Feminist Criticism Strategies

Posted: October 20, 2008 in Methods, Readings, Review, School
Tags: , , ,

So there’s a lot of reading this week. Unfortunately for me, I was sick for large chunks of last week and most of the weekend, so it took me longer than usual to get through it all. But I have, and so I present now a few select comments on the things I read. I think this may end up with multiple entries

First we have Mary M. Lay’s Feminist Criticism and Technical Communication Research. Among other things, this was a description of how feminist research works, how it “might suggest new and different ways to gather and interpret data in recognizing the voices, needs, and interests of diverse women” (166). But also how feminists don’t generally believe that research is objective (167) and at the same time believe that “Gender is the primary variable” (176).

This bothers me. And while it’s very difficult to talk about feminism as a whole without being labeled “Part of the problem,” I will endeavor to forge ahead anyway. Here is my problem, generally, with feminism: I feel it goes too far.Now, I’m not saying that women should accept the silences imposed on them. I’m not saying that it’s bad to look at texts a different way, or to question the implicitly phallocentric assumptions inherent in nearly everything. My problem is not with trying to get an equal voice for women. My problem is getting a privileged voice. To me, the answer to prejudicial treatment is equality, not prejudicial treatment.

To put this in terms of general feminism, I think it’s a travesty that women do not earn as much money as men do. But I think that women should make one dollar for every one dollar that men make. I don’t think they should make a dollar fifty. Trying to fix a problem by reversing who is in the less privileged position does nothing but perpetuate the problem.

So yes, feminist perspectives to a point are valuable. We should “make visible previously ignored female rhetors” (177). But I don’t think that the experiences of women are any more viable of a source for research than the experiences of men. I don’t think that female perspectives are in any way privileged above male perspectives. Different, yes. But not superior. Equal. And if they aren’t, they should be.


Okay, enough of that. Let me get on to the two chapters I read in Strategies for Empirical Research in Writing by Mary Sue MacNealy. This week I read about surveys and ethnography. The chapter on surveys seems like it would be valuable as a guide for developing surveys. There is a lot of good advice about types of sampling, about design issues, particularly the three big ones: “the format or layout of the instrument, the types and wording of the questions, and the scales used for the answers” (157). But overall, it was a chapter to reference at a later date.

It was the ethnography chapter that most drew my attention. Like the survey chapter, there is a lot of good advice and categorization with an almost Aristotelian glee. But there were a few things that bothered me. First comes the discussion of telling students that note takers are there for a purpose other than note taking (217), which sounds like lying. And that is okay, apparently. But then ethical issues like admitting that information is being gathered are mentioned and it is even explicitly stated that doing so is “the only honorable way to proceed” (221), which suggests that lying is not okay.

The bottom line is that it isn’t a black and white issue. Later on 221, it is mentioned that there is value to partially open and partially disguising areas of interest in order to “reduce subjects’ tendency to adapt their behavior to please the researcher or to match ideal models.”

Generally speaking, the chapter was interesting, but I find ethnography difficult to accept as a completely valid research method. Yes, it “has the flexibility to follow up interesting leads” (230), but it seems almost like there’s too much random chance involved. Nearly every ethnography report I read includes words along the lines of “my initial interest was motivated by learning how professional writers engaged in document review and processes [. . .] However, during this first meeting and subsequent discussions [. . .] I learned that this particular team was in the middle of transitioning to a single-source documentation system” (Kastman Breuch 12). The ethnography had one point to begin with, but ended up on another.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe research is best when it is allowed to go where it goes. I don’t know. The jury is still out.

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