Masculinity versus Femininity

Yesterday we saw some illustrations of Australian Mateship which conveyed a strong sense of not only equality, friendship, solidarity but physical strength especially in terms of fighting an enemy: of man made origins or the environment. But how were the women perceived during these times especially from the outbreak of World War when Masculinity was the dominant force being portrayed?

The women were most likely to be displayed working in essential services to help win the war and keep the home folk feed and clothed and working the machines as shown in this poster titled Knitting for Soldiers.

(Credit: Digital Kingston)

Many women worked in the Land Army certainly in Australia and Britain and I imagine also in New Zealand though I don't know about Canada and America. But the women in the posters were portrayed as very feminine even though they were engaged in the hard labour previously done by men.

Look at this image of a women ploughing a field. I often wonder if the women of this time saw themselves as elegantly as they were being portrayed. I doubt it. Down here in Australia and New Zealand women had fought and won equal voting rights many, many years before WW1. They definitely weren't desiring to be pin up girls and definitely saw themselves as equal to men in all ways.

I went searching for painted images of nurses who served in the wars alongside the men. Almost without exception they were portrayed as beautiful, feminine, pristine in their white uniforms: symbolising the carer and protector of all those in need be they soldiers or orphaned children.

In the midst of wounded soldiers as shown below in Clinic in Pointers Station (1915) the nurses maintain their femininity, at least in the perception of the artist who would have been most likely male.

I want to take the opportunity to honour all the work done by nurses in war time and peace. There is no greater representative of their dedication and courage than that given by Maud Josephine Frey who ironically attended L'Avenir the school run by the Pignolet sisters in Melbourne.
(Credit: East Melbourne Historical Society)

Tragically Maud Josephine Frey was killed in action when working as a member of the Sea Transport Staff during WW1. The Sea Transport Staff were the personnel assigned to run the ships carrying reinforcements to the Middle East and Europe, and to transport the seriously wounded or ill soldiers back to Australia. Maud's name has been recorded on the Virtual War Memorial Australia an online site dedicated to writing the history of these courageous people.

I have just found an Irish conscription poster which portrays a far more realistic image of women.
(Credit: World Digital Library)

So how did the men of the time perceive women? We know the men in the armed forces adored the nurses for their care and compassion and appreciated their courage in the face of danger. But was the ordinary man in the street changing his perception of women as they joined occupations previously reserved for men? We know that after World War 1 and 11 many men were concerned that women were taking the jobs previously reserved for them. What did the members of the Bread and Cheese Club think?
What were The Cronies talking about in this painting by *Frank Watson Wood?


Back to Bread and Cheese

The person principally involved in founding and running the organisation was book collector J.K. Moir, the club’s Knight Grand Cheese (!) from its foundation until 1952. The society published about 40 books one of which, thanks to A, is alongside me as I type this blog. A has told me of visiting Mr Moir and remembering that his home was cluttered from top to bottom with books.

The book is titled Miles Franklin A Tribute and contains testaments from 12 people (10 men, 2 women) to one of Australia’s greatest female writers who went by the nom de plume of Miles Franklin and after whom the annual novelist prize is named in honour.
(Credit: Flickr)

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879 – 1954) volunteered for war work in the Ostrovo Unit of the Scottish Women's Hospitals during the Serbian campaigns of 1917–18. She served as a cook in a 200-bed tent hospital attached to the Serbian army near Lake Ostrovo in Macedonia Greece from July 1917 to February 1918.
(Credit: State Library of NSW)

And how did J.K. Moir perceive Miles Franklin as recorded in the forward to the book published on her death in 1954? I quote:

I have known of her, and knew members of her family, for over forty years, but it was not until she came to stay with me, on a visit to Melbourne in 1952, that I knew the "real" Miles. She was the feminine version of what old-fashioned Australians called "a white man". She did good by stealth, and possessed that rare attribute of mateship so seldom understood by the feminine gender. It is not surprising that this side of her nature led her to admire and become a disciple of Furphy and Lawson, and that she, like them, was "offensively Australian". (Miles Franklin A Tribute Published by the Bread & Cheese Club, Melbourne, 1955).

The Furphy and Lawson referred to be Moir are pioneering Australian writers Joseph Furphy (Such is Life) and Henry Lawson (numerous titles) who popularised the quintessential life of early Australian settlement through a bush ethos and a man's view of mateship. I am sure we are all somewhat offended by the use of the term a white man and Miles (she chose to use this as her first name not Stella), at the coal face of changing society's perception of woman, I imagine would have carefully, but forcefully edited it from Moir's tribute.

If you are interested in how women have been portrayed in war please follow this link to an excellent site.

If you have a particular in interest in nursing and images of how nurses have been portrayed throughout time visit this pinterest site.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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