McIver’s ladies’ baths: Politics of recognition and exclusion in gendered spaces

Samantha Sperring


Borrowing ideas from both modern and postmodern traditions, this paper contemplates the McIver’s ladies’ baths in Coogee as a space premised on binary gender. When discussing the politics of a space reserved exclusively for women, one must consider the questions: ‘what constitutes womanhood?’ and ‘how do those who subvert binary gender negotiate their identities within a space premised on it?’ By examining and contrasting the various notions of gender identity and politics of recognition related to modern and postmodern thought, namely gender essentialism, performativity and cultural intelligibility, and referring to a recent case study, I suggest a more progressive and inclusive politics of recognition must be set in place to account for the varying sexualities and/or gender identities present within contemporary society. This paper challenges the gender essentialism associated with modern thought, that is, gender as a biologically pre-determined, fixed and ‘natural’ characteristic of a person, due to its oppressive and exclusionary results, and instead, insists that a postmodern conception of gender is much more constructive when approaching identity within McIver’s ladies’ baths, and society in general.

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