‘Prime Ministers: Gender and Power in Australian Political History, 1902–1975‘ (PhD in History, 2019).
This thesis offers an historical examination of the relationship between gender, political authority and prime ministers in Australia from Federation to 1975. By analysing contestations of political legitimacy through embodied styles of manhood and the languages of gender, I aim to expand our understanding of national leadership and the changing or enduring connotations of political masculinities and femininities. Situating male leaders within historical debates about gender relations, class, race, citizenship and women’s political mobilisations allows us to recognise male political experience as historically constituted. Applying feminist analysis, gender theory and masculinities studies, this thesis explores how gender has marked the boundaries of the political in both political culture and history writing.
Four central research questions run throughout the thesis: How have Australian prime ministers’ experiences and identifications as men shaped their sense of self, leadership, and relationships with others? What does paying attention to gender change about our understanding of national political processes, gender politics and the exercise of leadership? What political roles have prime ministers’ wives played and how have women’s attempts to enter parliament challenged or reinscribed gender relations in political institutions? How has the permeability of the public/private divide been used by men in Australian politics? To answer these questions, I employ gender as an historical category of analysis to examine the social and institutional mechanisms, discourses, and historical operations of power that have underpinned male domination of Australian federal politics. The study begins in 1902 when Australia became one of the first countries in the world to grant white women the right to vote and stand for federal elections, a potentially transformative moment for Australian gender relations. It finishes in 1975 after another moment of challenge with the end of the modernising Labor government. Broadly chronological and biographical in structure, the thesis is comprised of case studies of six key prime ministers who held office over this period: Alfred Deakin, William Hughes, Joseph Lyons, John Curtin, Robert Menzies, and Gough Whitlam. Through the use of primary sources and existing political historiography, the case studies reveal how manhood has been used as a cipher in shaping and remembering Australia’s political past.
This thesis argues that politicians have performed their gender identities as part of contesting political legitimacy, making manhood a key tool for men’s negotiation of political relationships. Furthermore, the prime ministership both rested on and entrenched the sexual division of labour in Australian politics. From the mid-nineteenth century, white men drew on an increasing range of styles and discourses of political manhood to claim political authority. Such flexibility, within established bounds, upheld a naturalised link between men and power. Tracing the contested move from Victorian ideals of manliness to modern styles of political masculinities in Australian history reveals the uneven shift in gendered meanings and languages of political manhood and political femininity.
Supervisors: Dr Mary Tomsic and Assoc. Prof. Kat Ellinghaus.