Friday, November 6, 2009

On the home front

Or more accurately: A feminist view of attitudes towards and the treatment of Australian women in WWII by Kate Darian-Smith. Sigh. I struggled. I really did. And I have to say that I resent you Ms Kate Darian-Smith. This book is in its second edition and there are some really inexcusable editing gaffes (words and sentences repeated; reference to 'Map 5' when there are no maps in the book; the need to define the term 'fifth columnist' while other more obscure historical events and phrases go unexplained). More annoying however is her blatant feminist stance: this grates the way any politically biased view of history does. It purports to be a review of life in Melbourne between 1939-1945 and it really does no such thing. Darian-Smith actually seems a little bored in some of the chapters until she hits the chapter on sexuality and morality and then she really goes to town. It could have been interesting. In the introduction she aims to re-examine warlife in Melbourne and see how it difference from the accepted cultural memory of the era. In some ways she does this - using statistics to challenge contemporary and current views of society during the war. It sounded interesting. But I've never read a less evocative war book. She claims to have interviewed heaps of people as part of her research but I'm damned if I can see any evidence of it. Maybe in a sea of wartime reminiscences it's good have some hard facts. I just get the feeling she kind of muffed it. Much of the writing is extremely clumsy and the presentation of ideas and conclusions not always logical. According to Darian-Smith every woman in Melbourne seems to have been a feminist despite the fact that middle-class women held some of the most oppressive views of the time. And the section on masculinity (two pages) insists that it be considered in relation to femininity; while in the section on feminity (half the book) the converse isn't considered at all. I'm sure once the trauma of slogging through the book has faded I'll find some of the facts interesting. The role of women at this time and prevailing attitudes towards them is a fascinating topic. I just wish someone else had written this book. (And that they'd put pictures in it!)

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