Edie Wyatt has traced her maternal line back to Mary Mullender, a 22-year-old woman separated from her family in Essex in 1788 and shipped thousands of miles away to Australia for the crime of stealing some clothing. The real reason for such an extreme punishment was because the men who had set out to colonise Australia needed women in order to restore balance – to “civilize” and procreate. These women arrived alone, penniless and vulnerable. The only socially sanctioned role available to them was to become a wife or a nanny, while men laid claim to the land. If women didn’t accept these terms, they were branded “damned whores” and treated with contempt.
Two centuries later, Australian women have made some gains. They have put down roots and created family networks. They’re educated, with more economic security and legal protections. But now there is a new threat to women’s hard-won rights and stability – the rise of trans activism and gender ideology. Today, the role of the “civilized” woman has evolved into the “progressive” woman. The progressive woman is kind and accepts that males can access her space and her body if they have the correct “identity” characteristics. And only progressive women are permitted in the cultural sphere in Australia.
Women who raise concerns that gender ideology will have the effect of breaking down the sex-based rights and protections that women fought so hard for are branded “TERFs” and bigots and treated with contempt. But Australian women are in a stronger position today than their great, great grandmothers were, and many of them are saying no to this new cultural narrative that is being imposed on them.
– Laoise Uí Aodha de Brún
In August 1788 in a court in Essex, a 22-year-old woman named Mary Mullender was convicted of stealing some clothing, including a “dowlas shift”, a working-class woman’s kind of slip. Mary was sentenced to 7 years transportation and sailed to Australia with 245 other women on the Lady Juliana , the first “exclusively female convict transport to Australia ”. It was not really an exclusively female sailing; on board there were 50 male crew.
There were some tough characters on board, but John Nicol, the ship’s captain, observed that the majority of the women were “harmless unfortunate creatures, the victims of the basest seduction.” Fifty of the convicts were under 19. Because of the sexual activity on board, the ship was dubbed the “floating brothel”. Modern historians give the convict women “agency” in their exchange of sex for freedoms and provisions from the crew. In doing so, they ignore that the women were on the Lady Juliana by force of the Crown, and had in all likelihood fallen shy of the law because of crushing poverty. The number of women who were pregnant on arrival was reportedly the exact number of male crew. The youngest person to give birth onboard was a 14-year-old girl.
The women were flesh cargo, designed to “improve morals in the colony as well as bump up the population”. In other words, the women were trafficked for their sexual, reproductive and domestic labour and to police the behaviour of convict men. When the women arrived in Port Jackson, Lieutenant Ralph Clark was hoping for supplies and famously lamented that the ship was full of “damned whores”.
Mary was my 4 times great grandmother and did not get pregnant on the ship, nor did she until she married my 4 times great grandfather, who was a convict from the third fleet. Just over 100 years later Mary’s great, great grandson, my maternal grandfather, was born in Redfern, Sydney. The baby was born Harold Gow, but like a character leaving the cast of Neighbours, his mother moved to Queensland, re-married and changed his name. Harold became William Wyatt, taking on the name of his adopted father from a family of free English settlers. My family records, like many in Australia, are filled with abnormalities, missing fathers, missing marriages and re-marriage without divorce.
William married Edith, my grandmother, who was born in 1898 in Brisbane, “father unknown”. Her mother also was born in Brisbane “father unknown” in 1878. My grandmother used the name of the respectable Scottish family her mother married into.
This odd set of circumstances meant that my grandmother and grandfather were descended from convicts, but both took the names of their free settler stepfathers. I grew up with stories of my English and Scottish “pioneering” families. In reality, these were not my ancestors, it was a veneer over the unpalatable history of Irish and English criminals and “whores” that I am proud to say were my mothers. Mine is an Australian story. Australian history is one of harsh realities, white-washed with middle-class British and European respectability.
In my state of Queensland, women were not permitted to drink in a public bar until 1970. Lounges were provided for “ladies”, where they could drink at a higher price and with higher dress standards, away from the aggressive, unseemly behaviour of men. Ladies lounges were not an exclusive female space any more than the Lady Juliana was. The ladies lounge was a space created by men where women were allowed. It was a gendered space, while the public bar was a genuine single sex space.
Even the existence of a lounge was a debated privilege to extend to women. Mr A. D. Grant, General Secretary of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association in 1928, talked about the provision of a “lounge” for women to drink in:
“90 per cent of the licensees in Australia are not anxious to establish such accommodation as would attract undesirable women to their houses. If we could cultivate that orderly atmosphere which exists in Continental cafes and hotels, I don’t think there could be any public objection to serving persons of either sex.”
I remember the different feeling of the lounge to the public bar. The lounge was carpeted, had soft music, a jukebox, comfortable seats, tables – it was a civilised, respectable space. The public bar was tiled, with big ash-trays under the bar, stand-up tables and stools – it was a loud masculine space full of blue singlets and stubby shorts.
By the 1960s, this was clearly a ridiculous situation, and two Brisbane women chained themselves to a public bar in protest in 1965. The women were scorned, sent death threats and labelled with the names it was considered such women rightly deserved. The Labor member for Sandgate, Harold Dean, said there was more at stake than the space of the public bar. He said: “The prestige of womanhood is too high and too valuable and too precious to be destroyed by a vulgarism.”
It was not orderly female public “accommodations” that were being manufactured, but the orderly Australian woman as a gendered national identity. There has been an ongoing attempt to carve the respectable Australian woman out of the mix of working-class hussies, migrants and Indigenous women that Australian women were, and still are.
In 1975 Anne Sommers released her seminal feminist work Damned Whores and God’s Police: The Colonization of Women in Australia. She highlighted a strategy of polarising Australian women as sluts or nannies. If women were not the “undesirable” kind, they were pressured into bringing the colonial outpost into moral respectability. This continuing culture is the legacy of our disturbing history of sexual exploitation and racial violence.
Ultimately Australian women chained themselves to bars, not because they wanted entry into a male space, but because they refused to keep to the respectable gendered space given to them. Australian women want to define their own boundaries. Women have never gained anything in this nation without going outside the bounds that are set for them by a ruling ideology that continually resists centring their needs.
Australia has a proud history and mythology as a “working man’s paradise”. As well as establishing ongoing decent wages and conditions for men, left-wing unions take credit for the gains in women’s wages and the improvements in women’s working conditions in Australia. In reality, it was much-scorned women who fought male-dominated unions for years and at great social cost to have women’s issues included in the labour movement. The mythology that the progressive left has always stood for the rights of women is horseshit.
On the issue of trans identified males, left-wing Australian men have responded predictably. Progressive Australian men fully accept feminine men, but they don’t want them in the “public bar”, they want them in the “ladies lounge”. This dynamic recent played out in the debate over the McIver Baths.
The McIver Women’s Baths are owned by the Randwick City Council and sit on a reputed site of secret Indigenous women’s business. The Baths were women only until recently, when trans identified males aggressively lobbied the site to have unfettered access to the pools, regardless of official gender recognition or surgery.
The debate kicked off for me when Sall Grover shared a tweet of a person saying they were going to the McIver Baths to “piss on TERFs”. Instead of outrage, members of the Australian left-wing media supported the use of the slur “TERF” to silence dissenting women. I have put the receipts on my blog. Here you can see male journalists from the Guardian, Junkee and the ABC calling women “TERFs”, bigots and murderers of trans women, for daring to declare that women should have a right to define their spaces by the very thing that makes them vulnerable, their biology.
Left-wing gender politics is based in modern interpretations of intersectionality that have grown from French and German social theory. It is an ideology that has been embraced by the oligarchs of the Western world, as it is very useful in population control in the guise of social justice. The Australian cultural left has embraced this ideology of a new empire for the management of Australian women.
Like the respectable Australian woman that the ladies lounge was designed for, the progressive woman is the only woman permitted in the cultural sphere in Australia. For entry she is required to accept the ruling culture’s belief that her historic oppression is based in the gender that has been invented for her, not her sex. Straight or gay, male or female, the progressive woman is kind and accepts that males can access her space and her body if they have the correct “identity” characteristics.
Under the cultural protection racket in Australia, trans activists go on to demand unfettered access to women’s spaces such as dressing rooms, domestic violence shelters, women’s prisons, women’s scholarships, women’s grants and sporting teams. The progressive woman is to pretend that she doesn’t see any safeguarding issues with males in her spaces, even if they are fully male bodied and self-identify as “women”. People who question women’s safety, like feminist academic Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, are roundly harassed and abused by the cultural left. Our friends at Junkee have predictably positioned Dr Lawford-Smith as transphobic and claim that the expression of concerns by women about having males in their spaces makes trans students feel unsafe.
The discussion of the safety of women and girls is now taboo. The sad truth is that in the absence of a safe female-only space, girls are seeking safety in a masculine gender identity. In Australia, as internationally, we are seeing a dramatic rise in gender non-conforming and autistic girls rejecting their female sex. I am not sure how mothers can re-assure our daughters that we can keep them safe in womanhood, when we have no power to define our own sex or create our own spaces.
On 24 May 2021 Senator Claire Chandler asked The Office for Women how they define women, for the purpose of scholarships and grants, and they said that they define women as “anyone who defines themselves as a woman”. It’s a nonsense of course, not just because this definition is circular, but because a woman is not an identity, a woman is a sex of human. A “woman” is a sex of human that bears children, is weaker physically, menstruates, is more vulnerable to the same things that our ancestors were vulnerable to – sexual exploitation, domestic violence, discrimination and financial abandonment with children.
Gender ideology is so strong in Australian media that even the racial issues that are usually front and centre were sidelined in the Baths debate. The Baths were a single sex Indigenous space before settlement, before the Western invention of gender. The Baths have also been a refuge for Muslim women. Neither of these issues were addressed by the trans activists. The debate was the same as any male-dominated conversation we have been having in this country since the “working man’s paradise” established itself as a paradise for the man who went to work. The identity needs of males were prioritised over sex, race and religion.
Women in this nation have always had to fight for their rights, from men, from the Empire, and from the powerful left-wing political elite. Women as a sex will always require the ability to empower and protect themselves from males, and this is rendered impossible when the definition of woman is a set of invented identity characteristics in law and culture. Women have never found protection in gender identity; gender has almost always been used by culture and government to limit the power of the female sex and our ability to protect ourselves from males.
When I found out about my “dodgy” heritage, well into my thirties, I was relieved. Somehow, I knew my national identity had been built on a lie. I remembered whispered jokes between my late mother and her sister about things in closets. But I am proud of Mary. She was labelled a “damned whore” as soon as she disembarked on these wild shores, starting an Australian tradition of falling outside of the gendered role that was prepared for her, as a breeder and a nanny. The replacing of sex in legislation with gender identity throughout our nation is another attempt at putting women in a ladies lounge, a manufactured gendered identity. Gender ideology is an attempt not just to tame women but to deny us access to cultural power if we don’t conform; it is the new veneer of respectability over the sins and vulnerabilities of sex. As the daughter of one of the founding “whores”, I dissent.
NB: I want to acknowledge that I did not address many race issues in this piece; when I stand for women to define the boundaries of their sex I do so primarily for the most vulnerable, and there is no people more vulnerable in Australia than Indigenous women and girls.
– Edie Wyatt