Male and female relationships in Australian fiction 1917-1956

Butler, Nancy (1990) Male and female relationships in Australian fiction 1917-1956. Research Master thesis, Victoria University of Technology.


My purpose in this study is to examine a number of Australian novels which portray love relationships between men and women, and to suggest some reasons for the quality of these relationships as fictionally depicted. Traditionally, Australian culture has been male dominated, therefore, central to the culture are stereotypes of the masculine and the feminine. Sexism in Australia and the gender stereotypes which legitimize it have been recognised generally both by historians and sociologists. Miriam Dixson and Anne Summers have presented strong analyses of the effects of sexism in Australian society, both past and present; even a nonfeminist historian such as Manning Clark notes not only male dominance, but the development of social humiliations to which men subject women. Manning Clark traces a possible connection between this male dominance and the disproportionate number of male to female convicts. Dixson argues that the male convicts demeaned their female ounterparts unconsciously as a means of compensating for their own lowly positions. This, she argues, resulted in the majority of women in early generations of white settlement internalizing a negative self-image as the defining trait of a sense of self, in contrast to the potential positive 'real' self which her humanist psychological orientation assumes. She attributes the main problem to the men who settled in Australia as convicts, rejects, and negative and resentful administrators. Likewise, Summers has posed a socialist-feminist analysis to identify the means of women's oppression in a patriarchal society. She also argues that the problem lies with male power and female colonization. But both writers recognise that women accept their inferior status within patriarchy unconsciously, and conform to patriarchal stereotypes of female sexuality. Kay Schaffer has restated this case, though from the viewpoint of more recent developments of social theory which reject the assumption of a 'real' self. Nevertheless, these and others recognize that sexism has existed in Australian culture since white settlement. This sexism is shown in the depiction of love relationships in Australian fiction. However, I shall make a distinction between writing that depicts sexism critically as an element of Australian society/culture and writing that is informed by sexism in its depiction of love relationships. However, this is not a firm and definitive way of distinguishing between works, because they may contain elements of both factors.

Additional Information

Master of Arts

Item type Thesis (Research Master thesis)
Subjects Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Communication and the Arts
Historical > FOR Classification > 2005 Literary Studies
Historical > FOR Classification > 2099 Other Language, Communication and Culture
Keywords gender stereotypes, literature, male-female relationships, Australian fiction, 20th century, history, criticism
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