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GENDER RELATIONS IN SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL AND THE CHOSEN VESSEL Australia became an official nation at a time when feminism was just taking off. As federation was finding it's feet in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries so was the idea of feminism and female rights. Hence, some Australian literature from this period has dealt with the idea and challenged the Australian Legend of the 'blokey-bloke.' Of course, the middle of the twentieth century was possibly the biggest time for feminism. During the 1950's, feminism was not just an idea but an entire movement. Literature from this time presents it's challenge to the Australian Legend also. In this essay, two stories from each of these periods will be compared in terms of gender relations - Barbara Baynton's short story The Chosen Vessel from the 1896 and Ray Lawler's play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll which debuted in 1955. The reason these two texts have been selected is because they both challenge the traditional role of females, both in a very different way, and also because the authors are a woman and a man, respectively. Perhaps the most interesting point discovered when analysing these texts is that the piece written by a man is more effective in presenting a feminist's view. Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is the story of a couple of Melbourne barmaids who spend the last few months of the year with their Summer boyfriends in the year of 1953. ...read more.


Roo: Olive... Olive: You can't get out of it like that - I won't let you..." (Lawler, 92) Although Olive experiences fear just as Baynton's woman does, she takes things into her own hands and controls her own fate by refusing Roo's proposal. From a feminist's perspective, the events in The Doll are much more satisfactory in proving a point. Where Baynton's character is merely there to show there is an inequality, Lawler's character reforms it and shows a woman holding her own - fighting back for her cause. Another good example of how Lawler manages to prove the feminist point better is found when analysing the idea of sexual inequalities. Baynton's woman is sexually inferior. Her husband is hardly ever home, but she has a child. It can therefore be seen that her husband's only use for her is as a sexual object - he leaves her with the child and goes off to work again: "..the end of the week that would bring her and baby the companionship of its father, was so far off. He was a shearer, and had gone to his shed before daylight that morning. Fifteen miles as the crow flies separated them." (Baynton, 291) On the other hand, Lawler's Olive has a mutual sexual relationship with Roo. Neither one is being exploited, and at the end when it becomes apparent that they both want different things out of the relationship, it ends. ...read more.


Roo is emasculated right from the beginning by other men. The women have nothing to do with the disintegration of his masculinity. It is interesting to find that the story written by a man, that was not really intended to be a feminist piece, is more successful as a feminist text than a story written by a woman in direct protest of the inequalities women are faced with when posed against men. Granted, one should take into account that Barbara Baynton's story was written in the 1890's - a time when a candidly feminist piece would probably have not been appreciated let alone published, and Ray Lawler's play was written at a time when the women's rights movement was really taking off. However, the former was intended as a protest against the horrible treatment of women at the time and the latter was not, and yet the latter is vastly more interesting in it's approach to the subject and is therefore successful as a feminist piece. The way Baynton developed her characters was less than beneficial for her argument. Sure, it shows that women were treated awfully at the time but she, like the woman in her story, presents no solution to the problem. Ray Lawler manages to hit the nail on the head, so to speak, by challenging the stereotypical gender roles and does so in a way that makes for a more enjoyable story that also provides more food for thought than perhaps Baynton's does. ...read more.

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