Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'Say to Yourself: Do I Want to Be a Doormat?' Ageing Indigenous Australian Women's Reflections on Gender Roles and Agency

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'Say to Yourself: Do I Want to Be a Doormat?' Ageing Indigenous Australian Women's Reflections on Gender Roles and Agency

Article excerpt

Abstract: Little is known about the restorative outcomes of Indigenous resilience borne through personal and community agency among Indigenous Australian women. This is particularly true of the agency of Indigenous women who often overcome the trap of colonial and postcolonial gender roles that ensnare women in limiting constructions of femininity--a situation that often becomes more restrictive as women age. This paper addresses this gap in the literature by presenting findings on how ageing Indigenous Australian women talk about their own agency and gender role performance. The main themes relating to the women's gender roles included their roles as mothers, wives, cultural custodians, grandmothers, carers of self, community workers and income earners. Agency included a number of themes: for oneself, changes over time, for others, barriers, facilitators and catalysts. The data generated from the focus groups give an insight of indigeneity and indicate a deep sense of community engagement, resilience and agency in the lives of Indigenous women and how these roles adapted over time to contemporary circumstances.

The past few decades have seen some growth in the literature on Indigenous women's realities in Australia. Much of this literature has focused on the multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage that Indigenous women encounter in various arenas, including in health (e.g. disparities in health, realities of poor health and well-being (Reading and Wien 2009; Williams and Mohammed 2009)), in experiences of domesticviolence (Atkinson 2007; Nancarrow 2006; Nowra 2007) and in the criminal justice system (Cunneen 2001; LaPrairie 2002). Inevitably, the dominant scholarship that emerges from this focus thus tends to portray Indigenous women as primarily disempowered, discriminated subjects. Notwithstanding the utility of this literature in exposing the condition of 'Indigenous women' in Australia, what is overlooked (at best) and de-emphasized (at worst) is Indigenous women's agency and resilience and the important contributions they make to their own communities and broader society. Not surprisingly, very little is known about the restorative outcomes of Indigenous agency facilitated by Indigenous people's reconstruction of personal and community roles. While 'good news' stories are sometimes told following the successes of Indigenous sporting stars, singers or actors (i.e. a focus on the 'extraordinary'), it is the ordinary, everyday Indigenous person and his or her everyday successes that often go unnoticed. This is particularly true of the agency of Indigenous women, who often have to overcome the trap of postcolonial gender roles that ensnare women in limiting constructions of femininity--a situation that becomes more restrictive as women age (Burnette 2015).

This paper centres the voices of Indigenous Australian women in an effort to explore their experiences of indigeneity and the nexus of gender roles, ageing and agency. For Indigenous women, indigeneity, gender and age are integral aspects through which their gender roles and agency evolve and change. Indigenous women's voices are often elided in discussions of their gender roles and agency in Australia, yet these voices are crucial for nuanced understandings of how Indigenous women have experienced changes and shifts in constructions of gender and how they may hold different meanings across cultures. Moreover, Indigenous women consistently negotiate (cross-) cultural expectations as they aim to retain a strong sense of indigeneity and community while navigating an Anglo-dominated society. These (cross-) cultural understandings and the evolving nature of gender roles thus influence what it means to be an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander woman (Peters and Anderson 2013).

In order to engage with the voices of Indigenous women the research described below was conducted in collaboration with the North Coast Aboriginal Corporation for Community Health and Family Planning Queensland. …

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