Reading: White masculinity in contemporary Australia

Andrea Waling’s recent book White masculinity in contemporary Australia: the good ol’ Aussie bloke explores the historic development and contemporary understanding of hegemonic ideals of Australian masculinity. There is an experience in my own PhD (so far) of finding a book or a journal article right when you need it – and Waling’s book came about at just the right time for me.

When exploring queer identity within a culture, masculinity is going to come up. And in Australia the domination of white ideals of masculinity is ever-present. Waling discusses the history of Australian masculinity as it was formed to differentiate (white) Australian men from their colonial motherland, right through to contemporary masculinity and the tension between historic and modern ideals. Masculinity, as with gender, is performative and ideals are rooted on propagandist approaches to influence the masses.

The experience and performance of masculinity for gay cisgender men in regional Victoria was the focus of my master’s writing. I wrote a young adult novella to explore the tension I felt between performative masculinity and my queer identity as a teenager growing up in small-town regional Victoria. The piece was rooted in auto-ethnography and utilised themes from Banjo Paterson’s poem With the cattle throughout as the influence of masculine expectation that men in regional Australia still feel. Of course, I realise now that my understanding of masculinity, gender and culture were in their infancy. My understanding of the concepts and theories that underpin my research has grown significantly and will grow further over the coming years.

Where I stand right now is that I see Australian culture as organised around hegemonic masculine ideals. The dominant influences of masculinity are still evident in Australian television, and not just in how straight men are portrayed. Just as straight women are seen in the role and relationship to men, queer people juxtapose and heighten historic masculine ideals. Not to say that representation isn’t changing – Australian television representation is lightyears from where it was even ten years ago. However, the influence of the dominant ideology is still evident – and perhaps that’s because we all live within the culture and reflect it in our work. I guess I’ll find out.