Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Postwar Women 1945-1960 and Their Daughters 1970-1985: an Analysis of Continuity, Contradiction, and Change in Two Generations of Pakeha Women as Mothers, Wives, and Workers

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posted on 2021-11-05, 01:40 authored by May, Helen

The period of this study covers two generations of New Zealand social history and traces the context of life for two groups of Pakeha women during their childrearing years. It is not a compare and contrast exercise as the changes between generations are cumulative, as well as being variable amongst different groups of women. The women in this study from both generational groups, had much in common, in that they all had the primary responsibility for childrearing and were all economically dependent on their men for periods of time. However, alongside the commonality of experiences between the two groups of women there were differences. Not only were their experiences affected by different economic and political events, but there were identifiable shifts in the ideological frameworks through which the women ascribed meaning to their experiences. It was evident that the frameworks which were so pervasive in defining femininity in the early postwar years were seen as the norm by both groups of women, and the changing perspective of the younger women as a departure from the norm. This retrospective aura of normality surrounding in particular, the decade of the 1950's, is understandable when viewed in is historical context, but it is also misleading. Set between a decade of war and reconstruction and a decade of the 1960's when many values were challenged, it has been tempting for later generations to see the apparent order and consensus of the 1950's as a measure of normality. The years before and after the 1950's have appeared by comparison as more confusing. The argument of this study is that the apparent diversification in lifestyles was not just a post 1960's phenomena but had in fact taken root much earlier and that New Zealand society in the early postwar years operated in such a way to cover up the diversity and the changing social patterns that were already present. In particular this study seeks to show how women have attempted to redefine the boundaries of their responsibilities and spheres of interest during this period: a process which revealed more explicitly the conflict of interest for women between self - in terms of seeking autonomy, and others - in terms of dependence upon their men and their responsibility for children. The context of this redefinition is explored within three interconnected "sites" of the family - motherhood, marriage and work, and over the forty year period of this study it is possible to identify shifts in the construction of what is acceptable and possible, as women individually in the home and collectively outside of it, renegotiated and broadened the boundaries that defined their femininity.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Urry, James; Chowning, Ann