Men and women had more in common in the early 21st century than they did in earlier times. In jobs, public office, and even in clothes and alcohol consumption, there was much greater similarity in the lives of women and men.
However, differences remained, some new, some of longer standing. Boys’ achievement in educational tests in their last three years at school dropped relative to those of girls, and this became the subject of public anxiety. Despite the fact that girls’ academic results were slightly better overall, and women were more than half of those enrolled in post-school education, there remained a considerable economic gap between women and men.
Addressing inequalities in pay
In 2015 men took home pay packets that were on average 12% higher than those of women. These differences were often the outcome of jobs done by women having lower rates of pay than jobs done mainly by men. Later that year, following a decision by the Court of Appeal on a pay equity claim, the government set up a Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles. Government, union and employer representatives were asked to provide practical guidance to employers and employees on how to implement pay equity – the principle that women and men should receive the same remuneration for doing jobs that are different, but of equal value.
The Joint Working Group reported in May 2016, and in August 2017 the government introduced the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill. The Bill was opposed by opposition parties on the grounds that it was not consistent with the recommendations of the Joint Working Group and would make pay equity claims more difficult as comparison with other jobs was limited to the claimants’ industry. This legislation was withdrawn after a change of government in October 2017. On 19 September 2018 the Equal Pay Amendment Bill was introduced by the Jacinda Ardern-led government, removing obstacles to pay equity claims.
An equal pay settlement for those working in the aged and disability residential home and home and community support services was reached in April 2017. Further pay equity claims were pursued by unions on behalf of female dominated occupations in 2017 and 2018.
The common ground evident in women’s and men’s lives in the 21st century was more a result of women taking up activities previously the preserve of men than the reverse. An exception is parenting. Fatherhood had become a recognised and valued role for men, and men as well as women were eligible for parental leave.
In 1889 former colonial treasurer and politician Sir Julius Vogel predicted a woman would be ruler of a United Greater Britain in his futuristic novel Anno Domini, 2000, or Woman's Destiny. The details were a bit awry but his general prediction was true for New Zealand in the 21st century, when a prime minister, political-party leaders, chief justice, governor-general, and chief executive of the largest business were all female.
The number of men playing netball was minuscule compared to the number and profile of women and girls playing rugby, rugby league, and especially football. However, male sports stars continued to receive more attention, and higher levels of funding, than their female counterparts. In 2018 professional contracts were offered to women playing rugby union and rugby league for the first time.
In popular culture old meanings of what it was to be a man or a woman continued to play out along with new possibilities and dilemmas. Beer advertising billboards, television dramas and colloquial expressions provided insight into the continued evolution of how New Zealanders live as men and women.
Munter and Van, male characters in the highly successful television drama series Outrageous Fortune, have 'issues'. Bushman and writer Barry Crump, rugby player Colin Meads, writer Frank Sargeson or Maurice Gee's character Plumb might have experienced something similar, but would never have spoken of them, least of all with their mates.
Female characters were often multi-dimensional and acting in a larger world. Cheryl West, the sexy matriarch of the Outrageous Fortune family, the interfering but good-hearted Marj in television soap Shortland Street and feisty Pai in the film Whale Rider all had lives beyond those defined by their men or families.
These stories of New Zealanders made reference both to a past that had become an object of curiosity and irony, and the new terrain of a changed gender landscape. Telling someone else, or yourself, ‘to man up’ was to draw on the old virtue of male stoical courage, but to do so knowing that it was a code rather than a prescription or monopoly for men or women.