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Gender Studies

At the first Australian Conference on Transsexualism, convened in 1979, a Dr Michael Ross declared that Australia had the highest incidence of transsexualism in the world. Whatever proportion the good doctor was observing, it must be immeasurably higher today; and yet until now there has been no formal history of gender-diverse Australians. 

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A lot can change in a few years. In March 2020, on the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic, I wrote a review essay for ABR about the proliferation of trans and gender diverse (TGD) life writing. Back then, the most notable examples came from overseas, and – with the exception of established names like ABC’s Eddie Ayres (now Ed Le Broq), author of the 2017 memoir Danger Music – major Australian publishers had yet to take a chance on local trans voices.

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A History of Masculinity begins with the observation that we live in a global patriarchy that restricts the rights and freedoms of women, and that remedying this situation is a matter of urgent concern. To that end, ‘we need egalitarian men who care more about respect than power’. Ivan Jablonka acknowledges the accusation that men who are active in the feminist movement simply amplify sexist dynamics by ‘speaking in women’s place, as usual’, only to dismiss it summarily. He believes that a book such as his is vital because the feminist cause is ‘a fight that men have shunned’ until now. He hopes to correct his own failings and encourage other men to be ‘good guys’ in the battle for gender justice.

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Julia Gillard’s magnificent tirade against Tony Abbott in parliament last year has given Anne Summers her title for The Misogyny Factor, a polemic on the landscape of sexism and disadvantage in Australia based on two of her own recent speeches. Hillary Clinton’s distinction between progress (the signs of how far we have come) and success (enduring changes in attitudes and structures) provides another important point of reference. A strong believer in affirmative action, Summers documents startling statistics about persisting discrepancies between the sexes in income, representation in positions of power, and recognition and rewards.

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Less revolutionary than Women’s Liberation, the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) has been challenging the Australian system from the inside for more than thirty years. Social scientist Marian Sawer details WEL’s foundation, achievements and legacy, while situating it within the global women’s movement. A profusion of facts, figures, photographs and quotations are available for those interested in digging up the roots of feminist history. On the other hand, those seeking vibrant depictions of Australia’s second-wave feminist pioneers and their achievements will come away disappointed. To be fair, WEL’s collectivist and pragmatic nature is not amenable to a focus on charismatic leaders or radical action; however, Sawer’s chosen format has jumbled together information, with little standing out from the throng. ... (read more)

The history of fifteenth-century Florence is indissolubly linked to the Medici, the political bosses and patrons of the arts who presided over the city-state’s Renaissance. The names of Cosimo, Lorenzo and Giovanni, known to God and the world as Pope Leo X, immediately come to the fore in any discussion of Renaissance Italy. Rarely heard are the names of their female kin: Contessa de’ Bardi, wife of Cosimo the Elder and republican matron; Lucrezia Tornabuoni, mother of Lorenzo il Magnifico, and vernacular poet; Lorenzo’s daughters; Lucrezia Medici Salviati and Contessa Medici Ridolfi; his daughter-in-law, the despised Alfonsina Orsini Medici; or of his granddaughter, Maria Salviati Medici, who worked so assiduously to secure the future of her son, Cosimo, Grand Duke of Florence.

In The Medici Women, Natalie Tomas seeks to explore the political and cultural influence of these Florentine matriarchs who, by birth or marriage, were at the centre of the Medici clan. She investigates why and how certain Medici women were able to utilise power and influence contemporary perceptions and representations of their authority.

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A founding figure in the Sociology Department at Flinders and now Professor at Macquarie, Bob Connell is almost certainly the most significant figure in sociology in Australia. If sociology has traditionally been a poor relation in our older universities to both politics and anthropology, its current claims to influence owe a considerable amount to the directions in which Connell has pushed it.

For Connell, sociology has always been a discipline that can contribute directly to the political project of establishing a more humane and equitable society, and his concerns have been largely around the major dimensions of inequality along lines of class and gender (racial and national divisions have been far less of a preoccupation, although he acknowledges their significance). His work has been heavily anchored in the Australian experience, though with a larger theoretical interest; in a submission to the C.R.A.S.T.E Committee he argued for encouraging original theoretical work in Australia rather than merely Australianising the empirical content of scholarship.

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‘The Man of Slow Feeling’ is the title story of a selection of Michael Wilding’s short stories published between 1972 and 1985.

These stories vary widely in setting, content, character, tone, but Wilding’s voice is consistent. By ‘voice’ I mean that if I was given an unidentified story in an envelope I’d be able to tell if it was Wilding’s before I was halfway through. It would be a plain, sealed, brown-paper envelope, of course.

The voice I hear is that of the writer as condemned observer. It records experience, it records itself in the midst of experience, it records itself recording. The title story is apt: the man of slow feeling is broken in the attempt to record and experience at the same time. The voice telling the stories is so distinctive that very soon I gave up trying to keep writer and writing separate in my mind. Whether they are first person narratives or not, the stories are intensely personal. They always seem to reveal what the writer chooses to expose of himself.

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