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.

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