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Gender and Sexuality

No icon better encapsulates the ethos of male culture than the pub. Sharing a beer in this bastion of male conviviality has been a defining experience in shaping Australian male identity. The pub as a cultural and social institution has attracted the attention of many historians, but none have considered the ubiquitous and yet mysteriously anonymous figure of the barmaid. Although represented in fiction and film, and up until recently, a part of the very fabric of pub culture, the barmaid remains an elusive figure in Australian history.

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Much of the evidence and source material used in Depraved and Disorderly, particularly in Part One, will be familiar to the scholar of female convict history. But Joy Damousi provides some additional material which is both original and evocative. For example, her discussion of lesbianism and tattooing as both challenging to contemporary concerns about sexuality and social order, and as another means by which these women could express their own identities, provides evidence of the diversity of characters among convict women, as well as broadening our understanding of colonial society. More importantly, however, Damousi adds a further theoretical dimension to the already complex and contradictory historiography which surrounds the female convict.

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The serious academic study of war has grown considerably in Australia in the last ten to fifteen years, bringing with it an often welcome diversification in focus and a willingness to subject old issues to fresh scrutiny. One sign of the increasing acceptance of war as a subject of serious study in the universities is the increasing number of university historians and other who, with little knowledge of or interest in the mechanics of war, nonetheless extend their work to include consideration of war and the military as these affect their particular areas of interest.

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Transitions: New Australian feminisms edited by Barbara Caine and Rosemary Pringle

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May 1995, no. 170

In the last eighteen months three Australian feminist collections have appeared, each apparently addressed in its different way to the women’s studies market. Each title, or subtitle, is anxious to proclaim itself of the moment: Australian Women: Contemporary feminist thought (OUP); Contemporary Australian Feminism (Longman Cheshire); and now, only prevented by the limits of the print medium from flashing its red light, Transitions: New Australian feminisms from Allen & Unwin. To cultural analysts that extra ‘s’ will speak volumes.

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We are the stories we tell. We need our stories: they make us feel real. Stories give to our personal experience the particular shapes and cohesiveness we call ‘self’. When we enter into new friendships, when we fall in love, we tell our stories. The closer we draw to people, the more of our stories we are willing to risk. ‘Risk’ is always a factor. If we fall out with our closest friends, if love turns to enmity, the stories which are us may be stolen from our telling, and reshaped with malicious intent, putting at peril our cohesiveness, pressing us into despair, pushing towards the fragmentation of self we call madness. The stories which make us strong, self-confident, keep us vulnerable as well. Stories are easy to steal.

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For over twenty years Bob Connell has been a leading figure in the development of an Australian sociology, and his move from Macquarie University to the University of California several years ago was a significant loss to Australian academic life. I wish I could write Australian public life, but our press, which is fond of academics with far less to say than Bob Connell, has largely ignored his work. Nonetheless Connell’s work in class, sexuality, gender, and education is arguably the most distinguished body of social theory written in this country, and deserves far greater acknowledgment.

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Running hot on the national Austlit Discussion Group email waves recently was the question of speaking position and voice for men in contemporary critical discourse. What had occasioned the discussion was ASAL’s annual conference in Canberra, part of which had been a very successful morning at the Australian War Memorial focussing on writing and war (e.g. Alan Gould and Don Charlwood).

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In the advertising world there’s a new and controversial trend towards catering for the X-Generation; that is, consumers with a two-second attention span, and we’re not just talking about teenagers on rollerblades.

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Pink Ink edited by Michael Hurley & Distractions by Benedict Ciantar

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September 1992, no. 144

In Australia there is a paucity of serious lesbian critical comment regarding lesbian and gay writing. In Island last year, Dennis Altman suggested that there is little of interest being written while there is a ‘peculiar squeamishness amongst literary critics to critically comment about Patrick White or any other gay and lesbian writer’.

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In The Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970, the feminist Shulamith Firestone argued that the inequality between the sexes results from the different reproductive functions performed by women and men. In having to go through pregnancy, childbirth, and breast-feeding, women are dependent on men for support. The natural reproductive functions performed by females are not only enslaving women, they are also barbaric in themselves. ‘Pregnancy is barbaric’, Firestone argued, and women should be freed from the ‘tyranny of reproduction by every means possible’. Just as contraception had already been a liberating force for women, so would other new reproductive technologies. Firestone envisaged that ectogenesis – the growth and development of a foetus outside the womb – would be the answer for women, as long as ‘improper control’ was not exercised by men.

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