Jessie Matheson

Jessie Matheson (PhD in History), ‘Countryminded Conforming Femininity: A Cultural History of Rural Womanhood in Australia, 1920–1997′

This thesis explores the cultural and political history of Australian rural women between 1920 and 1997. Using a diverse range of archival collections this research finds that for rural women cultural constructions of idealised rural womanhood had real impacts on their lived experiences and political fortunes. By tracing shifting constructions of this ideal, this thesis explores a history of Australian rural womanhood, and in turn, centres rural women in Australian political and cultural history. For rural women, an expectation that they should embody the cultural ideals of rural Australia — hardiness, diligence, conservatism and unpretentiousness — was mediated through contemporary ideas of what constituted conforming femininity.

This thesis describes this dynamic as countryminded conforming femininity. In this respect, this research is taking a feminist approach to political historian Don Aitkin’s characterisation of the Country Party as driven by an ideology of countrymindedness. This thesis uses countryminded conforming femininity as a lens through which cultural constructions of rural womanhood may be critically interrogated, and changes in these constructions may be traced. This thesis represents the first consideration of Australian rural womanhood as a category across time that is both culturally constructed and central to Australian political and cultural life, drawing together histories of rural women’s experience, representations and activism. It theorises what ideals of Australian rural womanhood have meant across the twentieth century and finds that they have had an under-considered role in Australian political life, and on constructions of Australian national identity.

Supervisors: Professor Joy Damousi, Dr Mary Tomsic