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Differences that matter: From ‘gender’ to ‘ethnicity’ in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand

Gender and ethnicity are recognised as two of the leading axes of marginality in late twentieth century western liberal democratic societies – the former emerged in the wake of Second Wave feminism of the 1970s and the latter, with the rise of ‘identity politics’ in the 1980s and 1990s. Both have similarities. As categories of disadvantage, their basis is ‘natural’ in that the complex webs of social and political organisation, and consequent disadvantages, based on gender or ethnicity can be traced to physiology, that is, differences in either skin colour or sex. These are also, as Nancy Fraser (1997) points out, ‘bivalent categories’ of disadvantage in that gender and ethnicity display simultaneous discriminations in areas of resource allocation (Redistribution) and as socially acceptable identities (Recognition). Here, however, the common trajectory followed by these social markers ends. Drawing on the changing nature of society and governance in New Zealand, the present paper argues that the differences between gender and ethnicity, rather than their similarities,expose fundamental attributes of contemporary marginality in increasingly diverse western democracies. This paper advances the following proposition (and contradiction): in the past decade, ethnicity and diversity as an axis of social division has gained credibility and has markedly influenced political, economic and social (re)organisation in New Zealand, while in contrast, it has proven harder to justify gender as structural disadvantage. Thus, while the boundaries of ‘gender’ are ruptured, porous and, at moments, open to erasure, ‘ethnicity’ has coalesced to become a new, valid, and increasingly relevant border of social inequity.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Simon-Kumar, R. (2011). Differences that matter: From ‘gender’ to ‘ethnicity’ in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand. Women's Studies Journal, 25(2), pp. 74-90.
Women's Studies Association New Zealand
© Women's Studies Association New Zealand. This article has been published in the journal: Women's Studies Journal 2011. Used with permission.