Doing Gender through Combining Studying and Teaching Gender

Päivi Korvajärvi, Department of Women's Studies, University of Tampere, Finland

Keywords: Interdisciplinarity, Gender

My reflections represent my experiences when working in the Department of Women's Studies in the process of the renewal of the degree system within the Bologna process. In the following I differentiate between aspects of organisational position, research position and teaching position. The main body of the paper is related to research and teaching. When it comes to my own positions, I have combined feminist conceptualizations and methodology with social psychology, sociology of work and organisational studies in ethnographic research on gendering practices and changing work in female dominated service sector workplaces. My current research deals with gender and social capital. Except for the introductory course, the major part of my teaching consists of intellectual and emotional supervising of and support for the students who work on their Masters or Doctoral theses. As Head of the Department of Women’s Studies I am responsible for the future development of the activities of the Department in terms of research, teaching, curriculum, administration and finance.

Organisational position
The organisational setting for Women's Studies in my university emphasizes its independent status in terms of budget and administration. Institutionally the setting for Women's Studies is quite strong compared with the descriptions in many of the other papers. However, the situation is still vulnerable and far from the position of the Gender Institute in London School of Economics reported by Clare Hemmings (at least in terms of student numbers). The Department of Women’s Studies is administratively located within the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Tampere. Thus, the organisational setting locates Women's Studies within the frame of the social sciences. Furthermore, the growing emphasis on research in the university as a whole sets particular challenges for the Department of Women's Studies. There is a growing demand for research output, and particularly for international publishing. At the moment, the students can take Women’s Studies as a minor subject for the Masters degree. However, this situation changed in Autumn 2005. A two-year Masters Program and a Doctoral Program in Women’s Studies started in September 2005.

From the point of view of feminist teaching and pedagogy, the organisational setting poses several challenges. How are we to combine interdisciplinarity within the social sciences and in regard to social scientific research? Thus far, the curriculum has become more and more extensive every year through the addition of interesting research and publications from different disciplines. The goals of the Masters Program – such as the skills to use and apply Women’s Studies scientific knowledge and methods in research work as well as in planning and decision making in different organisations – address the relationship between our teaching and ongoing research. How do we teach and supervise in ways that enable both the undergraduate and doctoral students to learn both to do and to apply critical feminist research in different contexts?

Research Positions

My assumption is that nobody represents interdisciplinarity alone. Instead, interdisciplinarity in both research and teaching grows out of cooperation and communication within Women's Studies' communities. The fact is that there are only a few of us in the Department of Women's Studies. Consequently, our research projects include only a limited scope of the huge possible range in Women's Studies. Moreover, the research is funded from external sources. This means that senior researchers have to apply for funding for their projects in order to arrange research opportunities for younger scholars and especially for those who are doing their doctoral dissertations.

In case of postgraduate students, the idea of combining research and postgraduate studies is straightforward. The doctoral students’ main task is to do research, and the target is to complete their theses for a public defence. In addition, they participate in relevant doctoral courses offered by different graduate schools in our university but also in other universities within Finland or abroad. My supposition is that in Finland social scientists are expected to do research work more independently and in less fixed courses for a doctoral degree than in the British system, for example.

My own research is based on the idea that gender is not about being but doing. Here I find links with Theodossia-Soula Pavlidou, who in her paper refers to the necessity of an understanding of practices that lie behind a discipline or a concept, an issue that Veronica Vasterling also mentions in her discussion of interdisciplinarity. We do gender in our everyday lives (Fenstermaker & West, 2002). Doing gender means attending to the concrete processes and practices that are routinely maintained and reproduced in the activities of women and men. These activities, however, do include patterns of thought, symbols and images connected to women and men in different contexts. Furthermore, gender is done through the individuals’ self-definitions. Thus gender is done at various levels and in diverse contexts of human life: in symbols and images that we use in interaction and self-definition (Korvajärvi, 2003). This line of thought is indebted to Joan Acker’s (1992) conceptualization of gendering processes. However, Acker seems to emphasize the consequences of the processes i.e. different inequalities that result in the gendering processes, while my aim is to find gender as a ‘doing’ with consequences for women that are not solely negative. Instead, my aim is to study gender as a sometimes positive and empowering resource for women. Thus I find symbols and images, interaction and self-definitions as practices that may contribute to producing and reproducing gender as both a negative and positive resource for women.

The practices of doing gender work through different sites. In my research on changing gendering dynamics in female-dominated work organisations I have differentiated between certain sites in which gender was deployed in work organisations (Korvajärvi, 2002). The interpretation is based on a deconstruction of interviews and observations. Gender was embedded in five sites 1) differentiation between individual women and men in promotion; 2) differentiation between women’s and men’s work communities; 3) differentiation between the spheres of life; 4) sexuality and more generally corporeality; 5) skills and changes in their appreciation in work organisations; and 6) differentiation between the users and experts of technology (1).

Furthermore, there appeared to be a meta-topic, namely the location of gender in work organisations. In the case of negative aspects of doing gender, such as inequalities, sexual jokes and harassment, the women and men I interviewed reported that the negative doing of gender took place somewhere else but not in their own workplace. Thus the employees thought that ‘negative gender’ was located at a distance and it was not identified close at hand. In this regard it would be fruitful to examine whether such kinds of distancing tactics are to be found in other contexts too. In addition, this might have something to do with Eva Skaerbaek’s research result that embodied and situational knowledge is not appreciated as serious knowledge. I understand this as knowledge which is close at hand, perhaps too close for it to become reflected upon and analyzed. ‘Positive’ or empowering gender was hard if not impossible to find in the research material. Instead, the maintained image was a kind of harmony or gender neutrality. However, harmony and gender neutrality were paradoxically intertwined to make gender invisible and to hide the potential or apparent conflicts based on gender and sexuality in work.

This interpretation of the situation of women in Finland is confirmed by some other studies conducted in different social contexts. They show that women often consent to work in unequal, hierarchical and, in this sense, violent organisations. Gender, as well as sexuality, is hidden within social and political life. At the same time, however, gender and sexuality are a central part of the seeming ‘harmony’ without conflicts and contradictions. From the point of view of teaching and pedagogy this situation gives rise to several questions. How do you combine empirical research results lacking explicit gender aspects, and women’s studies? What kind of gendering practice is ‘harmony’ and distant gender? Or how is gender practiced via ‘harmony’ and distance (2)? How do you break the gender ‘harmony’ in teaching, if the surrounding society is continuously offering ‘harmony’? How do you promote in teaching the development of subjectivities that are able to use gender as a positive resource?

Interdisciplinarity in its different forms appears to be important in several papers. Accordingly, ‘interdisciplinary travelling’ of concepts clearly means different things in different contexts. As Liana Borghi says in her paper, theory ‘must be able to travel from one situation to the other and beyond, flow back and forth, changing as it goes’. The situation may also be different depending on institutional setting, discipline or research, which frame women’s studies and feminist research in different places. In a situation that is framed by social sciences there are a couple of crucial questions. One is the relationship of concepts to ’concrete reality’which can be understood in a variety of ways.

As a social scientist, it is important for me to analyse how concepts travel from texts to the research tools of analysing the activities of concrete people, or cultural phenomena, in society. At the same time, the traffic moves in the opposite direction. Consequently, it is important to reflect on how an analysis or a research process changes the content of concepts. These questions are related to Eniko Demeny’s questions, here, on the contested definitions of gender in different disciplines. Inspired by her reflections, I would like to make a suggestion for analysing the concept of gender. I do not think that it would be possible to find a conceptual solution for ‘gender’ that would work across the disciplines. Neither do I think that it would be possible to develop different conceptual content for gender’ within each discipline. Rather I would look for how gender is done in different contexts, whether the context is the concrete activities of women or men, representations of femininities or masculinities in texts or images, or seemingly gender-neutral scientific analysis. In this regard, I find Robert Connell’s (1987) terms ‘gender regimes’ and ‘gender order’ useful as examples of concepts which include the idea that gender is embedded in institutional and cultural settings of society. In this sense I find Therese Garstenauer’s questions useful when describing concrete challenges for co-operation in different societies with different images of feminisms. I am also convinced that ‘East’ and ‘West’ play a crucial role in feminist contexts in Europe.

It is interesting to note that hardly any of us uses the concepts of ‘equality’ or ’equal opportunities’ in our papers. Indeed, the reputation of the term gender equality is not very popular among feminist researchers. The notion is usually linked with liberal feminism and its goal of gaining similarities between women and men in society without any space for differences among women or within women. I think that it would be useful to analyse the shifting and mobile content of gender equality without its taken-for-granted links with liberal feminism. In this regard, Sara Goodman poses a very demanding question of the resistance of analysing ethnicities in women’s studies. I recognize quite similar issues in Finland. Especially it seems to me since the same type of discursive construction of national identity based on the social welfare state hides differences and diminishes the space for dealing with inequalities and hierarchies, and produces discourses of harmony and gender neutrality at the same time.

Curriculum and interdisciplinarity
The questions and suspicions concerning expanding the curriculum in gender or women’s studies that Clare Hemmings poses are of great relevance in the situation of our department. There are at least two issues. One concerns the curriculum for students who know Finnish and the other one is the curriculum provided in English for international exchange and other students.

In our case, the curriculum and list of publications have always been extremely long. Every year we have noticed that new books necessary for the students have been published. In addition, every year we have noticed that some areas or topics are missing from our curriculum. The consequence has been that we have added more alternative books on various topics in the reading lists. However, the students need to gather only a certain amount of credits. This is why the extension has meant that there are a huge number of alternatives that the students need to choose from. The extension has also meant that the library purchases only one copy of the books on the reading list and the students have difficulties in borrowing the books that they would like to read. In addition, providing vast alternatives might work with students who know quite exactly what they want to study and learn in women's studies. However, the situation is not easy for students who have not studied their major subject for long enough that they know how to look for something specific in the curriculum.

In 2004 we have decided to radically cut down the alternatives. We have also decided to prioritise monographs over anthologies. The idea is that the students will learn something very thoroughly in order to gain the prerequisites to filter through new material that they need to analyse in different situations and settings in the future.

This has to do with the question of interdisciplinarity and its different levels. Nina Lykke (2004) differentiates between multi-, inter- and transdisciplinarity. Long lists of books under such headings as Gender and Literature, Gender and Work, Gender and Technology, represent the kind of interdisciplinarity that Lykke calls multidisciplinarity, emphasizing collaboration between different disciplinary approaches. This was our track until Autumn 2004. In the new curriculum we have aimed to form packages of books under headings such as Body and Sexuality, Pictures and Representations; Near/Far; Spaces and Actors; as well as Science, Knowledge and Classifications. Under these headings there are books on women’s studies (3) from within different disciplines. The aim is somehow to break the boundaries between the disciplines and go beyond them. I understand that this may represent a modest step towards a neodicipline as indicated by Ulla Holm in her paper.

In English we provide only a basic programme in women’s studies. This means one course per semester and book exams (4). We have come to the conclusion that we direct, if possible, foreign students to read books that analyse Finnish and Nordic societies studied mostly by Finnish or Nordic scholars, or books that analyse post-socialist life. Thus we stay more or less within our own geographical area. On the one hand, this might sound like a Eurocentric emphasis. On the other hand, we have tried to choose books that open comparative or critical views within the European situation. The idea is to provide a standpoint from which to critically analyse different situations rather than teach just how things are in our part of the world or what kind of research is done here.

Acknowledgements: I am thankful for the comments made by my colleagues Tuula Juvonen, Kirsti Lempiäinen and Jaana Vuori.

(1) I added technology to this list at a later date.
(2) Patricia Yancey Martin (2003) has suggested that gendering dynamics is two-sided, consisting of gendering practices and practising gender.
(3) We use women’s studies as an umbrella term to include gender studies, feminist studies, critical studies on men and masculinities, lesbian, gay and queer studies, and studies on equality and equal opportunities.
(4) A ‘book exam’ is one in which students read 3-4 books mentioned in the curriculum and sit a closed exam on these.

Acker, J. (1992). Gendering Organizational Theory. In: A. J. Mills, & P. Tancred (Eds.), Gendering Organizational Analysis. (pp. 248-260). Sage: Newbury Park.
Connell, R.W. (1987). Gender and Power. Polity, Cambridge.
Fenstermaker, S. & West, C. (Eds). (2002). Doing Gender, Doing Difference. New York & London: Routledge.
Korvajärvi, P. (2003). Doing Gender – Theoretical and Methodological Considerations. In: E. Gunnarsson et al. (Eds.), Where Have All the Structures Gone? (pp. 45–76). Center for Women’s Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm.
Korvajärvi, P. (2002). Gender-neutral Gender and Denial of the Difference. In: B. Czarniawska & H. Höpfl (Eds.), Casting the Other: The Production and Maintenance of Inequalities in Work Organizations. (pp.119 - 137). Routledge, London.
Lykke, N. (2004) Women/Gender/Feminist Studies – a Postdisciplinary Discipline? Keynote address at Conference ‘Truth or Dare’. The Making of European Women’s Studies. Vol. 5. ATHENA, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands: 91-101.
Martin, P. Y. (2003). ‘Said and Done’ versus ‘Saying and Doing’: Gendering Practices, Practicing Gender at Work. Gender & Society. 17. 3: 342–366.