Academic journal article Hecate

Drunken, Selfish 'Boors?' Images of Masculinity in the Dawn

Academic journal article Hecate

Drunken, Selfish 'Boors?' Images of Masculinity in the Dawn

Article excerpt

Drunken, Selfish `Boors?' Images of Masculinity in The Dawn

The Dawn was published in Sydney from May 1888 until June 1905. It was the longest running women's journal of its time. As such, it has received a great deal of attention from historians, particularly feminist historians, seeking to understand the nature of `first-wave' feminism. Analysis has focused on views presented by The Dawn about the changing role of women, and the construction of their femininity. While valid, such a focus fails to acknowledge the complexity of the journal's discourses of gender; in particular, the way in which masculinity as well as femininity is constructed through its language, its advice to readers, its short stories and poetry. By placing gender firmly at the centre of a feminist analysis, I will argue that writers for The Dawn presented a distinct view of `manhood' to their readers in an attempt to gain positions of power for women not just in the public sphere, but also within the sanctity of the domestic realm. In doing so, these writers were advocating a significant shift in the power relations that operated between men and women in the home.

The placing of gender at the centre of an analysis of The Dawn is an acknowledgment that the notions of `masculine' and `feminine' are not fixed, but vary across time and place.(1) Constructions of masculinity -- what it means to be a man at particular moments in history -- occur across a range of sites, not merely the political, and are shaped by various social and representational practices. `Gender,' as Joan Scott has contended, `is a primary way of signifying relationships of power.'(2) This paper will demonstrate that the experience of `manhood' was given particular meaning by the language used in The Dawn, and that this meaning emerged from the journal's political motivations.

The Dawn sought to provide women with a voice, reassure them of their worth, and unite them in the common cause of emancipation. On the journal's first anniversary in 1889, Louisa Lawson, editor and founder, described The Dawn as: `the pioneer paper of its kind in Australia, being edited, printed and published by women in the interests of women'; she also asserted that: `Though timorous at the outset, we [women] gained confidence as we journeyed.'(3) Historians have maintained that the politics of The Dawn were situated within the context of what has been described as `first wave' feminism,(4) in which early feminists fought for equal rights for women by capitalising on language which eulogised women as morally superior beings, and within a political paradigm which accepted the notion of separate spheres of influence for men and women.(5)

Louisa Lawson was committed to the cause of women's suffrage and equal rights for women.(6) The journal was to be `a mouthpiece-phonograph to wind out audibly the whispers, pleadings and demands of sisterhood.'(7) However, like most other feminists of the period, she did not challenge the idea of separate spheres for the sexes. Lawson's first editorial indicated that her impetus for establishing the journal was to create a space for women apart from men.(8) Her support of women's right to work was based on an assumption that the private sphere would remain the central focus of a woman's life, and that marriage was the destined (and preferable) career for most women.(9)

Early feminist struggles for equal rights and the publication of The Dawn came at a time when both masculine and feminine roles were undergoing a process of renegotiation. Marilyn Lake has argued that a `masculinist' culture, articulated in terms of the national ethos, emerged in Australian society during the late nineteenth century.(10) She has identified this period as showing not merely a clash between bourgeois social reformers (including feminists) and self-styled bohemians, but also a battle between the sexes for `control of the national culture.'(11) The social phenomenon of the 1880s, whereby cramped urban dwellers caught in the midst of rapid industrialisation looked to the Australian bush and the life of the pioneer bushman for inspiration, has been articulated by Richard White. …

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