This article examines how postwar Australian women's magazines promoted a modern ideal of Australian femininity through the use of colloquial language. The postwar years saw a shift in media representations of femininity which enabled colloquial language to become associated with ideal Australian womanhood. Although women, especially working-class women, had been using slang in their day-to-day lives for a long time, a new ideal of postwar womanhood represented in middle-class women's magazines brought this language into the public sphere and gave it respectability. Through an analysis of readers' letters to New Idea this article shows that women's magazines became a space within which readers could formulate a distinctive identity as modern middle-class women through their use of informalities and colloquialisms. The centrality of colloquial language to postwar women's magazines was a significant shift from the interwar years, when slang use was actively discouraged and therefore absent from the content of women's media, except as a trend to be denounced. This change demonstrates that language played a central role in media representations of Australian femininity in the 1950s and 1960s.
In May 1954, just months after the Royal Tour of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Zara Holt unwittingly began a controversy in the pages of the Argus. In a report of her comments to a meeting of the Australian Women's National League, Holt was quoted as saying that the Queen exclaimed 'this must have cost a packet' after being presented with a gift of a diamond and sapphire brooch at a state dinner in Canberra (Argus, May 25, 1954). Several days later, a letter was published in the newspaper questioning whether the Queen had really uttered the expression, as its colloquial overtones meant that it was 'inconceivable that Her Majesty would use such a phrase' (Argus, May 28, 1954). The Argus, however, assured the reader that she had said it, and further noted that 'she is a young woman, modern in her outlook, and, naturally enough, given to using the phrases and expressions of the times' (May 28, 1954). Further letters continued to pour in over the issue, including one from a young mother 'the same age as the Queen', who argued that the phrase was a normal one for a young woman to use (Argus, June 1, 1954). After several more days of letters--supposedly the 'biggest mail on a single subject' they had ever received--the Argus published their editorial opinion on the issue, strongly arguing that the Queen was 'a contemporary of our young people, not afraid to speak her mind and not afraid to use the language of her day' and that the use of slang should therefore not be forbidden to her (June 2, 1954). This incident indicates that colloquial language was an important factor in performing modern womanhood in this era, which made it appropriate, and even desirable, for the Queen to use 'phrases and expressions of the times' and the 'language of her day'. (1)
This article examines how postwar Australian women's magazines, particularly New Idea,...
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