Academic journal article Outskirts

The Man Question: Men and Women's Liberation in 1970s Australia

Academic journal article Outskirts

The Man Question: Men and Women's Liberation in 1970s Australia

Article excerpt

This article explores 'the Man Question' in Australian feminism during the 1970s and attempts to complicate the popular notion that men are 'outsiders' to its history (Henderson 2008). I will provide empirical evidence of some Australian men positively engaging with feminist ideas and strategies, highlighting the debt that these men - and the movements they formed a part of - owe to feminism. This presents a contrast to the literature that emerged from the 1980s in Australia, including articles in men's magazines, interview-collections and self-help books, in which Australian men reflected on their negative experiences and impressions of feminism since the 1970s, producing what Margaret Henderson has identified as 'masculinity in crisis discourse' (2008, 30). Such discourse did not allow consideration of how the advent of the women's liberation movement in Australia encouraged some men to turn 'the feminist lens upon themselves' (Murphy 2004, 7). This was a challenge that some embraced, some resisted and others were uncertain about (Pease 1997). Sometimes, cognisant of debates among women about the appropriate constituency of feminism, these men chose to define themselves as 'pro-feminist', 'effeminist' or 'anti-sexist', as opposed to 'feminist'.1 The debts they owed to feminist praxis (including feminist theories that positioned men or maleness as the problem), and the seriousness with which some interrogated feminist politics, are nonetheless clear (as well as bold and surprising). Without making grand or generalised claims about these men, I seek to incorporate my case studies into a broader history of men positively aligning themselves with women's movements and/ or discourses of feminism. The specific men addressed here were primarily tertiary educated and white and typically the intimate friends, lovers and/or political allies of women involved in women's liberation and they do not represent the entire cohort of men that may have aligned themselves with feminist politics throughout Australia during the 1970s. My focus on men as historical agents of contemporary Australian feminism allows me to explore, as Australian feminist scholars Grosz (1990) and Murdolo (1996) have done before me, 'possibilities of multiplying rather than limiting the diversity of feminist identities through the practice of historical narration' (Murdolo 1996, 73).

This article will do four things, starting with an articulation of the Man Question in the existing historical archive of Australian feminism: both in women's liberation and more generally. Secondly, I will consider the specific historical context that enabled men to align themselves with women's liberation during the 1970s, and the actual spaces open to men within the movement. These spaces, it will be shown, were auxiliary at best, experimental and often highly contentious. Thirdly, I will consider the shiftwithin feminism as new spaces were created by the men themselves, in particular through borrowing consciousness-raising (CR) techniques and reading popular feminist literature of the period. Finally, I will engage with a topic that remains largely unexplored in histories of Australian feminism: connections and collaborations between the women's liberation and gay liberation movements, namely how some gay men reconstructed their male identities based on radical feminist critiques. This section situates the 1970s as a pivotal period in the history of the women's and gay movements' engagement with Australian feminism, providing examples of gay men supporting and identifying as feminists, and actively contributing to new expressions of masculinities (Seidler 1992) in late-twentieth century Australia.

Material that documents men's involvement in 1970s Australian feminism is scattered, piecemeal and idiosyncratic, initially drawn from the personal memoirs and political newsletters of women's liberation activists. My archive is therefore necessarily grafted from that of Australian women's liberation which has been subjected to more extensive academic inquiry, particularly the Sydney context (Wills 2007). …

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