MORE THAN MALE-GAZING: WOMEN'S ENGAGEMENT WITH RUGBY UNION IN NEW ZEALAND
Speaker: Dr Jennifer Curtin (University of Auckland)
Rugby has long been viewed as New Zealand’s national game. While the first official game of rugby union, according to most histories, took place in Nelson in 1870, it is widely acknowledged that before this a variety of forms of football were being played in Maori and Pakeha communities around New Zealand. From these early beginnings the popularity of rugby union grew rapidly and, by 1905 (the year of the ‘triumphant’ original All Blacks tour of Britain), rugby was being hailed as New Zealand’s national sport.
For most of the 20th century, the primacy of rugby union in New Zealand was rarely challenged; critiques have appeared only in recent decades as studies of sport, culture and gender have intersected and produced alternative interpretations of traditional histories and popular cultural myths. But even with the emergence of this more critical approach, the focus of such works has tended to remain squarely on men and masculinity and the sustenance that rugby gives to traditional gender regimes. Women are either ignored or viewed as ‘victims’ of, or in ‘opposition’ to the maleness of rugby union in its various manifestations. Such scholarship, while important in its disturbance of pervasive perceptions of the centrality of rugby to the national psyche also, unwittingly perhaps, reinforces the reigning stereotype of rugby as a game for men, ‘defining’ men, and played and watched by men.
This paper explores women’s absence in the histories of New Zealand rugby. It reveals that from the beginning, women engaged with the game in a range of ways: as supporters, spectators and players. These women did so in a manner that was sometimes acceptable but at other times regarded as distinctly ‘unfeminine’ and ‘inappropriate’. The paper offers reasons why, despite the records alluding to women’s participation, historians, sociologists and rugby journalists have avoided writing women into narratives of New Zealand’s national game.
Dr Jennifer Curtin is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland. She has published widely on women, politics and public policy, with a particular focus on women’s descriptive and substantive representation in formal politics. Jennifer is currently writing a book on women’s engagement with rugby union in New Zealand (1840-2010).
Time and Date: 5:15 PM, Monday, 31 January
Location: Ecclesiastical History Room, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.
All are welcome. For more information, please contact Dion Georgiou, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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