AbstractsWomens Studies

Understanding Female Secondary School Students' Experiences of Outdoor Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

by Sophie Rebecca Watson

Institution: University of Waikato
Year: 2016
Keywords: Outdoor Education; female participants; school-based programmes; gender; feminist phenomenology
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2065350
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10166


Despite ongoing developments to outdoor philosophy and practice, outdoor education continues to be a highly gendered space. More specifically, the notion that the outdoors is a masculine environment, requiring and reproducing qualities traditionally associated with being male, has meant many girls and women have struggled to find acceptance and validity in their outdoor experiences. A combination of gender socialisation, and inaccurate and biased portrayals of outdoor education and adventurers in Aotearoa New Zealand, have ensured many female participants feel out of place in the outdoors. While there has been an increase in the number of studies examining women’s participation in outdoor recreation and education, the experiences of young women in school-based outdoor education programmes remains largely unknown. This qualitative research is centred around the experiences of adolescent girls in secondary school outdoor education programmes. More specifically, this study considers young women’s motivation for participating in outdoor education, the meanings they draw from their experiences, and the aspects of outdoor education that support and hinder their engagement in the outdoors. Focus groups, individual interviews, and participant observations were conducted with ten female senior students from three secondary schools in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. A feminist phenomenological methodology was applied to this study, which enabled a critical and reflective analysis of the girls’ experiences to occur. In accordance with the feminist aims of this research, which seeks to challenge the gender inequalities that exist in outdoor education, suggestions to theory and practice are made. The findings of this research highlight the subjective and complex meanings girls assign to their participation, and the varied ways in which their school-based outdoor education programmes both support and challenge their involvement. Through their experiences, the young women had the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with their peers, teachers and the environment, and in doing so, many developed a deeper sense of self. The majority of the young women in this study felt supported in their programme and saw the outdoors as a gender-inclusive space. However, while heartening, the findings of this study suggest girls continue to face ongoing challenges to their engagement, particularly surrounding the perception and practice of gender in the outdoors. Advisors/Committee Members: Cosgriff, Marg (advisor), Thorpe, Holly Aysha (advisor).