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Growing up or growing down: Pakeha women's memories of adolescence

This study investigated the processes by which women construct their “selves” using the memories of adolescent experiences of five Pakeha women who went to school together in the 1960’s. The study used memory-work, an approach which engages a group of co-researchers in writing and analysing memories of their earlier lives. Feminist relational psychologists, such as Brown and Gilligan and Jean Baker Miller, have powerfully examined the lives of adolescent women, emphasising the notions of voice and silence, but their psychologies of girls’ and women’s development have been critiqued from social constructionist and post-modem perspectives. Memory-work, as a social constructionist methodology, is a research technique which enables researchers to make explicit the ways in which human experiences and identities are socially constructed within particular socio-cultural settings. Participants (who all knew each other) wrote individual memories of teenage experiences on several topics and theorised the memories together. In addition to being the main researcher, I was one of the participants in the study. In the group discussions we found that adolescent girls who grew up in New Zealand in the 1960’s experienced pressures to conform to female norms in three main areas of their lives: dress and appearance, sexuality and intellectual endeavours. As girls we were encouraged to dress and behave in feminine ways, curbing active tomboyish behaviour. We learned to hide our developing sexuality and to assume passive heterosexual roles at the same time as submitting our bodies to scrutiny from men. We were steered into careers deemed suitable for women and taught to hide our intelligence and abilities. Although the discussion indicated conformity to female norms and roles, resistance and rebellion were also clearly in evidence as we saw ourselves as active agents in constructing our own lives. The group discussions demonstrated and made explicit the ways in which adult women continually re-appraised earlier memories and constructed their sense of “self”, and the part they played in that construction. The knowledge generated through the memory-work method exposed the process of meaning construction in women’s lives, and the ways in which adolescent experiences contributed to women’s adult identities.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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