Kōrero: Men and women in the city

Whārangi 4. Men’s and inclusive spaces

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Pubs, clubs and consumerism

While the iconic New Zealand male is associated with rural life, most men in the 20th century have worked and played in urban environments. The city has always been a leisure space for men, who have more money for leisure than women do. In the 19th century, hotels were built so men could drink together, restaurants fed men who were denied the delights of home cooking, and department stores created separate entrances to their menswear sections so male shoppers could bypass perfume counters. By the 1950s male boutiques were catering for men who wanted to wear the latest fashions.

From 1917 bars closed at 6 p.m., leading to the ‘six o’clock swill’ of men downing a few drinks after work. When six o’clock closing ended in 1967, hotels became better suited to men and women drinking together – but some other masculine leisure spaces took longer to accommodate women. Elite clubs, built in the 19th century as city retreats for business and professional men, remained male bastions until the late 20th century. Auckland’s Northern Club, established in 1869, admitted its first woman member in 1990.

Men and sport

Men’s sport also ensured that many spaces in the city became and remained men’s places. Since the 1860s the sports oval in Auckland’s Domain has provided the city’s men with a site for association football, athletics, Australian rules, cycling, hockey, lacrosse, rugby league, rugby union and cricket. Cricket was New Zealand’s national game in the 19th century, enjoyed in grounds like Wellington’s Basin Reserve, which remained one of the country’s most important cricketing venues in the early 2000s.

Rugby in the city


Rugby is often seen as a rural game – but cities have been crucial to its establishment and ongoing importance in New Zealand society. Dunedin’s Otago University Club and Auckland’s Ponsonby Rugby Club have both been important feeder clubs for the All Blacks national team. Dave Gallaher, captain of the 1905 ‘Originals’, was a Ponsonby club member. David Kirk, captain of the World Cup-winning All Blacks of 1987, was recruited from the Otago club.


Homosexual spaces

Before 1986 male homosexuality was a criminal offence. Gay men were drawn to cities, where there was less close social surveillance than in smaller centres, and communities of gay men developed. By the mid-20th century some city venues were sympathetic to gay men, including the Great Northern Hotel in Auckland, the Black and White Tearooms in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square, and the Savoy Hotel on Dunedin’s Princes Street.

By the 1970s gay men were taking to the city streets, marching for gay rights. After the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1986 the cities became sites for gay dance parties, with Auckland’s Hero parade and Wellington’s Devotion party reminding everyone that cities are important to gays (and lesbians).

Making spaces inclusive

Some New Zealand pubs had a lounge bar, where women were allowed, and a public bar, where they were not (and where drinks were cheaper). In the 1970s Auckland and Wellington feminists ‘liberated’ their cities’ public bars. Storming the public bars of Auckland’s Great Northern Hotel and Wellington’s Victoria Tavern, they demanded to be served.

‘Pub liberations’ were one of many late-20th-century urban political actions that helped make city spaces far less sex- and gender-specific. Homosexual law reform 1986, the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 also made it harder to exclude people from city spaces. In the early 2000s, while men and women might still do things separately – such as groups of women hitting the town for a hens’ night out before a wedding – public spaces in New Zealand cities were more integrated than before.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Caroline Daley, 'Men and women in the city - Men’s and inclusive spaces', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/men-and-women-in-the-city/page-4 (accessed 14 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Caroline Daley, i tāngia i te 11 Mar 2010