Common Ground: Gender Research


I promised, promised not to ever make this blog a journal type thing aka; a place to vent.  But when I use my “sociological imagination” I can connect back almost every issue to something, so there’s that.  As of late, I have been patiently observing, not researching, although always looking for issues that I can connect to something I am passionate about.  To be fair, I have evolved quite a bit.  It is fair to say I moved on from the more generic “terrorism” and “gender” to more specific aspects of the two.  I have deleted terrorism almost entirely and inserted _____ “disaster response” and “disaster medicine”, and “disaster and gender”.  Terrorism need not be involved, although it can and this should not be a surprising topic to chose since I began my studies at my Alma Mater in August, 2001.  9/11 happened and it had it’s effects, I have also moved past the idea that “fear-mongering” has anything to do with my research interests.  When something quite novel happens to your country 3 weeks in to your University study, well “let’s figure this thing out” is an obvious reaction.  I do have trouble finding this “common ground” with the “end of days/apocalypse crowd” although they seem to have some of the same concerns.  The only separation here is that there is something rational underneath research and the rest is completely emotional outside of disaster studies.

Gender too is so generic as a research interest that one would be careful to jump right in without thinking this one through and without alienating 50% of the population or if your hypothesis is particularly controversial, 100% of well everyone.  So two genders and two research interests; what is the most obvious common ground research word that pops up?- violence.  Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) has been the topic of many research reports, studies, and activist campaigns.  I, myself, even spent some time in a domestic violence shelter to see what kind of observations I could make.  Five weeks later and I was convinced of two things (1) sometimes even the most well-meaning people can completely mess things up if they don’t know what they are doing and (2) it would be only fair to go to ANOTHER shelter to see if things were similar/different if so how? etc… I wasn’t getting paid for this and it was highly depressing and irritating.

I decided to stay with “violence” as a theme still and in doing so, hold off that second trip to another shelter, where my story was not imaginary or made up, it was almost 20 years old though.  Reliving THAT was inflicting violence on my mind, really, so just- no- capital “N”.  I decided to enter into the world of violent sport to see if I could find some sort of definition or pattern to violence that I had missed since I already had some working definition of what it was.  Maybe I had to rethink it, maybe I had to see if American society was getting more violent or maybe (I know, I know many maybes here) – but perhaps 9/11 had some effect on making things seem more violent or it was possible that people were just quicker to throw up their hands and proclaim “everything is just so violent and senseless”.

How does one prove that? I have no idea really.  But what I do know is that when I entered in to the world of MMA (the same world some researchers in my field get paid to do) I realized that when you acknowledge violence exists it changes everything in that physical pain does not equal violence…as in sometimes it is just a means to an end of winning or getting up a hill or something that involves enduring pain. It is so much more complicated than this, so working from a hypothesis with violence in the opener is worthless without defining it first.  So that 45 seconds I spent in the ring getting punched and kicked and feeling somewhat humiliated, was worth it in that I learned that had all the ingredients of violence, but it wasn’t violent.  I simply lost in a sporting competition.  I also learned that I had given myself too much credit in the way of self-defense and I think every women should learn to protect herself and every guy too.  This was exactly a year ago.  I remember like it was yesterday though, the feeling that everyone was staring at my black eye and then later reading that MMA was easier for men outside the ring in that people didn’t make such a huge deal with men’s injuries than with women’s.  Someone actually got paid to come to this conclusion.  Really?

Much more can be polished from this so-called “violent subculture” courtesy of UC Berkley and if I had the time I would polish it.  However, as with IPV, things are only important in the context of something else, there must be something to compare it to.  I thought that possibly doing some participant observation of nurses (with the idea that I could put a bow on all of this) would be just the thing.  My research angle would be that yes, more women than men abandon their work roles during and after a natural disaster AND with so many women in nursing this is literally dangerous.  So I could conceptualize gender roles in MMA fighters (masculine) and in nurses (feminine) to see how to change this.  I also could sprinkle a dash of men can handle “x” amount of stress where women’s threshholds were somewhere else generally.  I can say that personally and apparently I have a high threshhold for pain, but very little desire for inflicting it.  Maybe this is the opposite for men?

So I went on like this for awhile, acutely aware of the possibility of making either men or women or both mad with these claims.  Then a wise professor at Indiana University pointed out that this problem of women leaving their nursing duties during a disaster had more to do with the collapse of “community” than gender.  It just was not feasible to expect anyone else to care for family than the family unit, itself.  I immediately had the fleeting thought that if we just taught our families martial arts than they could defend themselves, karate chop away debri, etc… then we, as women, could continue working.  That thought came and went quickly.

But, I realized I had all the controversial ingredients of gender, concepts of violence, and something else “important” in my own home.  This was something that has snowballed lately and I realize I have to tread more lightly and maybe solicit money this time; fighters have to pay for physicals, HIV and Hepatitis testing, women have pay to take pregnancy tests, and people like me that remain uninsured have to pay for medical care if they believe they ruptured an eardrum- I didn’t and that’s another story…none of my other participant observation research cost anything per se.  For instance, my learning about the Hispanic Immigrant experience was more about not getting paranoid when others were speaking a different language than anything.  It was also about learning how to remain detached in this kind of research, as you have to eventually walk away.  You also are well served not to get involved with people’s problems in that you change the trajectory of the very thing that you are studying.  I do chalk a lot of what I have done as “practice” and no one should get paid for that.

So after all this practice, I am trying to remain detached, well BECOME detached and it is not working so far.  New hypothesis “The college attendance gap that shows a decline in male students is partly due to the “feminization” of education”.  Sub out nurses, enter in teachers in elementary school and we still have something to work with, something with numbers to use (this always helps)… But being the mother of three boys makes this difficult, it also makes me vehemently believe it to be true.  I will admit when I am wrong, but it is my new “m.o.” to pounce on a female teacher and cry “gender bias!” when my boys get in any sort of situation I see as gendered; music and art work well as examples for the most part.  Physical Education, strangely enough has also been an area of concern before I even contemplated looking at widespread gender bias in schools and an ensuing distaste for the classroom by all boys who have experienced or witnessed it (as a hypothetical of course). Even though I am, again, convinced there is some validity to this…I have to watch myself in word and in e-mail.  I am sure one female teacher, who may or may not secretly despise “normative boy behavior”-whatever that means- will not be the straw that proverbially breaks the camel’s back and pushes my boys or any other young man into the military rather than college.  My oldest has already decided on the military and can conceivably go in 2 years, although his father can certainly afford to pay for his college.  Therefore when I feel that the school environment for the younger two is becoming inhospitable and a female teacher is to blame; I see red.  But I also see a pattern.

If I can somehow disentangle the two and just look at patterns (and my own students, even the female students almost 100% agree that teachers are all harder on male students when this comes up in class); something can come of this.  Common ground can be found in that a teacher is studying other teachers, carrying the torch of “I treat everyone the same!” and “why don’t boys ever win awards in Choir?” and “you think that is violent? do you live in a bubble?” “zero tolerance?” that sort of thing.  I just halfway wish I could take back the email to my 12 year old’s English teacher; the one standing between his straight A 9 weeks.  He would have had straight A’s last 9 weeks also, barring the “B” he received and the semester before as well if not for her and her brother, the PE teacher.  I didn’t tell her how Donnie and Marie Osmond strange that was, so I don’t really want to take back that last e-mail after all.  That last e-mail from her by the way did not address his lack of doing good “English”, but instead implied his behavior was not that of an “A” student, since he was too “social”.  Yes, I know there are some people that will simply say “the teacher doesn’t like your son ____ fill in the blank of which son we are discussing…and personality conflicts happen”.  The REASON why they aren’t liked and made to “suffer” in some way is what is important.  If it even comes close to gender as a factor and this affects young men’s college decisions, I am all over it.  At least I would be doing this anyway, although any monetary donations would be appreciated! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Common Ground: Gender Research

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