Ruling the Country Without Losing the Self: An Exploration of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Identity Construction and Maintenance

Ruling the Country Without Losing the Self: An Exploration of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Identity Construction and Maintenance

Angelique Margarita Nairn (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 31
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4829-5.ch002
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Abstract

Despite the pursuit of gender equality emphasised by first, second, and third wave feminism, society continues to socially construct women as inferior to men, that their place should be in the home and that they pose a threat to masculine ideals if women do not act or conform to hegemonically feminine traits. So, what happens when a woman is elected to a role generally occupied by men? This is a question set to be addressed in this chapter on Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. Applying thematic analysis to a series of Facebook videos uploaded to Ardern's Page, this research found that Ardern tended to emphasise what mattered to her, personal information about herself and her work, and what it meant to be a career mum. The themes indicate that in some cases she could speak with her own voice, but that political and societal structures influenced her identity work.
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Introduction

Schippers (2007, p. 93) argues that:

Masculinity and femininity…provide a rationale… a technology available for organizing social practice that, over time as recurring patterns of practice, become, produce, and legitimate male dominant interpersonal relations, a gendered division of labor, an unequal distribution of resources and authority, global imperialism, and so on. Thus, masculinity and femininity are hegemonic precisely in the ideological work they do to legitimate and organize what men actually do to dominate women individually or as a group.

In essence, despite the pursuit of gender equality emphasized by first, second and third-wave feminism (Casimir, Chukwuelobe & Ugwu, 2014), society continues to socially construct women as inferior to men (Connell, 1995; Lorber, 1994; Schippers, 2007), that their place should be in the home (Schippers, 2007) and that they pose a threat to masculine ideals if women do not act or conform to hegemonically feminine traits (Schippers, 2007). Such traits include being “small, delicate, refined, standard-speaking, manicured and coiffed, and perhaps even light-colored” (Eckert, 2014, p. 530). It has led Karamare (2008) to suggest that women are in fact a muted group and that their voices are not given consideration, particularly in public arenas (Connell, 1995; Stevens, 2007).

So, what happens when a woman is elected to a role generally occupied by men? This is a question set to be addressed in this chapter on Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. Ardern was born in Hamilton and grew up with a rural background. She first entered parliament in 2008 as a list Member of Parliament (MP) with the Labour political party (Labour.org.nz, n.d.). Not long after winning the Mount Albert by-election in early 2017, Ardern was appointed deputy leader of the Labour Party on the retirement of Annette King (NZHerald.co.nz, 2017). In August 2017, she was voted Leader of the Labour Party after former leader, Andrew Little, decided to resign from the post (Davison, 2017). Forming a coalition with the New Zealand First political party and signing a letter of confidence and supply with the Green Party, Ardern was named Prime Minister of New Zealand in October 2017 (stuff.co.nz, 2019a). Until 2019 when Finland elected Sanna Marin Prime Minister (Henley, 2019), Ardern was the youngest women to become head of state, and she is only the third female Prime Minister of New Zealand, following in the footsteps of Jenny Shipley (1997-1999) and Helen Clark (1999-2008) (Steafel, 2017). She currently holds the portfolios Culture and Heritage, National Security and Intelligence, and Vulnerable Children (Labour.org.nz, n.d.). When she came to power, Ardern was in a de facto relationship with Clarke Gayford, who has since become her fiancé (West & Kirk, 2019). While in government, she gave birth to the couple’s daughter Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford (Nyika, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Politics: Issues of the public sphere that require government intervention.

Career Mum: Women who juggles both working and family/household duties.

Agency: The ability to make one’s own decisions ensuring a sense of empowerment.

Women’s Issues: Those problems or opportunities that impact directly on women.

Social media: Computer mediated interpersonal communication.

Identity: The characteristics that comprise a person’s self-definition.

Voice: The ability to articulate one’s own interests, attitudes, and desires.

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