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November 2015



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Nov. 10th, 2015

Collie muse


Just got the news: after a month more deliberation than required by my actual dissertation committee, the HRRC Committee (that is the committee that determines if my research will be ethical towards those whom I will be researching) has finally belatedly given their approval to my dissertation proposal! This means after nearly a year and a half of my writing, researching, engaging in random required effort, more writing, angsting and panicking, even more writing, leaping through flaming hoops of paperwork, and yet more writing… I am now officially ABD (All But Dissertation) — and allowed to actually start work on my dissertation!!



Break out the confetti — it's a miracle! :-D

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 31st, 2015

Collie muse


Hallowe'en silliness because I can; because Goldie is both patient and a delight to work with; because it's fun to dress up; because why not? :)

My ATS bellydancing class was a blast this morning! On the way to class I heard Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare" and a version of "I Put A Spell On You" and something new to me: the "Monster Hash." In class we continued the joyful holiday silliness, of course — we danced to "Thriller" and to "Swing Swing Swing" and to "This is Halloween" from The Nightmare Before Christmas and to other more, um… standard bellydancing fare. Oh, and we also celebrated the birthday of one of my dance sisters. It was really wonderful!

So after ATS bellydancing today my housemates and I went to breakfast at a lovely restaurant that has both a porch, and people who love dogs that work there. They know us there by now, and think Goldie's just a sweetheart — which of course simply shows how perspicacious they are, right? So for fun I tossed on some bits & bobs to make an impromptu costume for us both: La Zorra in her everyday gear — and her brilliantly disguised horse Tornado!



As you can clearly see in the photo, enthusiastically shouting, "Olé!" together is an important part of couples dancing, which… isn't really a critical part of being a super, but what the heck. After all, in the original Zorro series he was quite the gentleman when he needed to be, so La Zorra can be a gentlelady too!

Also important is having a faithful sidekick, so you can establish an alibi for your secret identity — by having your faithful sidekick wear the costume while you're elsewhere in regular clothing! Otherwise people might put two and two together and realize just who is that dashing and elegant lady behind the mask of the daring La Zorra! I'm quite sure no one will suspect… :)

Establishing an alibi

Establishing an alibi

Of course, one must also properly reward one's loyal sidekick for sharing in such mad shenanigans, so they're willing to continue doing so again later! Enjoy! -and a very happy Hallowe'en to you all. :)

lunge for it!

Lunge for it!

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 17th, 2015

Collie muse

Dissertation blues in a majorly cheerful key, pt. 3

Last three titles of my ten most influential books and articles which helped shape my thinking regarding feminism and the human community — woo! Got it posted at a reasonable hour, too! :)


8) Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas by Barbara Alice Mann

I loved this book! It's so refreshing to read excellent research that simultaneously recognizes and refuses the Western fallacy of the disinterested, distanced researcher. The author, Ohio Bear Clan Seneca and professor Barbara Alice Mann, successfully interweaves Western scholarly research with a powerful native perspective — the Iroquoian Story Keeper's style of oral record — to produce a narrative which is at once rigorously researched, richly threaded with humor, and a fascinating read.

Mann explains the profound influence and direction of Iroquoian women in the politically consensus-seeking, economically gift-oriented, socially egalitarian, and spiritually feminine divine Iroquoian social realm, through chapters which explain the culture's social conceptions of balance. Strikingly, Mann also traces the slow erosion of women's rights, duties, and honors through the often violent influence of the two Western "religions" of capitalism and Christianity — including how modern Western research wipes women clean from the record. Despite the horrifying record of Western atrocities, however, the author's interjections of dry humor make this a profoundly hopeful work, offering the unique template of a far more egalitarian and widely distributed matriarchal society than is ordinarily available for modern study and learning. Check out my quickie review here!

9) "An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms" by Robin J. Ely & Debra E. Meyerson

This article was a wonderful revelation to me, with its scientific examination of how we can "undo" destructive gender roles. As the authors themselves note, it was quite startling for them to discover "an organizational initiative designed to enhance safety and effectiveness [which] created a culture that unintentionally released men from societal imperatives for 'manly' behavior" (p. 3). The original article may (unfortunately) be difficult to find, but I blogged about it here.

10) The Tending Instinct: How Nurturing is Essential to Who We Are & How We Live by Shelley E. Taylor

Holy cats, where do I start?! This book was amazing — so many incredible ideas! Definitely read this one for a strong scientific backing to the fascinating discoveries it relates. Fortunately for me, I've already written about it in my blog, so you can check it out in:

  • Part 1 – which is mostly me musing about scholastic requirements, but also includes some references to Susan Kent's wonderfully perceptive article "Egalitarianism, Equality, & Equitable Power." It's a brilliant take-down of white male anthropologists who (usually unwittingly) twist what they see to fit their unacknowledged and pre-conceived notions regarding the superiority of masculinity and what they consider men's work… as compared to their ideas of what femininity and women's work are.
  • Part 2 – where I mention the unfortunately tenacious "alpha fallacy" extant in most patriarchal cultures. In a nutshell, in every heavily social species examined the most highly aggressive males are not the biggest winners, as we've been incessantly taught. The most highly aggressive males are, in fact, invariably the biggest losers, stuck at the bottom of the social hierarchy — and the easiest way to fix this? A childhood involving greater nurturance from calm, confident, attentive mothers.
  • Part 3 – This section includes my ruminations on Taylor's research regarding the critical importance of nurturance & of supporting pregnant women & mothers so they raise physically and emotionally healthier, more empathetic and confident, and well-socialized children… as well as how to prevent domestic violence.
  • Part 4 – Here I review the research on the incredible physical & financial value of women's nurturant work, & how their social networks lessen stress for both women & men — to the point that men who are living alone die at a hugely increased rate, that the rigid hierarchy of most patriarchal cultures and social class hierarchies is incredibly damaging… and how to fix it!

There you go! That's 10+ really fascinating and personally influential texts. Admittedly, most of these books are rather scientifically oriented, mostly because it's been my experience that hard data is what is required to get people to even consider changing their minds. This is not to say that I dislike poetry and prose, or lyrical writing — there are several books in my "polishing" category that are beautifully written and a pleasure to read. Just off the top of my head I recall:

  • Alice Walker's heart-wrenchingly inspirational We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in A Time of Darkness;
  • Luce Irigaray's gorgeously difficult poetic philosophy in je tu nous;
  • Anne Primavesi's beautiful melding of logic and lyricism in her Gaia's Gift: Earth, Ourselves and God after Copernicus; and
  • Kathie Carlson's elegant myth-making from both patri- and matrifocal perspectives in Life's Daughter/Death's Bride.

Finally, for those who feel philosophy isn't a "hard" science, I recommend Feminism & the Mastery of Nature by Val Plumwood. If you follow her staggeringly deep and articulate reasoning and it doesn't convert you… then nothing will. :)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 16th, 2015

Collie muse

Dissertation blues in a majorly cheerful key, pt. 2

Whoops! Finishing off the list of my ten most influential books and articles which helped shape my thinking regarding feminism and the human community took a bit longer than expected. Life intruded — mea culpa! So, continuing with #4…

4) "En'owkin: Decision-Making as if Sustainability Mattered" by Jeannette C. Armstrong

This article was personally revelatory for its explanation and implementation of a community ethos which believes everyone is important — rather than just the majority. It is the results of such an attitude which most move me to excitement, as I note in the description of the book I posted on my blog (check the second half of the posting; the first half is about a different article). Here's a great quote from the article itself:

I have noticed that when we include the perspective of the land and of human relationships in our decisions, people in the community change. Material things and all the worrying about matters such as money start to lose their power. When people realize that the community is there to sustain them, they have the most secure feeling in the world. The fear starts to leave, and they are imbued with hope (16-17).

Further, this social attitude of caring for all is being dramatically implemented in several modern societies to great gain for all involved. There is a fascinating book, which I have not yet finished, which examines the cultural results of this social attitude: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson. Check them both out!

5) Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World by Judy Grahn

In a brilliant intellectual re-creation, in 1993 feminist lesbian poet Judy Grahn re-members and reclaims the sacrality of women and menstruation in her Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. I'm not entirely sure how to quantify this book — it's such a smooth intermixture of research and lyrical prose that it both defies linear description and practically invites scientific criticism by the rabidly insecure. Despite that, it is indeed a book about menstruation — a reclaiming for women of an amazing biological process which our culture has worked very hard to demonize.

Grahn notes (with a personally startling clarity) that: "All origin stories are true" (7) — then offers women a radical new origin myth. She grounds this re-newed symbolism in her conceptualization of metaformic consciousness and metaforms: actions or objects which are regarded as not just conceptually iconic, but also directly linked to the mental concept of menstruation. In Grahn's brave new origin story, metaformic ritual is synchronous, cyclical; a cultural "container of knowledge" embodying a conceptual ideal, with blood as one element. Within a lyrical mix of creative non-fiction and personal remembrance which I found both entrancing and inspiring, Grahn poetically locates menstruation as the foundation of human culture through these symbolic metaformic expressions via ritual, mythology, language, cosmetikos, and food.

Frankly, I far prefer her old/new origin myth — which needs denigrate no one — to the cruel and unbridled misogyny of the supposed "big 5" world religions. This is a symbolism I'd like to use to replace theirs, as Christ suggests in her "Why Women Need the Goddess."

6) Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
Completely aside from how awesome hooks is, this book was critical in my realization of the privileged and individual-centric perspective we currently consider the norm in US society. Here's a previous blog on why this book was so important to me.

7) Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf

I initially approached this title with a mix of both amusement and trepidation — but Wolf's vivid prose and her enthusiasm for this revelatory subject shines through. Though the book is deeply intriguing and deserves to be read for fullest understanding, here's a (very simple) synopsis of the book: Wolf explores the research concerning what she refers to as "The Goddess Array," in the process explaining how a woman's genitalia are neurologically connected to her brain via pathways that are about three times more complex than the neurological wiring in men. In fact, "[a]ll female mammals were designed by the process of evolution to experience great sexual pleasure" (49; italics hers). It is unsurprising therefore to discover the empirical evidence proves that women's sexuality is directly neurologically and hormonally linked to their confidence, creativity, and joie du vivre.

This is such a new and radical idea to me… and yet in some ways it just makes sense. The more I read the research the more I found myself agreeing with her — though I was also sadly aware of just how many would be turned away by spiritual sounding prose such as her evocative phrase, "the Goddess Array." It's a real shame, considering how accurate an assessment that is of such a critically important facet of being a strong and healthy woman… and how starved our culture is for both a generous spirituality and the Feminine Divine.

Read the book! Also, if you can't easily find it you can read my review here: part one, wherein I introduce Wolf's concept and explore both its positive and negative ramifications; part two, which lays out both why pornography is not healthy for either women or men, and how historical ignoring turns into modern ignorance; and part three, where I replicate Wolf's recommendations on re-awakening a woman's Goddess Array.


Enjoy! Also, I'll post the last three titles in this list tomorrow — this time for shuuuure! :)


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 13th, 2015

Collie muse

Dissertation blues in a majorly cheerful key, pt. 1

Woohoooo! Current scoreboard in the Collie's advancement to dissertation candidacy game:

  • HRRC approval (as in: the ethics committee): a decision is promised to me by the end of the month at latest, and…
  • Dissertation committee approval: three out of three — DONE!! :-D

I'm getting very excited about this — it's so wonderful to see what was just a rather nebulous dream starting to shape up into something very real and doable by me! I'm so close I can almost taste it! :)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Interestingly, I've been asked more than once why I chose to further my scholastic career by taking something as obtuse as Women's Spirituality. Part of it, of course, is the fascinating journey of women's discovery — of learning where to find the cracks in the façade of supposedly endless capitalist progress and utopia for all, or of the insidious ways in which the issues of women and people of color are metaphorically swept under the cultural rug.

An equally dramatic part of my scholastic choice, however, is the vital and unrecognized need humans seem to have for some form of spirituality. I remember an article once which postulated that science was very effective in teaching us what is, and projecting that forward as either encouragement or warning… but it's not very good at dreaming up a better future. Instead we look to religious or spiritual thought to help us come up with the stories that tell us what should be. That's the main reason I study Women's Spirituality: to help me figure out the best should be for our world… AND how to get to it.

I'm in an exceedingly good mood currently, so I'm probably jumping subjects a bit… but it seems to me that listing the ten books and articles that most helped shape my thinking regarding feminism and the human community is also an excellent means of demonstrating how my thinking on how to make a better world has changed and, I hope, matured. This is not to say that other books or articles were not equally important over the long run, and I'll likely list them later as well. However, I think of them more as a refining polish upon the rough beginnings which were created in my mind by the original ten texts I list below in no particular order:

1) The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future by Riane Eisler

This was the earliest of the ten that I stumbled across — with thanks to Ann for pressing this book upon me! I credit Dr. Eisler for verbalizing for me several critical concepts which up until then had been a sort of grimly understood, inchoate knowing. Some of these fascinating concepts are:

  • the fact that history and archaeology are interpreted and written down by those who dominate the cultural conversation — which unsurprisingly leads to an interpretation of the past which is overwhelmingly merely a reflection of the present,
  • the new (to me) idea of dominator and partnership cultures, and
  • the socially required debasement of the feminine in dominator cultures.

Incidentally, another book on a somewhat similar theme which I recommend along with this one is When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone. The very title alone gave me a visceral thrill — imagine how nice it would be to worship a deity who not only looked like you but also approved of you! It's one of the books which I feel "polished" my personal growth.

2) Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu

Another book I stumbled over by accident, this is Namu's autobiography of her childhood as one of the Mosuo, a remote culture located in China in which women and men do not marry but rather remain in their matriline's household. While there has been quite a bit of forceful cultural contamination by outsiders, the original society had no monogamous marriage, nor words for the concepts of "husband" or "father." Instead a man would discreetly visit the room of the woman who'd invited him to spend the night for mutual sexual enjoyment, and would be departed by the dawn. All the women of a matriline, and all their brothers, worked together as a family — which included raising the children of the women who were part of that family.

As the anthropologist co-writer of this slim volume noted, by disconnecting sexual love from who was part of the family, an entire host of issues are neatly avoided. For example, children are given a constant, loving family in which to be raised. There is no divorce, and there is no concept of bastardy. Also, Mosuo men are never trained to consider other living humans their property, such as occurs in marriage within patriarchal societies; and as a consequence the women do not have to struggle with societal oppression. I was very impressed with how smoothly the Mosuo handled both sex and family — I still am. I think they're on to something brilliant which we should consider long and hard.

Incidentally, if matrifocal societies intrigue you, I also strongly recommend Peggy Reeves Sanday's fascinating ethnography of the Minangkabau of West Sumatra: Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy. That's another of the "polishing" books I loved.

3) "Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, & Political Reflections" by Carol Christ

Someday I will write another blog about how revelatory this article was for me. For now, suffice it to quote what I found to be the personally most important section:

A symbol's effect does not depend on rational assent, for a symbol also functions on levels of the psyche other than the rational… The symbols associated with … important rituals cannot fail to affect the deep or unconscious structures of the mind of even a person who has rejected these symbolisms on a conscious level — especially if the person is under stress… Symbol systems cannot be simply rejected, they must be replaced. Where there is not any replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures at times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat (Christ, p. 274-275; italics mine).

This is getting long — I'll continue tomorrow with the rest. For now: Woohoooo! Almost at the finish line for dissertation candidacy! :)


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Sep. 28th, 2015

Collie muse

Proposal committee approval score: 2 out of 3! :)

Another 'squeeeeeee!' moment for me this morning! I opened my email inbox to discover that my second (of three) committee members has approved my proposal — woohooo! Lots of really great suggestions and critiques too, which are both really helpful and a relief to receive — that tells me that my proposed research actually engaged my readers! Also lovely and encouraging was her email to me, in which she said:

It was a pleasure reading your proposal, which I just finished.… You write very well, and have clearly given this much thought.

Equally exciting were some of her notes on the dissertation proposal itself, such as:

This is a wonderful section! You write so well throughout, it is a pleasure to read your writing!

So very happy about this! Only one committee member to go now — and also I must get approval from the Human Research Review Committee (HRRC). They're the committee that makes sure all the research the university approves is also ethical — though neither my Chair nor I foresee any issues with what I plan on doing during my research. The HRRC requires the associated paperwork to be turned in by the first of whatever month they're reviewing it — and I would so love to have them check my proposed research out this October, considering it's my birthday month! Got all the paperwork done — just waiting on the cover page to be signed by the right folks, and then I can FedEx it all to CIIS!

I was excited to have the committee member express surprise and interest at some of my research —  and even ask me for citations! That was a very nice feeling, in that I felt like I was able to give interesting data as well as receive it… if that makes sense? I like to feel that even though I'm a student, I have something to offer as well, to my profs and committee members. :)

It was also weirdly cool to have this committee member make a comment on one of the authors I cite — by stating she knew the guy, and his work had developed since that book, and I should check it out! In retrospect it makes sense that folks within the field of Women's Studies, and specifically in addressing violence against women, would know each other, of course — it was just kind of startling and interesting to… to have the realization hit me quite so directly, I guess?

Incidentally, I now also know when my head is far too deeply into proposal writing — because the other night I actually had a dream… which was also tidily footnoted! ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Sep. 14th, 2015

Collie muse

Proposal passed by my committee chair!

Eeeeeeee! I am SO pleased — just got the email from my dissertation committee chair that she's passing my dissertation proposal on as acceptable! Now I can send it on to my other two committee members — and soon: ONwards to dissertation researching and writing! :-D

Also extremely exciting is what the Chair wrote in her email to me — lovely things that reassure me that I'm not a failure at having taken so long to get this thing done! A few very nice lines that have me doing the happycolliedance:

You've done some exceptional work here!


You've done an incredible job with the breadth of the literature review -truly establishing yourself who has done her homework!

and best of all:

Great revisions with the methodology chapter!!

These are particularly happy-making because I was initially truly worried my lit review chapter and (in particular) my methodology chapter would be sub-par. Yay for busting my chops and finally getting them right!

Yay also for the extremely yummy chocolate-peanut butter microwave mug cake recipe that a delighted friend dug up for me so I could properly celebrate — was tres delish, my dear! Sharing so all my friends and sister scholars can enjoy as well when they get to their joyous celebration moments! :)

Two Minute Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Serves 1
1 egg
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
a small handful of chocolate chips
In a small bowl stir the egg, brown sugar, peanut butter, flour, cocoa, and baking powder with a fork. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a greased ramekin or mug. Microwave for 1 minute. Eat straight from the ramekin or mug while dancing around elatedly, or invert onto a plate. Do not attempt elated dancing simultaneously with eating from a plate.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 21st, 2015

Collie muse

Reluctant heroes

I have been fortunate, over the years of my post-grad work, to have had some truly exceptional and deservedly renown professors. Some of my proudest memories, in fact, are when one or the other of them would praise my work – that was quite exciting! Frankly, I suspect it always will be, as these are all brilliant and perceptive women. I would be utterly thrilled to find out, years from now, that my writing was even half so good as some of theirs! Amazing authors and visionaries such as Vicky Noble, Judy Grahn, Marguerite Rigoglioso, Charlene Spretnak, Carol Christ, and more have been a major part of growing and encouraging my thinking. I'm exceptionally pleased I could take classes from those five in particular, and very proud that they thought my thinking and writing was and is worthwhile. Judy Grahn in particular urged me to continue my work, especially when she said to me something along the lines of, "You're so smart, Collie! Why don't you challenge yourself more?"

Ouch. ;)

She's right, though. There have been many times when it was just easier to turn in the swiftly written paper just like everyone else's, knowing it was only average work on my part — rather than really searching or digging deep for something more thoughtful and/or unique.

So I was amusedly reminded of this the other day when I got back my Methodology chapter for my dissertation proposal from my committee Chair. I was so pleased to read that my Chair felt that I "demonstrate an excellent grasp of the texts that you cite, and you engage with them in a masterful way," and that my "writing is sophisticated and engaging"! Aww, yesssss! I paused in my reading to preen a little, mentally – yay, me! Then I continued reading to get all the feedback she'd given, and to make note of her requested refinements…

-and at some point I found myself wondering a bit resentfully why my Chair was picking on me so! All these finicky little details she was fussing over – it's not like the other proposals I'd read had been that much different than mine! Why, one of them had a much, much simpler Methodology chapter than mine already was. This was so unfair! My Chair was being pointlessly mean to me! Whine whine whine…

-and then it hit me: wait, hadn't I asked for this? Hadn't I specifically tried to find people for my dissertation committee that would confront me with the difficult questions, so I would hopefully end up with a truly excellent bit of research in my dissertation? –people who would notice and point out where I was lazily trying to just slide by on my writing? –that wouldn't let me just fudge on the little details?

Well… yes, actually: I did ask for this. I'm whining… at the results of my own request. That's remarkably dumb of me — how embarrassing! Thank goodness the only person here in my head to hear this kvetching is me! :-)

So this one's for you, Judy – since your simultaneously inspiring and disconcerting comment is one of the main reasons I'm still trying to challenge myself; to continue learning and growing rather than sitting smugly on tatty old laurels and just stagnating mentally. Admittedly, sometimes trying to constantly test myself is a right pain in the ass! –but I'm glad you were there for me, to give me that much-needed metaphorical kick in the butt when I needed it. ;)


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 14th, 2015

Collie muse

Field notes on disturbing ethical questions, part 2

Just as the worrying realities of Field notes on disturbing ethical questions, part 1 are starting to really register as I read, there's a quote in the book that hits me hard:

Because feminism has challenged the pose of neutrality and objectivity that for so long governed positivist social science, it has forced us to scrutinize our own practice as scholars. . . . Is it possible — not in theory but in the actual conditions of the real world today — to write about the oppressed without becoming one of the oppressors? (139)

I'm not trying to rank oppressions here or anything… I'm just a little spooked. I want to do a good job on my research, and to write a dissertation that is of some value in the world… but I also already know good intentions aren't enough. I'm familiar with the SWG ("Silly White Girl") designation — a sometimes whimsically foolish white girl who really doesn't understand the realities of life for women of color, and probably doesn't want to. I'd like to not be that person… but in doing research I know I can't just shyly hush up so I don't say anything stupid. Further, I'm pretty sure pretending to just stay "neutral" or "objective" is taking the easy and emotionally cowardly way out — especially when the book mentions some worrying questions:

What if the ethnographer witnesses an act of violence, such as domestic violence, elder abuse, or child abuse? Or what if the ethnographer is studying a teenage gang that plans to engage in criminal activity? As a researcher and feminist, should the ethnographer intervene by calling the police, reporting the case to child welfare authorities, taking the victim to a shelter, or warning potential victims? It is important to be aware of the legal, ethical, and research implications of the answers to these questions. . . . If an ethnographer witnesses some form of abuse, he or she may have to balance confidentiality agreements, legal reporting requirements (which may apply to health, education, and social work researchers, among others), and his or her own ethical stance. (131)

Dear heavens… what am I getting myself into?! I would like to confidently state that I'd do the right thing, of course — but how do I tell what the right thing is, in a subaltern culture that is foreign to me, and has different definitions of what is right and what is wrong? What if the abusive person is the only individual who is taking care of the abused — how will the abused child or elder survive without assistance? What if the person I'm observing is trusting me — do I betray that trust? At what point? How far?

I wish the article gave more solid responses to its questions so I'd have a nice, clear, simple to-do list to follow — but simultaneously I understand why it cannot do that. There's no way the authors of the article can know what ethical issues I or any other reader may face… and honestly, my wishing for a simple to-do list is just me being emotionally immature, I think. To do this right I myself have to face whatever the personal, individual challenge is that will potentially confront me — I have to pull together the courage to both decide what is ethical, and live by the consequences of my decision's effects on others. It's… frankly a somewhat scary thought. I really don't want to hurt anyone without reason, you know? My goal here is to help these women — not to damage them or their lives.

On the other hand, what if during my interviews I get what feels like the perfect story for my research — but later the participant tells me she's uncomfortable having revealed that information to me, and she'd like me to please pull the story? Do I pull the story even though it beautifully illustrates some critical point I'm trying to make? Is it honest to do so? Won't that lessen my research? Or do I instead ignore her wishes? But… doesn't that violate her trust in me? Who has the real power here, and where is true justice?Just because I can do something… does that mean I should? I'm a little nervous as I turn to the next chapter, "Feminist Practice of Action & Community Research," and read the beginning quote:

We [Mayan] women . . . who have endured la violencia [36-year armed conflict] are remembering, through means of the PhotoVoice project, what we have seen or experiences and we are establishing a memory of it. This is very important because there are many young people who are growing up now who did not see this suffering and, because they didn't live through it they doubth that it happened. In contrast, people like us, who lived and suffered in our own flesh, remember it very well. And so, interviewing the people who suffered through it and who saw their family members die offers a sort of relief for them, because they recount what happened to another person. You think or feel that in sharing that person is asking, hoping, that this violence, this war, never again return. (145)

…and I have to stop and blink back the prickle of tears. So… much… pain in those simple words! Entire lifetimes of anguish and devastation glimpsed for an instant: of telling your story about watching those you loved slaughtered by laughing, indifferent soldiers who then raped you and left you for dead; of the violation and horror you've faced in the effort to survive and finally find justice — and then the slap in the face of being told by your uncomfortable listeners that no, no, that's too much — that couldn't have happened, you must be exaggerating, that must be wrong.

Reading, I feel… almost dizzily surreal, sitting here in the comfortably air conditioned restaurant with my ice cream and heated chocolate brownie. I know women have been ignored and silenced throughout much of history when the truths they told were too uncomfortable for the men in power. Hell, I've experienced a mild form of that myself. I also intellectually understand men have traditionally used rape to silence women. But this… there is something terrifyingly real in the words I'm reading — an immediacy of pain that won't allow me to immediately hide behind a soothing faux objectivity. I feel all raw edges and abraded emotions… and in retrospect I realize: this — THIS. This is how I want to be able to write — to reach out and grab the reader by the emotions and show them what pain is — and then to ask them: What are you going to do about it? This pain should not be! Its cause must be stopped — so what can we do about it?

I do not know if I am up to this task. Maybe, probably not… but I have to at least try. If I do not, I suspect I will always regret my being a coward — at least until I somehow comfortingly self-justify it to myself as too much for just one person, or not a "proper" topic for a dissertation, or whatever. But one of the things I keep reading over and over in all my methodological research is to write up my field notes into memos as quickly as possible, even if it takes well into the night after an exhausting day of research. Well, this hasn't been an exhausting day… but I believe reflexivity and research on myself counts, in the process of trying to write a truthful and worthwhile dissertation. This is a memo on my Self.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 13th, 2015

Collie muse

Field notes on disturbing ethical questions, part 1

I'm eating lunch and reading one of my methodology books and scaring myself. It's Feminist Research Practice: A Primer, 2nd edition. Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber is the editor. Don't get me wrong — it's an excellent book full of really well-written articles on precisely the things I should be considering in order to write a good dissertation proposal and, later, a really useful and productive dissertation. Also, it's not like I didn't already know some of this, going into this dog-and-pony show. Ethics, for example — I've taken good sociology courses where the professors (rightly) emphasized repeatedly that the First Commandment of Sociology was "Thou shalt do no harm!" That being said… it's one thing to know there are ethical issues I may have to face — and another entirely to realize they could potentially entirely derail my research.

Ethics are huge for me for a simple reason: as a member of academia, what I write will to some degree define my subject. If the subject were inanimate I wouldn't worry so much — but it's not. These will be real, live, breathing, joy- and pain-feeling people that I will be interviewing. What if I decide what they're saying means one thing… but what they meant was something else entirely? My work will fail or succeed due as much to their efforts and kindness as due to my work. How can I properly thank them? What responsibility do I owe them in my writings?

Here's an example which I wish were entirely fictional, though it's not — it is based somewhat on reality (and yes, things are somewhat better than this today; and yes, not all male researchers are like this example… but unfortunately some still are). Let's say the male ethnographer goes to another city and wishes to research how a subaltern culture there lives. Let's say also that the woman who leads that subaltern culture courteously welcomes him, showing him around and introducing him to everyone there so he can interview and observe them — because they all wish for their subaltern culture to be known to the world. They're all very helpful and friendly, opening their homes and hearts to the male ethnographer.

Now let's say the researcher returns to his university and writes up his notes, then publishes a book on the research. He gets quite a few bennies for this, of course: potentially he becomes the expert to go to regarding this subaltern culture, his book makes some nice royalties for him, the university is pleased to have such a respected name teaching there… maybe he even makes tenure on the basis of his research on this subaltern culture. All seems well, yes?

However, when the book reaches the members of the subaltern culture, they are shocked and horrified at what was written. Since the male ethnographer comes from an androcentric culture, the concept of a woman leader has never occurred to him — and so not only does he emphatically not treat his female research participant with the respect she is properly due, he also somewhat disparages the men of the subaltern culture for being such wimps, to his biased way of seeing things. Further, he reports only the men's rituals which he observed, since he believes that whatever females do really isn't interesting. Finally, in his conclusion he explains that men make all the decisions in this culture — and he comes to this astonishingly incorrect conclusion because he is incapable of noticing that it is women who are dealing with all the day-to-day issues of life.

What are the likely results of such research? The male ethnographer has pretty much bastardized reality for the subaltern culture, and violated the trust of its members. He may sincerely believe he's done a truly exceptional job of reportage, when in fact he has harmed those people. Further, by continuing to accept all the accolades he is receiving from the university and the reading public (both of which have no idea of what a terrible job he's done), he continues to damage his research subjects — because that's all they are, to him: experimental subjects — not real people. Further, even if their anger and dismay manages to reach him, it's not like he'll feel like he needs to change any of his research conclusions — or, god forbid, issue an apology — or attempt to share any of the wealth he's accrued at their expense. They're not "trained professionals," after all — what do they know about reality? It took his supposedly discerning eye to uncover the real truth.

That is, of course, a worst-case scenario for me — one I don't think I'll face simply because of the realities of both my research subject and my gender. Women who study women's subaltern cultures are not as scholastically rewarded and revered as men who study the things men find interesting — which predominantly and emphatically do not include women or their issues. However, as the book I'm reading points out, there are issues I will potentially face. I'm a middle-aged white woman: deliberately childless, comfortably middle class, rather privileged for my gender. I will probably be interviewing women whose lives have been much more challenging than mine: women of color, lesbians, young women living in poverty and/or trying to raise a family, women who have faced or are facing structural violence or domestic violence or other possibilities I'm nervously not yet imagining…

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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