Jean Batten and the 'Accident of Sex'
Through the critical analysis of visual and verbal texts, this essay offers a sighting of New Zealand aviator Jean Batten—one of the greatest women solo flyers of the twentieth century to ‘disappear’. Unlike US flyer Amelia Earhart whose disappearance some miles off Howland Island in the South Pacific prompted endless search and research, Jean Batten’s disappearance from stage and page of flight history engendered no such interest until the late 1980s when a documentary film (1988) and the first book‐length biography (1990) were published by Ian Mackersey. Although important contributions to understanding Jean Batten’s place in aviation history of the twentieth century, Mackersey’s construction of Batten’s life relies heavily upon a psychological interpretation of character and action that is largely removed from and uninformed by gendered history. Hence, an important aim of this essay is to offer an analysis of the impact ‘the accident of sex’ (a phrase coined by Earhart) and the performance of gender had and continues to have upon ‘the life’ of Jean Batten.
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