Dames in New Zealand : Gender, representation and the royal honours system, 1917-2000
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The New Zealand royal honours system, as a colonial reproduction of an elite British system with a white male norm, has been largely overlooked in all fields of scholarship. Yet, as a state expression of what is valued in society, honours provide a window into shifts in society. This study of dames and knights is undertaken in the context of the changes in the lives of New Zealand women in the twentieth century. Situated in a changing and shifting environment, the honours system has itself changed, influenced by the ebb and flow of the feminist movement, the decline of imperial and aristocratic forces, and New Zealand's evolving independence and identity. At the same time, the system has been in some respects static, slow to respond to charges of being an imperial anachronism, and, despite some change in what areas of service titles were granted for, remaining a gendered space focused on the traditionally male-dominated fields of politics, law and commerce. Studied from a feminist perspective, honours also reveal much about gender identities and roles in twentieth-century New Zealand, both the feminine and, because of the historically constructed dualism, the masculine. Both the patterns evident in the honouring of women at the highest level and the representations of those women found in popular culture display a constant disjunction between discourses of exceptionalism and of conformity to traditional images of the feminine. Women's personal experiences of being honoured with a title for their achievements add a further dimension of complexity to understandings of the significant changes and underlying continuities in the honours system as a gendered space.