Women’s equality—stalled or achieved? An intersectional analysis of New Zealand women’s experiences of (in)equality and perceptions of feminism
Holdsworth, R. E. (2021). Women’s equality—stalled or achieved? An intersectional analysis of New Zealand women’s experiences of (in)equality and perceptions of feminism (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14579
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14579
A statement made in 2013 by Professor Judy McGregor, the former Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, suggested that equality for women in New Zealand had stalled, and that little progress was being made towards achieving women’s equality. New Zealand has maintained a strong socially progressive reputation with women’s issues, as the first country where women won the right to vote, and as a consistent feature at the top levels of global equality rankings. A cultural narrative of progression is also represented in the amplified visibility of women in diverse contexts that enables individual women to have the confidence to pursue equality for themselves—consistent with Western narrative portrayals of neoliberal individualism. An awareness of the gains made by past feminist action, together with latent inequality and its (lack of) presence within women’s individual lives, can create the illusion that equality for women has been achieved, evidenced in postfeminist perspectives that reduce the need for collective approaches to women-centred issues. This research examined 16 women’s experiences of being a woman in 21st Century New Zealand. Women’s experiences were positioned in this study as the “starting off thought” (Harding, 1993) for understanding women’s identification with feminism. The thesis includes a discussion of New Zealand’s progressive reputation and understandings of women’s equality over time, in the context of the narrative waves of feminism and socio-cultural and political explanations of a plateau in women’s equality progression in New Zealand. The theoretical discussion focused on intersectionality to highlight heterogeneity within the category of “women”, while the methodology for this research used a narrative approach to understand the unique differences and lived experiences of the women who participated. The examination of narrative influences in the form of grand, master, and personal narratives helped to explain how participants made sense of the world around them, and the intersectional focus on generational cohorts highlighted difference among and across women based on the category of age. Diary methods followed by interviews captured the unique individual differences in lived experience. The use of thematic and narrative analysis in this study demonstrated participants’ sense-making and decision-making in their enactment and retelling of lived experience in association with feminism and understandings of equality, and their simultaneous experiences of privilege and oppression were key themes identified in this study. While this study first sought to uncover the ways in which women might demonstrate postfeminist complacency, as a possible cause of the plateau in moves towards equality for women, three forms of agency were identified as influencing lived experience: Constrained agency, conferred agency, and comparative agency. It seems that, for a variety of different reasons, the women challenged or accepted societal roles and behaviours based on the relationships, environments, and narrative influences that informed individual lived experience. The challenge then, is in understanding how it might be possible to continue building on the legacy of equality for women in 21st Century New Zealand.
The University of Waikato
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