Rangatahi wāhine negotiating harm on their journey to becoming sexual

Fern Miro Smith - IIRC20
Thursday, November 19, 2020

Exploring sexuality can be full of possibility, discovery, and pleasure – yet can also be a site where gendered and racialised discourses coalesce in nuanced and complex ways. Alongside these complexities, new technological interfaces, such as social media and pornography, have imposed unique challenges for rangatahi (young people) learning about sex and relationships with implications for how they experience their sexuality. How then do rangatahi wāhine (Māori girls/young women) in rural Te Tai Tokerau (Northland), Aotearoa, develop sexual identities and initiate sexual relationships? I explore this question utilising a kaupapa Māori methodology – research that is done by Māori, for Māori and with Māori – utilising Māori approaches and practices. Thirty rangatahi were interviewed (12 rangatahi tāne and 18 rangatahi wāhine) in Te Tai Tokerau.

As part of this study, utilising a pūrākau approach, I explore rangatahi wāhine narratives of sexual violence, and compounding layers of social harm informed by a settler-colonial context that curtails Māori women’s collective self-determination. In the aftermath of experiencing sexual violence, rangatahi wāhine were critical of others’ suggestions to go to the police. Currently, settler-colonial justice systems do not adequately respond to Indigenous communities – putting the onus on punishment and retribution, rather than restoring social ties (Jackson, 1998; Tauri, 2005). The relational dynamics of rural communities further complexify decisions about going to the police, as not only did rangatahi wāhine know the perpetuator, but they also knew their whānau. As a result, the capacity of rangatahi to respond to experiences of sexual violence on their terms was limited as they were also required to protect the perpetrator and their whānau by not seeking police intervention. Instead, in the aftermath of experiencing sexual violence, rangatahi wāhine emphasised the importance of whānau support, and drawing upon their own wisdom to understand what healing could be like for them.

Strategically, I draw upon narratives about atua wāhine (Māori Goddesses), to see how their qualities of strength and resistance, live and breathe in contemporary rangatahi wāhine who are negotiating challenging contexts. Locating rangatahi wāhine within their whakapapa, centralised their divine potential, and allowed for challenges to be solved within a collective capacity. Evident throughout these challenges, is the agentic potential of rangatahi to seek out opportunities for social and interpersonal redress and healing, for themselves and their communities