Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of History and Politics - Faculty of Arts


The thesis argues that in the unique society of second world war Australia girls had agency and used this agency so that the meaning of both the idea of girl and the idea of young femininity were altered. They did this in ways which made their experience of girlhood and young womanhood more satisfying. Furthermore, their agency created a notion of youthful femininity which would subsequently form a foundation for the emergence of second wave feminism in Australia in the early second half of the twentieth century. Using Foucauldian notions of the way power works in modern western societies, the thesis traces the relative contributions of the authorities responsible for shaping girls and of the girls themselves to the emergence of a new discourse of girlhood by 1945. The thesis focuses on six qualities of girlhood recognised by both authorities and girls by the end of the war. It demonstrates the way these qualities challenged the idea of girl the authorities had at the beginning of the war even while girls were coming to see the same qualities as part of girlhood. It also charts the developing acceptance by Australian society of these qualities as part of femininity. To do this it looks at the way reading was understood by wartime authorities as a tool for shaping the ideal social subject. The thesis also, through reader response and memory theory, deploys memories of reading as an instrument which allows the researcher to uncover how girls themselves understood their relationship to the world and to others. In order to do this it draws on a specially constructed archive of the memories of both authoritatively approved and disapproved wartime reading as it was experienced by one hundred and thirty two women. These women were girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen at some time during the second world war.

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