Kōrero: Women and men

Whārangi 6. Challenge and reaction: 1960s–1990s

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Freedom – from parents, from authorities, from existing expectations – became the cry of young people, particularly women, growing up in New Zealand’s cities from the mid-1960s. What had been seen as normal dress and behaviour was dismissed as old-fashioned, while some people argued that what was expected of women was unjust.

What had been normal practice in the early 1960s had ceased to be so by the late 1970s. Greater sexual freedom and the call to liberate women and men from a sexist society made this period one of social revolution and controversy.

Miniskirts, long hair and ‘the pill’

Long hair for men, loud music and miniskirts were popular (and shocking to some) fashions of the 1960s. Some older people complained that men’s long hair made it impossible to tell them apart from women. Others suspected that the miniskirt era was also one of mini morals, as the contraceptive pill became widely used in New Zealand. However, only some doctors were prepared to prescribe it to single women, and even Family Planning clinics were reluctant to do so before the early 1970s.

Greater social and sexual experimenting was exciting and alarming. For women, reliable and convenient control of fertility brought a freedom from the fear of unwanted pregnancy. To many men it spelled the possibility of sex ‘without strings’. A sexual relationship no longer meant marriage, mortgages and breadwinning. To conservative sections of New Zealand society sexual freedom and new fashions were dangerous signs of a permissive society, a community lacking standards.

Changing role of women

Some women described New Zealand as a sexist society. They pointed to differences between women’s and men’s position in society, the lack of equality in pay, job opportunities and numbers of women in Parliament, and the trivialisation of women’s lives, along with sexist attitudes which supported and explained such differences as normal. (Sexism – prejudice based on beliefs about ‘natural differences’ between women and men – was seen as akin to racism – prejudice on the basis of skin colour.) Language, health, housework, sex, dress and appearance became political issues.

Mrs Joe Bloggs

Until the 1970s a woman’s marital status, made obvious by the title ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, was the most important thing about her. Virtually all married women were known by their husband’s name. (The rare exceptions were usually women who had a profession.) Brenda Jones would become Mrs Brenda Smith, or even Mrs John Smith. But many women decided they liked the name they were born with, and that ‘Ms’ was a good alternative to Miss and Mrs.

From 1970 when the first Women’s Liberation groups were established, through to the 1990s, a large and active social and political movement, a ‘second wave’ of feminist activism challenged almost every part of New Zealand society.

Shifting patterns

Augusta Wallace’s appointment as the first woman judge (1975), Linda Jones’s long struggle to work as a jockey (1978) and the first appearance of women as newsreaders as well as ‘weather girls’ on television (1975) signalled a changing social and cultural climate. Expectations that boys and girls aged 11 and 12 should be channelled into their ‘natural’ futures as homemakers and breadwinners ceased to be assumed within the educational curriculum when both boys and girls began attending cooking and woodworking lessons from 1974.


As more women joined or stayed in the workforce, paid employment stopped being primarily the province of men, and became that of adults. For women, having a job while raising young children became standard. From the mid-1970s to the 1990s, unemployment hit some occupations hard, and for some men the tight link between manliness and work loosened.

Despite these shifts, some patterns remained strong. In many families women remained responsible for housework and cooking and continued to do much of the childcare, arranging their paid work around family responsibilities.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Charlotte Macdonald, 'Women and men - Challenge and reaction: 1960s–1990s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/women-and-men/page-6 (accessed 21 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Charlotte Macdonald, i tāngia i te 5 May 2011, updated 1 Aug 2017