"I Was a Man of Honour": Masculinities, Emotions and Law in Twentieth-Century Australia

Alana Piper, University of Technology Sydney

Shifts in trial procedures during the early twentieth century enabled – even encouraged – male defendants to reflect on their identities as gendered subjects in emotive ways. The interrelationship between masculinity, emotion and the law has been recognised when it comes to crimes of violence, or explicitly ‘gendered’ offences related to sexuality or reproduction. Less attention has been paid by historians to the role of gender and emotions in property offending. This paper will draw on letters by property defendants to judges, as well as police reports about the lives and characters of property defendants that were also submitted as evidence to judges prior to sentencing. These documents – which went from being intermittent to almost standard inclusions in Australian legal briefs between the 1920s and 1950s – reveal changing ideals of masculinity and the role of emotions in masculine self-representation. Such sources demonstrate that the conceptions of masculinity that men expressed in legal arenas were structured in relation to a range of changing social factors, from the evolution of the Australian economy and family unit to the psychological impact of war on the nation’s men; factors that were also reshaping emotional expectations of men. In particular, the paper will discuss men’s needs to reconcile thefts with their identities as men by aligning themselves with different masculine archetypes. It will be argued that three models of masculinity – the tough man, working man and family man – influenced the ways in which male thieves presented themselves to Australian courts across the interwar and immediate postwar periods.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 48. Cruelty, Theft, Murder: Gender and Emotion from British and Australian Legal Data, 1850s-1950s