‘Those women hidden from history’ : Feminism and the impact it has had upon the historical representations and experience of women in late 20th century Australia.

In this powerful national myth-making, the blood women shed in actually giving birth- their deaths, their courage and endurance, their babies-were rendered invisible.” 

Grimshaw et.al., Creating a Nation, pp.7-9

Women of twenty-first century Australia  have come along way from the days when prime minister; career woman and opportunist would never have been an option to even consider. The development of the historical representations and experience of women in late twentieth century has brought to light women’s history of the past in Australia. The reason why women rose from the ranks, previously shaded by patriotism is the uprising of feminism.  One must question if feminism did not exist , ‘Would women have a history?’ or ‘What would women in history look like?’


To understand how women rose from the bottom ranks of history, one must understand the theory behind their actions. Feminism is a set of ideas; a social and political movement which aims to emancipate women from patriarchy. The diverse nature of feminism has meant that there have been a number of different strands of feminism, also known as ‘schools of thought.’ The three main strands are; Liberal, Marxist and Socialist feminism. Each strand represents a different ideological path feminism can uphold. The theory behind feminism is crucial to understand the actions and motives of feminist revolutionaries, as nothing is done without reason.


“Feminism is not a late twentieth century development; it has deep roots which reach back into a time well before Australia’s federation.” 

L.Lwin, Feminism is so 70’s, were all Post-feminists now, pp. 1-76

Historian Marilyn Lake, in Getting Equal. The History of Australian Feminism (1999), claimed that Australian feminism has four historical periods; pre-suffrage feminism (1870’s- 1901) ; maternal feminism (1901- early 1930’s) ; equality feminism (1930’s 1970) and liberation feminism (from 1970). Each period indicates the presence of feminist thought, although it was Liberation feminism from 1970 that sought the resurgence of women within the public domain.

Women’s Liberation Movement, 1975

Julia Gillard- First woman to become Australian Prime Minister (2010)

Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested several times (1903)










Autobiography has long been recognised as an important feminist genre for expanding and realigning the historical and the literary record. The 1970’s saw a strong resurgence of feminist thought, in which women sought to lesson the effects of political, legal, economic, sexual and social oppression. Reflections of the experience of women during the Women’s Liberation Movement in Australia, 1975 has allowed women to tell what has not been told before.

Zelda D’ Aprano, was the first Australian women’s movement autobiography and major work of feminist cultural remembrance. Her autobiography titled, The Becoming of a Woman, (1977), explores the suppression women experienced within the workplace because of her class, gender and left wing beliefs. Zelda’s story brought to the stage for the first time, the realities of women’s experience.









The recollections of the time suggest that feminism, has provided an opportunity to explore the history of women without the subjugation of patriarchy. For the first time in Australian history the voices of the ordinary woman were being heard and their outbursts of past oppression were presented to the public.


Australia and other western nations witnessed the 1970’s, to be the beginning of a vast array of social and political change. Women’s lives, roles and status had began to transform. This was largely due to the growth of feminism and its proliferation into popular thought and debate. Feminism also gained popularity amongst the masses, concerned with a variety of different issues including; sexual freedom, workplace rights and education. 

Feminism, was not praised by all women, yet majority even if they chose to acknowledge the inequality or ignore it, they understood that it had been there and it was not going to disappear. One must ask… ‘If feminism did not exist would women have achieved….’;

  • The Sex Discrimination Act, 1984
  • Improvement of education
  • Political representation
  • Shift of gender roles

Feminism was the birth of a modern world, one of new beginnings for women. 


The role of women within Australian women has drastically changed throughout history. The shift from domestic housewife and child bearer to career woman and opportunist  is an indication of  just how far women have come over the years. Throughout its history it has been feminism that has proved itself to be capable of achieving great social, political and economic change. The late twentieth century saw the beliefs and oppression’s held by many women over the year to finally reach a public domain and to be heard. Feminism has influenced women’s history as they are no longer absent, not shut down by the pressures of their male counterparts.

Further Readings:

  • Ann Summers, Ducks on the Pond: Keeping a Distance, 1999 (Victoria: Penguin)
  • L.Lwin, Feminism is so 70’s, were all Post-feminists now’(Ph. D. thesis, Murdoch University, 2011) pp. 1-76
  • Marilyn Lake, ‘Getting Equal. The History of Australian Feminism’ (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1999). pp.xi-3
  • Zelda D’Aprano, Zelda: the becoming of a woman (Melbourne: Visa, 1978) pp. 1-21

2 comments on “‘Those women hidden from history’ : Feminism and the impact it has had upon the historical representations and experience of women in late 20th century Australia.

  1. georgibrady says:

    I really love feminist history, so your paper was a really interesting read for me.I had never really looked into Australian feminist history though, so it was really interesting to compare it to what I do know, which is mostly American feminist history. I suppose I had never really questioned whether or not women would have a history if the feminist movement had not persevered in the way that it did. One thing I particularly love about the feminist movement is that once it is acknowledged, it tends to spread very quickly throughout the western world. This leads me to wonder though, do you personally think in this day and age, that we are in need of feminism in Australia? If so, do you think the feminist views that were raised during the 1970s liberation feminism are valid today, or are we in need of another set of views/ ideas?
    I love the way your paper is written. The headings and bullet points make it flow much better, and the pictures are relevant and really interesting.

  2. brebailey92 says:

    This paper was exceptionally interesting, I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the role of autobiography and the changing representaitons of women in Australia over time. As a law student, I’ve always been fascinated with the role of legislative developments in empowering the position of women in society. I’m glad that you have used this blog post to highlight that feminism is an important area of scholarship which allows people to consider the ramifications of masculinity and how sexism and gender bias can often lead to subjugation.

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