The Construction of Feminity in 'The Australian Women's Weekly' of 1962, 1982 and 2009

Research Essay

Term Paper, 2009

17 Pages, Grade: 78% = deutsche 1-2


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Australian Women’s Weekly 1962
2.1 The Domestic Sphere
2.2 Beauty and the Body
2.3 Progression of the Self

3 The Australian Women’s Weekly 1982
3.1 The Domestic Sphere
3.2 Beauty and the Body
3.3 Progression of the Self

4 The Australian Women’s Weekly 2009
4.1 The Domestic Sphere
4.2 Beauty and the Body
4.3 Progression of the Self

5 Conclusion

6 Works Cited

1 Introduction

The first edition of the magazine The Australian Women’s Weekly was published in 1933 and continues its publications till today. Therefore the magazine offers a long history of being, also advertising, medium for ideas, opinions and reflections about feminity. The subject matter and advertisement the magazine addresses its readers with constitutes the fields of interest those women might be attracted towards. At the same time it excludes certain fields of female interest.

In this research essay I will examine how feminity is constructed in The Australian Women’s Weekly from three different time periods by having a closer look at the fields of ‘The Domestic Sphere’, ‘Beauty and the Body’, and ‘Progression of the Self’. I will have a look at the construction of the domestic sphere portrayed as being an inherent responsibility and centre of female existence. Are broader political and social topics addressed; and in what way? How is women’s position in society understood? Furthermore, I will ask how the depicted ideal feminity is linked to body looks and sexuality. In a third step I will examine the emphasis put on inspiration as being an integral part of feminity. What functions are served by the printing of celebrity life stories, the responses of ‘agony aunts’ and romantic fiction?

The investigation of editions from 1962, 1982 and 2009 will focus on whether and how ideologies of feminity have changed during the decades and if there can be detected certain recurring ideological fragments. Does the representation of maternity and Australianess evolve during the decades? In what way do these magazines adjust to changing reader’s needs? Which female ideologies are we facing today?

2 The Australian Women’s Weekly 1962

2.1 The Domestic Sphere

The edition seems to support the idea that “women’s magazines shift the emphasis into the ideology of the family, maternity and domesticity” (Ballaster et al. 144). The singer Lionel Long is pictured with a nameless woman, only titled “his Bride-to-be”, who looks up to him in an admirable manner. The female reader in her role as male serving mother, nurturer and consumer is addressed by a multitude of advertisements for grocery and domestic commodities offering a “quick way to serve your family” and giving “every meal man appeal” (WW 1962 14, 36). Women can ‘cook’ themselves into the heart of men and, what is more, women will even fall in love when given the newest cooking gear: ”Using [it] is the way to his heart…Giving it is the way to hers!” (WW 1962 64). The female reader is encouraged to buy a new sewing machine, new lamps, a better fridge, revolutionary furniture or floor coverings and learns about architecture and gardening (WW 1962 45, 73, 22, 24, 57, 40, 59).

However, the magazine contains material which presents women as being exploring travellers, active members of social life and financially independent. Four sisters travel around the world working as nurses in Australia, England and Pakistan (WW 1962 3). Women make their own living as miners, performing male tasks under rough conditions “with no male assistance” (WW 1962 8). Female readers are informed about recent art productions, public events such as The America’s Cup and encouraged to “[s]kipper your own [Cruiser] on a water wonderland holiday” which is “easier than driving a car” (WW 1962 4, 5, 54, 31). All these enjoyable ‘worldly’ topics avoid, however, social or political problems such as for example the participation of Australian soldiers in the Vietnam War in that year.

On the other hand, women are presented as being aware of the position and role that family and patriarchal society expects them to fulfil. An employed woman who only has male colleagues is naturally put in the position of cleaning up after a meeting. Although complaining about this “apparently nothing happens – except that the men help dry-up! (WW 1962 10). Two cartoons focus on the unappreciative position of women as attendants in her own family. The first shows a husband with his mate who sit down at a bountiful table in the middle of nowhere after a ‘male’ day out in the nature. All this effort looks grotesque but luxurious in its circumstance. He says to his wife:” Next time don’t insist on coming along!” (WW 1962 12) while at the same time getting ready to start on the food. Men will not in all circumstances appreciate the work that women confer upon themselves. The second cartoon pictures a woman showing her friend the kids’ room with the words:” They won’t pick up their things after them…And I won’t pick up their things after them. So what do you do?” (WW 1962 12). A certain rebellious element concerning her role related duties is conveyed.

2.2 Beauty and the Body

An advertisement for hairspray proclaims “a modern Cinderella’s hair style with regal elegance” (WW 1962 6). The term ‘Cinderella’ suggests that woman is on the one hand a “natural beauty” (WW 1962 6) who has a good heart and is a busy worker in the household but deserves so much better, that is ‘royal’ treatment and enhancement of her beauty as well as the perfect man. Beauty is seen as being “essential to feminity” (Ballaster et al. 122).

Furthermore, the female reader is encouraged to recapture the “feline” and “madly mysterious” look of Cleopatra and “shock […] the world” (WW 1962 20). Women are invited to take on this provocative beauty which consists of “silken” and “sultry” looks promising sensuality. Feminity is displayed as being aloof and unattainable but is simultaneously highly eroticised. On the other hand Cleopatra’s beauty is seen as originating from her “wit” and “charm” which brought her “[e]mpires at her feet”, whereas the former characteristic attracted the “love of great men” (WW 1962 20). The woman is presented as being very proud, independent from men, strong, and clever in her job but at the same time ‘preserves’ her erotic and warm feminity towards men. Female beauty is seen to encompass both female look and female business skills. The reader is wanted to aspire to this image starting with the look.

It is striking that by September 1962 the US movie production Cleopatra had already been shot (Siegmund) and was about to be shown in the cinemas. This reveals an adoption of and aspiration to female beauty ideals originating from Hollywood and its acting ‘dream factory’. Feminity is presented as being capable of and needed to take on roles that is, different identities. Furthermore, this advertisement embeds female beauty in a long ancient history of feminity lasting till today imposing on the reader a sense of ‘preserving the heritage’.

On the other hand, woman’s fashion and beauty is mediated to the reader in a sense of healthy, comfortable and romantic wellness with the focus on quality and easy maintenance. It is about “easy wear, easy care”; underwear products “let your body breathe” and give “wonderful freedom of action” while they “wash beautifully, dry in a twinkling and never need ironing” (WW 1962 16, 51). Palmolive soap “beautifies as it cleans” (WW 1962 55) and several instructions describe how to tailor your own fashion. Women are addressed as “smart women to whom comfort is vital” (WW 1962 63). This sort of body care and appearance performs a more inspirational commitment to natural, healthy and ‘simple’ female appearance.

However, women are confronted with men-serving beauty ideals like the improvement of once silhouette by using a “Romance girdle in perfect control […]” or beauty treatments that peel “inches off your waist, tummy, hips [and] thights” (WW 1962 12, 15). Furthermore, fashion and beauty idols from overseas are imposed on the reader as for example the “American-style collar”, “hairstyles from Paris”, the “Florida Shift” and “Jamaica Shorts” (WW 1962 55, 71, 60, 61).

2.3 Progression of the Self

The magazine provides a large forum for its readers to discuss topics and problems covering the private rather than the public arena (Ballaster et al. 120).

Besides problems like whether or not to adopt a child, how to prevent infantile scurvy (WW 1962 53), biting one’s nails, seeking advice for the perfect shower tea or having deep concerns about wearing a French role as one’s primary hair style (WW 1962 40), women comment on a whole range of problems with their husbands, one of them being the fact that men often do not pay much attention to their wives. Female readers see themselves to be responsible for a solution to this problem by adapting to the man’s behaviour and understand his ways of acting. “Follow your husband’s example; you’ll feel relaxed and speak only when necessary”. “[R]ead the same books as your husband, then surprise him with your knowledge of his reading matter. This will flatter his ego and supply you with conversation and companionship” (WW 1962 36).

The structures and hierarchies of social institutions as marriage and family are not questioned (Ballaster et al. 147) rather the idea is conveyed that women are naturally responsible for solving problems in order to maintain a positive social environment (Coward 139) and ensure “harmony” (Macdonald 62).

Inspiration and strength to accomplish this can be drawn from celebrity real life stories and romantic fiction. The story of the ex-Queen of Iran encourages all women to stay strong in times of divorce and childlessness because in the end there will be a new man and even children, even though not her own. The ideal life circumstance for women is proclaimed to include marriage and family.

The short story “The Theory of Women” written by a male author supports this notion in a far more subtle way. The heroine is a 25 year old, beautiful, smart, rich and independent university alumna who falls in love with a 30 year old politician who worships her. Due to bad experiences with men she challenges his thinking about himself as a man and her as a woman through her depriving behaviour till she believes to see that men are able of respecting and valuing women on an equal level. Although the heroin appears to be independent and turned away from social dictates her final traditional goal is romance and marriage. A male author “reinforce[s] traditionality” (Gadsden 56) and defines how women think as the title of the story assumes. Female independence and feminist claims are presented as a developmental phase in the process of relationship building between male and female. In the end, however, the woman needs the man.


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The Construction of Feminity in 'The Australian Women's Weekly' of 1962, 1982 and 2009
Research Essay
University of Queensland
AUST 6120 Nation & Culture
78% = deutsche 1-2
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
421 KB
Die University of Queensland ist bekannt für ihr hohes Arbeitsniveau. Ich wurde während meiner Studienzeit dort öfter darauf hingewiesen, dass meine deutsche Heimatuni für die in Australien erbrachte Leistung eine bessere Note gegeben hätte.
The Doemstic Sphere, Beauty and the Body, Progression of the Self, Australian Maternity, Australian Gender Roles
Quote paper
Annika Onken (Author), 2009, The Construction of Feminity in 'The Australian Women's Weekly' of 1962, 1982 and 2009, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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