Date of Award

1998

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Geoffrey Bolton

Second Advisor

Dr Maryon Allbrook

Abstract

It is said that when the Sphinx was carved into the bedrock of Egypt it had the head as well as the body of Sekhmet lioness Goddess who presided over the rise and fall of the Nile, and that only much later was the head recarved to resemble a male pharaoh. Simon Schama considered the 'making over' of Mount Rushmore to resemble America's Founding Fathers constituted 'the ultimate colonisation of nature by culture … a distinctly masculine obsession (expressing) physicality, materiality and empirical externality,… a rhetoric of humanity's uncontested possession of nature. It would be comforting to think that, although Uluru has become the focus of nationalist myths in Australia, to date it has not been incised to represent Australia's 'Great Men' - comforting that is, if it were not for the recognition that if Australia had had the resources available to America in the 1920s a transmogrified Captain Cook and a flinty Governor Phillip may have been eyeballing the red heart of Australia for the greater part of a century. My dissertation traces the conscious and unconscious construction of gender in Australian society in the nineteenth century as it was constructed through the apprehension of things which were associated with 'nature' -plants, animals, landscape, 'the bush', Aborigines, women. The most important metaphor in this construction was that of women as flowers; a metaphor which, in seeking to sacralise 'beauty' in women and nature, increasingly externalised women and the female principle and divorced them from their rootedness in the earth - the 'earth' of 'nature', and the 'earth' of men's and women's deeper physical and psychological needs. This had the consequence of a return of the repressed in the form of negative constructions of women, 'femininity'" and the land which surfaced in Australia, as it did in most other parts of the Western World, late in the nineteenth century. What I attempt to show in this dissertation is that a negative construction of women and the female principle was inextricably implicated in the accelerating development of a capitalist consumer society which fetishised the surface appearance of easily reproducible images of denatured objects. In the nineteenth century society denatured women along with much else as it turned from the worship of God and ‘nature' to the specularisation of endlessly proliferating images emptied of meaning; of spirituality. An increasing fascination with the appearance of things served to camouflage patriarchal assumptions which lopsidedly associated women with a 'flowerlike' femininity of passive receptivity (or a ‘mad' lasciviousness) and men with a 'masculinity' of aggressive achievement - and awarded social power and prestige to the latter. The psychological explanation which underlies this thesis and unites its disparate elements is that of Julia Kristeva who believed that in the nineteenth century fear of loss of the Christian 'saving' mother - the Mother of God - led to an intensification of emotional investment among men and women in the pre-oedipal all-powerful 'phallic' mother who is thought to stand between the individual and 'the void of nothingness'.

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