There are different kinds of belonging and differing motivations for wanting to belong. This complexity is explored in the subplot dealing with Kate Patricia Denford's membership in the Surf Life Saving Movement and later through her relationships with the younger generation at Madison House. Characterisation as well as place and situational contexts are techniques used to examine this theme.
This blog will discuss Kate's decision to join the Surf Life Saving Movement and the consequences. Key words for the Area of Study are highlighted in bold & blue. Kate's decision was made with her attention focused on the purpose of the movement and related activity, that is: saving lives and community service, rather than on the relationships that would be forged there. I've used forged rather than formed because forge has connotations of a material changing shape and state when extreme heat and pressure/power is applied to it.
Although accepted as a member by the Surf Life Saving Movement at an organisational level, Kate is faced with resentment and rebuff by the male members at the Keimera club. The intensity of male animosity to her membership is reflected through the behaviour and language of Gary Putnam, an otherwise easy-going man, who insists on calling her Ken. The nickname attributes masculine qualities to Kate, denies her gender, and denies her a place in the club on her own terms. It reinforces the view that only men should be in the club.
Readers first meet Kate when Michael brings her home. Cassie meets Kate after having her curiosity piqued by Minna and George Madison's negative reaction to Kate's arrival. Gary appears on the scene for similar reasons.
'Cassie closed her book. She told herself that she was thirsty and walked around the verandah to the rear of the house.
The girl, a brunette bombshell, was flirting with Michael over a sponge cake and iced tea.
"Oh, hi," Cassie said, pretending to be surprised, "I got a bit thirsty outside."
"Cassie," Michael said from his seat, "this is a good friend of mine ..."
The interior door swung open, and Gary entered. He came up short, obviously surprised.
"Didn't realise anyone was here." He gave a Mickey Mouse laugh and struck a casual pose. "What are you doing here, Ken?"
"G'day, Mike and I are mates. He used to be my dance partner."
Dancing? Cassie looked at the woman. "Where do you -?"
"Does that mean you'll be dropping out of the club?" Gary spoke over the top of Cassie.
"Surf Life Saving is in my blood. I can do both"
"Oh," Gary did not attempt to disguise his disappointment.'
Later at the pub, when Cassie asks Kate about the source of Gary's hostility Kate's explanation provides the background context or back-story.
'A few years back, one of the women in the movement used the Anti-discrimination Act to force the Life Saving Club to open up the senior ranks to women."
"Whoa!" Michael said and then after consideration added, "That must have made them feel emasculated."
"It didn't exactly endear women to them."
"And they're still resentful?" Cassie asked.
"Yep." Resignation and an element of defiance coloured Kate's response. Then more upbeat, she added, "My dad's favourite saying is 'You might as well stand and fight because if you run, you will only die tired.' I am my father's daughter."
Cassie liked Kate's courage and the philosophy underlying her action made sense. Was that the way, she wondered, for women to achieve acceptance in a male-dominated institution?'
The use of contrasting perspectives from Michael and Cassie regarding Kate's situation reinforce gender divisions regarding the pathway to inclusion and acceptance in domains that were once exclusive, in this case, previously male arenas.
Earlier in the story, Michael was portrayed as a contemporary man who accepts gender equality. His shocked reaction to Kate's explanation focuses the reader on the outcome of compelling a person or group of people ( in this case, men) to a course of action that they otherwise reject. Emasculated is used metaphorically rather than literally. It highlights that the men concerned were rendered less male by humiliation. His insight emphasises the reduction and removal of male power through the legislation.
Cassie's workplace experience in one of the last bastions of male supremacy (the local high school) enables her to appreciate the depth of the male reaction - lingering resentment which is very hard to dislodge. As an aside, if you have ever tried to get glitter off your face/hands/clothing, you'll appreciate the power of such resentment.
Cassie'a experience as a first-year-teacher adds further dimension to Kate's situation. Although tacit resistance to female membership is not discussed in this pub scene, the reader brings contextual knowledge to it and is able to see the juxtaposition of female character experiences and the similarity in situations albeit one is a high school workplace.
This subplot explores the multi-dimensional aspects underlying a desire to belong. For Kate, membership in the Surf Life Saving Movement is as much about
- her enjoyment of surfing
- her skill and strength as a swimmer
- her enjoyment in community service
- continuing a family tradition,
- reinforcing shared interests and experiences with her father, a single parent, thereby strengthening that bond
- displaying courage and retaining her father's pride because she didn't 'run away', and
- satisfying her belief that membership in any group should be based on ability and attributes and not on gender.
For Gary and his male cohort, Kate's membership, and by extension that of other women, is on sufferance and does not reach acceptance. This is clearly demonstrated by Gary's reasons for nominating Kate for the Surf Club captaincy (p325)
' ... to see Big Dave about nominating Ken for the captaincy. I wanted his support. It'd be an act of protest over the captain's failure to organise meets, schedules, and surf patrols.'
Gary's attitude towards Kate ultimately evolves into acceptance when he comes to recognise her competency and through their mutual interest and commitment to having the surf club function effectively.
You will detailed analysis in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or fromAmazon