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Victorian local government and women's political participation in small towns.
conference contributionposted on 2005-01-01, 00:00 authored by Anne Macgarvey
Rural women were involved in the struggle for women's suffrage in Victoria but their entry into local government has been slower than in urban centres. This paper takes as its starting point Ken Dempsey's analysis of the hegemonic masculine structure of small Victorian towns in the 1980s and Amanda Sinclair's notion of the maternal feminist being the prototype of the rural woman councillor at that time. My study, which is based upon a qualitative interview study with 12 women councillors across rural Victoria during February 2004, reveals that women in small towns are now much more likely to challenge the notion of masculine hegemony by playing a more proactive role in community affairs in small towns. For them, local government service is a logical and practical way to help improve the quality of life in their constituencies. This is also because the traditional rural definition of local government with its main function to ensure adequate infrastructure provision for its ratepayers to maintain viable farming and other productive operations is changing. Furthermore, these women challenged the notion of the maternal feminist by embracing broader political agendas and operating with different representational styles than those associated with previous generation of women on local councils in small towns. On a theoretical level, the paper concludes by suggesting that while the notion of a 'critical mass' in terms of women's political participation is important, there is also a need to explore women's accounts of ‘critical acts’ in the everyday decision-making of local government.