Gender and Sexuality

With marriage equality becoming the norm in Western countries (though, signally, not in Australia), it may be tempting to forget how recent and rapid and seemingly decisive changes in the legal treatment of, and social attitudes towards, homosexuality have been. The death of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in late August 2015 marked the passing of the last living public fi ...

It is almost twenty-five years since Garry Wotherspoon's City of the Plain (1991) was published. In his ground-breaking history of Sydney's gay subculture, he stated that the 'history of life for lesbians in Sydney ... is more properly part of women's history'. Rebecca Jennings seeks to redress that gap in Unnamed Desires. She offers a nuanced unde ...

The Sex Myth announces some lofty aspirations in its title, which invokes game-changing feminist interventions like Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) and Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth (1991). Saturated as we are now by sex talk of all kinds, it is hard to imagine a critique of sex/gender mores having anything like the same impact. Nonethe ...

When Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was published in 1970, it created a sensation. Within six months, it had almost sold out its second print run and had been translated into eight languages. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, the influence of which critics see in Greer’s book, had come out in France in 1949. The Feminine Mystique, b ...

John Burbidge’s The Boatman was first published last year in India, by Yoda Press. Its moving afterword describes Burbidge’s return to India last year for the book launch and his attendance at an LGBT pride march there. Burbidge was struck by how strongly the cause of sexual rights had been embraced by other elements of Indian society who also face discri ...

In a review of several books on motherhood (LRB, 14 June 2014), Jacqueline Rose – feminist, writer on psychoanalysis, English professor, ‘public intellectual’ – interprets Adrienne Rich’s belief that to give birth is to testify to the possibilities of humanity, as a variation on Hannah Arendt’s formulation, in an essay on totalitarianism, that ‘freedom is identical with the capacity to begin’. As bearers of new lives, women are thus the repositories of tremendous power, which is undermined by the patriarchy. Arendt’s collection of essays Men in Dark Times (1968) provided the framework for Rose’s exhilarating, disturbing, ‘scandalous’ (Rose calls for a ‘scandalous feminism’ in the preface) book, Women in Dark Times.

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Why is it that women with supportive partners are still thought of as lucky, as if they have won a lottery? In the winter of 2012, Annabel Crabb ran into Tanya Plibersek, who had raised three children over the course of a successful parliamentary career with the help of her husband, a senior state bureaucrat. When Crabb commented on how fortunate they were to have helpful spouses, Plibersek replied, with characteristic dry wit, that she sincerely hoped they would be the last generation who needed to feel lucky about that.

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Brooke Hemphill knows hers was not meant to be an ordinary existence, yet by her early twenties she is engaged and planning the perfect wedding – with the wrong guy. She breaks it off and moves in with a married man. He, too, is wrong for her. She works on an island resort and falls for another, but he takes off for Europe. She travels to the United States and works on a cruise ship. Life is a continual bender of booze and drugs, until she falls pregnant and returns to Melbourne.

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The title of Jeremy Fisher’s latest tome is deceptive. This reviewer expected a zany children’s book. Actually, How to Tell Your Father to Drop Dead is a subdued look at masculinity in Australian history. The text comprises autobiographical fragments and short stories. Fisher recalls growing up in a culture where homosexuality was ‘invisible’. He describes the heady days of the Gay Liberation movement in the 1970s. The author remembers his relationship with his father. The older man is described as an Errol Flynn lookalike who, at the age of sixteen, killed a boar and whose body was (decades later) cremated alongside that animal’s tusks. There is a piece on gay male sadomasochism in Sydney’s western suburbs.

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Stranger by the Lake is set entirely within the perimeters of a cruising ground for men by the shores of a lake in France. There unfolds a perfectly simple temporal conceit in which the cruiser, a handsome thirty-something everyman called Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), arrives each summer day, parks his car, and walks down to the pebbled beach by the lake’s edge. That this is a narrative of repetitions becomes clear the third or fourth time we see the sunny establishing shot of the makeshift carpark where Franck parks his Renault. His routine documents almost ethnographically what happens at the cruising ground: he walks down to the beach, greets some acquaintances, takes off his clothes, swims, sunbakes, waits, rummages around in the scrub for sex, then does it all again.

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