The imperative to succeed : women tertiary students' negotiations of higher education and intimate partner relationship expectations : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
This study seeks to understand how women tertiary students negotiate their expectations of higher education and intimate partner relationships. It makes these explorations within postfeminist and neoliberal contexts which assume that gender equality has been fully achieved and that success is a matter of individual effort and merit. Narrative-discursive analysis was used to explore the narratives of eight women who were either current or recently graduated tertiary students in Aotearoa New Zealand. Participants occupied multiple standpoints and self-identifications, including Pākehā, Māori, and Pakistani; single, in a relationship and married; heterosexual and gay; middle and working classes. Neoliberal contexts shaped all of the women’s discursive negotiations. They emphasised the psychological pressures they experienced as young women to succeed in multiple sociocultural terrains – academically, at work, and in relationships. Participants narrated and negotiated these pressures through two prominent discourses: the successful girls discourse (Ringrose, 2007); and a companionate relationship discourse (Blair, 2017). Through the successful girls discourse, the women positioned themselves as ‘natural’ high achievers for whom tertiary study was both a personal pleasure and a social obligation. Participants struggled to integrate discourses of post-feminist gender equality with the heteronormative life trajectories they felt were expected of them, which included marrying and having children. Through a companionate relationship discourse, the women attempted to ease some of the narrative tensions, such as by positioning themselves as receiving nurturance and care from their partners. However, the women were constrained by the ongoing imperative to succeed relationally and professionally. They deployed rational economic language to describe ‘working’ at their relationships, while lacking a discourse through which to talk about gendered emotional labour within intimate partner relationships. My analysis of the women’s narratives emphasises the need for increased discursive resources to describe, recognise and resist otherwise still invisible gendered heteronormative performances which occur within intimate partner relationships, such as women’s emotional labour.