Mothers against pornography: Christian activism, schooling and censorship

Year: 2019

Author: Gerrard, Jessica, Proctor, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper revisits a famous case of censorship in Queensland from the late 1970s, the banning from Queensland’s government schools of the social studies curriculum packages MACOS (Man, A Course of Study, written by a team led by the US psychologist Jerome Bruner) and SEMP (the Social Education Materials Project, compiled by the Australian Federal government’s Curriculum Development Centre). Part of a broader program of research that aims to excavate histories of reactionary or socially conservative activism in Australian schooling, the paper focusses on the figure of the woman who is most usually seen as the leading player in the success of the campaign to ban MACOS and SEMP, Rona Joyner. The main facts of the case are well known: for example, MACOS was also opposed by Christian conservatives in the US; the authoritarian premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, bypassed school teachers and Queensland Education Department bureaucrats to personally progress the ban, going to far as to threaten teachers with dismissal if they persisted in using them. But we argue that there is more to be understood from this event. The analysis brought to bear in this paper is a feminist one, centring on Rona Joyner, whose well documented identification as a newsworthy character by the mass media reinforced her direct lobbying and advocacy work, and amplified her self-representation as uber-mother. We situate the figure of Rona Joyner, and other socially conservative women of the 1970s and 1980s (for example, members of the counter-feminist women’s organisation ‘Women who want to be women’, WWWW), in a longer history of conservative ideological labour, whereby mothers, or those who presumed to speak for and as mothers, took their maternal duty to extend beyond the immediate home and family and into the front line of a moral fight against overly liberal school curricula, and other forms of risky public culture.