Doing gender

Doing gender[1]

Recently, I chanced upon old photographs of my fieldwork for my dissertation. They were innocuously marked in a folder called ‘Fieldwork’, and turned up when I searched for my field notes. As I was looking through these pictures, I realised that I feel privileged to do the work that I do. I am a feminist sociologist by training, and most of my work has been with women – interacting with them, talking to them, reading about them. From the time that I stepped into a women’s studies class, it feels that the experience of studying women – whether in classrooms where I was a student and then a teacher, or in the fieldwork, where I was a novice and then ‘experienced’ – has enriched my life tremendously. There are fundamental aspects of this work that are still new and there is much I still have to learn. The experience of engaging with women, in the midst of shouting, crying, laughing, singing, and general chaos, has been intensely rewarding. Learning about women’s worlds, as diverse as they are, has broadened my horizons of a social world much beyond my own privileged one.

Some of these reflections are influenced by the fact that we are at the end of the GrOW project. Titled Together We Can: Assessing the impact of women’s action groups on social change in India, the study required a deep engagement with women in two states – Bihar and Karnataka. For the past three years, the entire GrOW team has discussed, debated, and argued about the larger questions of empowerment: what does empowerment mean? How do we measure it? How do we approach the field? How do we depict the complexity of the data that we have collected? And how does the writing between the qualitative and quantitative aspects speak to each other? In the midst of writing our reports and papers, there have been a thousand smaller questions and conversations that do not necessary find a home in traditional writing forms. These small questions and conversations are not just about these big picture concepts, but also about the personal journeys that each of us took in our understanding of women’s lives and what empowerment really means when it is a lived reality (and also, when it is not).

This blog series will try to capture these small insights and conversations that all of us have had, which inform our own unique understanding of gender. It is an attempt to look back at our experiences (in my case, the photographs) and map the ways in which we are informed about gender, in small and large ways, which do not always find a formal manner of expression. The individual pieces can deeply personal – an anecdote, a story, a puzzle, or even a question – why did this have to happen to her? They can also be analytical – why did women choose to act in a particular way? What are the ways we can capture their experiences better? The idea for the blog series, therefore, is to plumb the personal experience of the ‘doing’ research – the thinking work, the experiential lessons, the emotional connections, and the inevitable writing work – to provoke a deeper conversation about gender. To a large extent, it is to address and give weight to the idea that our analysis of our experiences, even if it is strictly within the personal or symbolic realm, has an influence on our material understanding of gender and the power structures that shape it. This blog series is an attempt to articulate the difficulties and rewards of ‘doing gender’.  And we invite you to join us in these discussions.

[1] Apologies to Candace West and Don Zimmerman for shamelessly appropriating their framing of how we engage with gender.

For the original article, please refer to :

Niveditha Menon
Senior Research Advisor, CBPS

[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS]

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