The colonial world was no place for a woman, let alone a lady; it was a man's world, demanding pioneering, martial and organisational skills, and the achievements of those in the shape of conquered lands and people were celebrated in a series of male-orientated myths: mateship, the mounties, explorers, freedom fighters, bushrangers, missionaries. At a later stage the same skills were used to overthrow colonialism, thus reinforcing the ethos of the colonies as a predominantly male domain, both in reality and in the popular imagination which was both formed by the myths and in turn shaped reality. This male ethos has persisted in the colonial and post-colonial world long after the reality which formed it had ceased to exist. The effect of this on colonial women was no longer a question of 'no place for a woman', since they were palpably there, but of a place denied in the imagination. With regard to literature, the myths are paramount, and female achievement does not fit readily into them. As Aritha van Herk writes: 'The pun of virgin on version is deliberate. This essay stems from my position as a woman writing in the west, the need for alternate readings of our texts. Before I can write, I have to rewrite the male virgins.



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