Storied streets: gendered narratives of fear and violence in Australian urban landscapes

Author: Amy Mead

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 18 Jun 2024.

Mead, Amy, 2021 Storied streets: gendered narratives of fear and violence in Australian urban landscapes, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The rape and murder of 29-year-old woman Jill Meagher in Melbourne’s inner North in 2012 is the impetus for this thesis, as I look at the relationship between women and the city in the wake of violent crime in urban spaces. Meagher was killed by a man unknown to her, stalked as she attempted to walk the short distance home after drinks with colleagues at a bar on Brunswick’s Sydney Road.  Meagher’s disappearance was followed closely on social media and by mainstream news outlets, and the public grief when it became known she had been murder was palpable. Tens of thousands took to the streets to protest violence against women in the days following the news of her death. Her name is still synonymous with female safety in cities, and this thesis looks to interrogate the narratives around women’s supposed vulnerability on the streets. 

Working within the fields of literary studies and creative non-fiction writing, I critically examine the rhetorics of what I call “cultural narratives” informing these ideas – the notion that women must ‘be careful’ or avoid walking alone. I then partner with other writers to renew these tropes and discuss how literary texts by women can speak back to these ideas. Focussing on Melbourne, my research looks at contemporary writing by women set in Melbourne, discussing writing by Sophie Cunningham, Catherine de Saint Phalle and Michaela McQuire, as well as spotlighting Helen Garner’s 1977 novel Monkey Grip as a seminal text about women and Melbourne.  

This thesis asks, ‘why can’t women feel safe walking through the city alone?’, and looks at Australian attitudes towards gender, space and narrative, and how the latter can be used to both restrict and liberate. 

Keywords: Australian literature, Melbourne, Helen Garner, Clementine Ford, Sophie Cunningham, feminist geography, literary geography, fictocriticism

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Amy Matthews