No place for a white woman? An exploration of the interplay of gender, race and class on power relations experienced by white western women in cross-cultural settings

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communications and Arts


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Susan Ash

Second Advisor

Dr Lekkie Hopkins


‘What happens when the discourses we inhabit contrast strongly with or are in direct conflict with the discourses which swirl around us?’ asks feminist activist and academic Lekkie Hopkins (2009, pp. 75-76). More particularly, how does a life writer interact with the discourses that swirl around her? The advice given in guides on memoir and autobiographical writing creates an illusion that life writers not only have the freedom to write what they like but that, somehow, they have a moral duty to do so. Life writers can ‘challenge our society’s enormous untruthfulness,’ writes David Parker (cited in Helen, 2006, p. 326). Other authors urge life writers to stand by the courage of their convictions and question the status quo to arrive at new answers and a truth that is different from that ‘embedded ideology masquarading as common knowledge’ (Forche & Gerard cited in Helen, 2006, p. 321). Lynne Bloom warns that ‘no matter what their subjects think …nonfiction writers defending the integrity of their work should not…expose their material either to censorship or to consensus’(cited in Helen, 2006, p. 344). However, in contrast to these carefree injunctions to memoirists to be truth-seekers, Drusilla Modjeska acknowledges the difficulties implicit in life writing and warns in her fictionalised biography, Poppy, that ‘there is conformity and dependence in our freedom.’ She refers to a ‘an intellectual freedom [that is] institutionally hobbled, or fashion bound’ (1990, p. 5). The ongoing tension between an espoused freedom of speech and moral duty as a writer to write fearlessly and honestly to create a ‘truth’ that seeks new answers and the intellectual hobbling caused by embedded and fashion bound discourses is the underlying theme of this essay. Despite an initial determination to follow the advice of these life-writing experts, I have found that in producing a fictionalized memoir in Australia today, exposure to a certain degree of intellectual hobbling is an inevitable part of the process and that challenging the status quo embedded in powerful discourses can be a perilous business. The pressure to conform to the consensus, resulting in a significant amount of external and internal censorship, has been difficult to resist.

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