The Marginalization of Maori Women

By Johnston, Patricia; Pihama, Leonie | Hecate, October 1994 | Go to article overview

The Marginalization of Maori Women


Johnston, Patricia, Pihama, Leonie, Hecate


Colonialism

New Zealand was annexed at a period when ideologies of the 'superiority' of particular races over others were very influential. In particular, notions of the development and evolution of races provided major theoretical foundations from which Maori were viewed. Two clear philosophies existed in relation to the evolutionary process. The first was the ideas advocated by the Church and the notion of 'divine' order. Writings from the bible were used to justify in more than one country the belief that the 'black man' was placed on this earth to serve the 'white man', and that it was the prerogative of the 'white man' to rule. Growing out of these beliefs were a number of systemic philosophies which enforced the taken-for-granted positionings of whites over 'inferior' blacks. These beliefs further maintained the conceptions of the second philosophy of the evolutionary process, Charles Darwin's 'Natural Selection' process, in which his "studies of the natural world were used to support the development of the notion that natural selection provided an explanation for the social order of human beings."(1) In time, humans were categorised according to their levels of development that were presumed to be indicative of the evolutionary process and civilisation. In these belief systems, Maori were located within the lower ranks of the hierarchies.

Iris Marion Young has stated(2) that difference not only conceives of social groups as mutually exclusive, categorically opposed, and in terms of Other, but also in terms of one occupying a superior position.

The meaning of difference submits to the logic of identity. One group occupies the position of norm, against which all others are measured. The attempt to reduce all persons to the unity of common measure constructs as deviant those whose attributes differ from the group-specific attributes implicitly presumed in the norm. The drive to unify the particularity and multiplicity of practices, cultural symbols, and ways of relating in clear and distinct categories turns difference into exclusion.(3)

Differences for Maori, therefore, were not only in terms of colour and 'civility', but were also applied to support the positions of Maori into localities of inferiority. Beliefs about racial differences became influential in maintaining the superior/inferior relationship. By virtue of biological transmission, each group was designated as having distinctive attributes and dominant groups as sharing no attributes with those defined as Other.(4) This is a particularly problematic idea in that worthwhile and "valued" characteristics are attributed solely to those of the dominant group.

In New Zealand, the ways in which 'difference' and 'race' have been defined has significantly contributed to how Maori are perceived, the ways in which Maori knowledge, language and culture have been constructed, and the ways in which Maori have been treated - according to their 'differences', differences which are negative and which have their roots in colonial rule and racial discourses.

The Notion of Race

'Race' is defined differently within differing contexts resulting in its definition being contested and challenged. The use of the term is highly problematic. David Pearson points out that the meaning of race has changed considerably over time; from being a term used to classify plants, animals and persons of common lineage,(5) race was then constructed to include ideas that described the biological transmission of 'physical/psychological and cultural characteristics'.(6) This latter construction has also contributed to and supports racial hierarchies that endorse the supremacy of particular 'races' over Other 'races'. Furthermore, the difference between 'races' is seen as an unchangeable position. In fact, Wetherell and Potter argue, such differences are social constructions:

Ideology works in the main by confusing the social with the natural, mistaking surface appearances, skin colour and other physical characteristics, the phenomenal forms of social relations, for the essential underlying causes. …

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