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Feminism and education in post-war New Zealand: a sociological analysis

For the purposes of this thesis, feminism has been viewed as both a set of social theories which identify, describe and account for the contradictions experienced by women in their everyday lives and the social movement which has developed and employed these theories to assist in generating political strategies aimed at redressing social inequalities and injustices recognised as based, wholly or in part, on gender. Since the late 1960s, many New Zealand educators have been influenced by feminism. Although feminist social scientists have given some attention to the origins of post-war feminism, there has been little attention given by scholars to describing and explaining how individual women came to adopt a feminist analysis of the social world. This thesis is a sociological analysis of the lives of twelve feminist educators, born in New Zealand in the years immediately following World War Two. The method used in this is life-history analysis, which focusses on ‘biography, history and social structure.’ It is argued that these New Zealand women, who attended school in the post-war years, and who have, as adults, become both educators and feminists, experienced in their lives contradictions and a sense of ‘marginality’, which generated in them visions of both the desirability and the possibility of change in their own lives and in the lives of women in general. During their schooling, they experienced contradictions between their upbringing to be professionally-autonomous ‘intellectuals’ and the expectations of them as women to be subordinately ‘feminine.’ They also experienced contradictory expectations with respect to their sexual morality: while the dominant ideology of family and school emphasised pre-marital virginity, the permissive anarchy of the ‘sexual revolution’ stressed freedom of sexual expression. These women believed that education could provide a vision of the desirability and the possibility of change in their own lives and in those of their students. As feminist educators within institutions, these women experienced a ‘double marginality’: as women, they were marginal in attaining senior positions within professional hierarchies and as feminists they were members of a small and dissenting minority.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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