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Australian rural romance as feminist romance?

O’Mahony, L. (2014) Australian rural romance as feminist romance? Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 3 (3). pp. 285-298.

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A short story originally published in 1900 by writer and poet Henry Lawson captured the perceived incompatibility of women and life in remote Australia with its refrain that the bush ‘was no place for a woman!’. The suggestion in Lawson’s story is that the bush could easily prove fatal to women and for men it could undo them, mentally and spiritually. Now at the start of the new millennium, many barriers to women living and working in rural Australia have been challenged or removed altogether. Yet, recent sociological research, such as that undertaken by Margaret Alston, argues that gender inequality is an ongoing problem in rural communities. For example, one persistent stereotype is that men undertake the meaningful work in rural life while women watch from the sidelines, simply ‘help’, or see their contribution downplayed or downright ignored. This article explores how a new breed of bestselling novels, variously dubbed ‘chook lit’ or ‘contemporary Australian rural romance’, use a romantic structure to represent gender inequality in a rural setting. The article draws examples from Jillaroo (Rachael Treasure, 2002), The Bark Cutters (Nicole Alexander, 2010) and North Star (Karly Lane, 2011) to show the varying approaches to the romance plot that construct gutsy heroines, depict important rural issues and leave readers with endings that, as in other romances, offer ‘a utopian projection which expresses a critical evaluation of the contemporary patriarchal order’ (Cranny-Francis 1990: 191). This article argues that contemporary Australian rural romances raise questions about the romance plot while critiquing aspects of gender inequality specific to the context. In turn, such novels may encourage and inspire female readers (if they so choose) to do more in rural life than sit on the fence watching the men.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Intellect
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