberal democracy of men to woman (Bessant & Watts, 2002; Summers, 1994). Their first aim was to improve women’s status in the private (domestic) sphere and the second aim was to promote limited forms of participation by women in the public sphere such as encouraging women into the volunteer and paid employment that could be regarded as an extension of their caring and nurturing roles in the private sphere (Bessant & Watts, 2002; Burgmann, 1993; Summers, 1994).

The ‘second-wave’ of feminism, also referred to as the women’s liberation movement, was one of the mass social movements emerging from the late 1960s and early 1970s (Bessant & Watts, 2002). In Australia this movement sought to breakdown the rigidity of social and cultural imposed roles and to discredit the negative assumptions these roles imply. The ‘second wave’ feminists were also of the belief that the equality and suffrage sought by ‘first wave’ feminists was not adequately addressed.

It is still under debate as to whether we, as Australians, have entered the third wave of feminism or if we are still seeing the beginnings of this new wave. In the 1990s the feminist movement made a comeback in the popularity stakes as many women felt that although Australia has come relatively far since colonization, women are still being denied full access to the public domain (Seibert & Roslaniec 1998). An invisible barrier, which has become known as the ‘glass ceiling’ (Seibert & Roslaniec 1998), is seemingly preventing women “from advancing beyond a certain point on the professional or political ladder”.

There are many critiques of the feminist movement that are to be heard and I will discuss a number of these. The first critique of the feminist movement is, that it was meant for the betterment of all women but in Australia the meaning of ‘all’ women apparently meant all white women. The oppression of indigenous women by white women is addressed by Huggins and Blake (1992). They discuss how this form of oppression has been shown since colonisation and how it still exists in today’s society with white women still refusing to acknowledge the experience and needs of Indigenous women through feminist agendas.

I feel that the experiences of Aboriginal women have been neglected, and at times even further discounted, through feminist discourses and also through the anti-racist and anti-colonialism. Anti-colonial discourses began after the Second World War, around the 1950s, and with it came growing politics of racial equality, but this equality did not extend to protecting indigenous rights or autonomy (Mclean, 1998).

In the last few decades there has been a growing lash back against the feminist movement and the main opposition is the men’s movement. Under the microscopic conditions of the feminist movement significant changes have being made but currently there is still upheaval in four main areas: the legitimacy of men’s monopoly of political and institution power, the gendered organisation of paid work, and images of masculinity and male identity. Many men have flourished in an environment of shifting gender relations but others have found it hard to forge a new identity that is a merge of the sensitive new age man and the deeply embedded ‘Australian Man’.

The ‘true’ Australian male has often been the subject of popular media; he is often used to sell products, to promote sports and to promote Australia. Russel Ward’s classic ‘The Australian Legend’ gives a vivid description of our national hero. Ward (1974) writes that the ‘typical Australian’ is a

“…practical man, rough and ready in his manners…He is a great improviser, ever willing to have ago, but willing to be content with a task that is ‘near enough done’…he normally feels no impulse to work hard without good cause. He swears hard and consistently, gambles heavily and often, and drinks deeply on occasion.”

This is the description of the ‘typical Aussie’, the Australian legend, but that is all he is, a legend. This mythic man is representative of Australia’s cultural codes, he is both “western and specifically Australian” (Schaffer). He is anglo-saxon (or more modernly, Australian-born), he is heterosexual, he is a bushman and he is the embodiment of mateship. He could never be female, homosexual or of ethnic background as our cultural code and language would not allow such a deviation from the norm (Schaffer). The ‘Australian legend’ also embodies all that social movements such as feminism, anti-racism and a number of others have been fighting against.

Mariam Dixon in her 1975 study, The Real Matilda, is an historical study of the exclusion of women in Australia (Schaffer, 1998). Dixon (cited in Schaffer, 1998) writes of the “profound cultural contempt for women” and concludes that the only acceptable domain for Australian women is “that of the family – one from which men are curiously absent”. This is echoed by Anne Summers, Damned Whores and God’s Police, in which she concludes that the “whole idea of an Australian woman…is a national joke (Schaffer, 1998; Summers, 1994). Men are now also feeling the pressure of wanting to be akin to the Australian legend whilst maintaining equilibrium in gender relations.

The dramatic changes over the past three decades is having a profound effect, and under acknowledge affect on the nations young men. Many of whom are feeling overwhelmed and a sense of rage, alienation, disaffection and disconnection from our society; all of which are being manifested in a range of antisocial behaviors (Foyster, 1999). With the changes that have been made combined with the technological advances of the twenty first century men feel they are contributing less and less to society and the economy, with the loss of employment, men feel they are at risk of losing their status, recognition and dignity (Foyster, 1999).

In today’s Australian social platform, gender issues are a delicate form of political activity. We are at risk of having two opposing sides, the feminist movement and the men’s rights (inclusive the of father’s rights wing) movement, and at risk of entrenching gender privilege of the ‘winning’ side. Cross gender partnerships and alliances are crucial to the movement forwards of gender relations and gender justice. To build equality, men and women need to unite together to work in ways that are progressive and respectful. An alliance of both the men’s and women’s movements may mean that the ‘Australian legend’ needs to realigned and remodeled to fit into a unified Australia.


















References

Banham, C. 2002, Equal Oppurtunity. Retrieved: October 29, 2003, from http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/06/10/1022982820112.html

Bessant, J. & Watts, R. 2002, Sociology Australia, 2nd Ed, Allen & Unwin, Crowsnest.

Burgmann, V. 1993, Power And Protest: movements for change in Australian society, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, St Lenards.

Christ Unlimited Ministries. 2003, Bible.com. Retrieved: October 28, 2003, from http://www.bibleontheweb.com/Bible.asp

Foyster, E. 1999, Manhood in Early Modern England, Longman, London.

Guinness World Records. n.d., Guinness World Records. Retrieved: October 28, 2003, from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/

Huggins J & Blake, T. 1992, ' Protection or Persecution? Gender relations in the Era of racial segregation’, in K. Saunders & R. Evans (eds), Gender Relations In Australia – Domination and negotiation, Harcourt Brace Jovanich Group (Australia) Pty Ltd, NSW, pp.42-58.

Mclean, I. ‘Aboriginalism: White Aborigines and Australian Nationalism’, Australian Humanities Review, May 1998. Retrieved: August 13, 2003, from http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/archive/Issue-May-1998/mclean.html

Pakulski, J. 1991, Social Movements: the politics of moral protest, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Schaffer, K. 1998, Women And The Bush: forces of desire in the Australian cultural tradition, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Seibert, A. & Roslaniec, D. 1998, ‘Women, power and the public sphere’ in Women & Power. Retrieved October 31, 2003, from http://www.abc.net.au/ola/citizen/women/women-power.htm

Summers, A. 1994, Damned Whores and God’s Police, Penguin Books, Victoria.

White, M. n.d. a, How To Succeed In A Man’s World, M. A. White & Staff Pty Ltd, Melbourne.


White, M. n.d. b, Woman’s World, M. A. White & Staff Pty Ltd, Melbourne.









































Bibliography

A Centenary of Suffrage, (n.d.). Retrieved: October 26, 2003, from http://www.osw.dpmc.gov.au/osw_cos/timeline.htm

Banham, C. 2002, Equal Oppurtunity. Retrieved: October 29, 2003, from http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/06/10/1022982820112.html

Bessant, J. & Watts, R. 2002, Sociology Australia, 2nd Ed, Allen & Unwin, Crowsnest.

Burgmann, V. 1993, Power And Protest: movements for change in Australian society, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, St Lenards.

Christ Unlimited Ministries. 2003, Bible.com. Retrieved: October 28, 2003, from http://www.bibleontheweb.com/Bible.asp

Foyster, E. 1999, Manhood in Early Modern England, Longman, London.

Guinness World Records. n.d., Guinness World Records. Retrieved: October 28, 2003, from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/

Hancock, K. (Ed), 1989, Australian Society, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Huggins J & Blake, T. 1992, ' Protection or Persecution? Gender relations in the Era of racial segregation’, in K. Saunders & R. Evans (eds), Gender Relations In Australia – Domination and negotiation, Harcourt Brace Jovanich Group (Australia) Pty Ltd, NSW, pp.42-58.

Kimmel, M. & Messner, M. 1989, Men’s Lives, Allyn & Pacon, USA.

Mclean, I. ‘Aboriginalism: White Aborigines and Australian Nationalism’, Australian Humanities Review, May 1998. Retrieved: August 13, 2003, from http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/archive/Issue-May-1998/mclean.html

Pakulski, J. 1991, Social Movements: the politics of moral protest, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Schaffer, K. 1998, Women And The Bush: forces of desire in the Australian cultural tradition, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Seibert, A. & Roslaniec, D. 1998, ‘Women, power and the public sphere’ in Women & Power. Retrieved October 31, 2003, from http://www.abc.net.au/ola/citizen/women/women-power.htm

Summers, A. 1994, Damned Whores and God’s Police, Penguin Books, Victoria.

White, M. n.d. a, How To Succeed In A Man’s World, M. A. White & Staff Pty Ltd, Melbourne.


White, M. n.d. b, Woman’s World, M. A. White & Staff Pty Ltd, Melbourne.
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