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: Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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Whew! Got my definition for indigenous hammered out adequately, I think — thank heavens! It's been a pretty good couple of days so far, in fact, which makes me very happy. There've been a few really nice or fun things that've left me pretty pleased with how life is going. Admittedly, I wish I could leave up the very complimentary comments my blog occasionally gets from spammers… but I comfort myself with the thought that if the compliments aren't sincere then I don't really want them anyway. Really. Yeah, I'll keep telling myself that. :-)

But just as a single example, waking up today to the news that SCOTUS has ruled that same sex marriage is legal in all states? -and even better, that this weekend is the Pride Parade weekend in both San Jose and San Francisco?



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Due to the subject matter of my dissertation and proposal, I've had to include a Glossary. Dear heavens, what a headache. Here's my introduction to the Glossary, with reasoning:

Because of the ever-changing nature of the English language, the definitions of words can be slippery to pin down. This issue is compounded when particular words or phrases become culturally contentious, with different social groups claiming the word is being twisted to signify things it was not meant to, or that only their definition is correct, or even insisting they are 'reclaiming' the word under discussion. I experienced a mild form of this issue while having what I believed was a thoughtful discussion with an acquaintance about misogyny within patriarchal societies. At one point I asked his opinion on what I'd said, and he airily informed me that every time I used the word 'patriarchy' he just stopped listening — because he was tired of being told he was to blame for all women's problems.

Needless to say, we emphatically did not have a shared definition of patriarchy. As a consequence, this issue is of great importance to me — because I wish for my work to be useful to the women about which I write. In such a situation do I use the word or phrase which truly means what I'm trying to say, and thereby potentially alienate or lose possible readers? Or do I keep people's interest by applying a term which is so watered down as to lose any conceivable political contentiousness? After much reflection I have decided to use what I believe are the correct words for my meaning, regardless of possible repercussions — but to also take the step of including a Glossary, so I may inform the reader of my intended meaning by including the working definitions of particular words used repeatedly within this paper.

I have chosen to initially refer to Oxford's on-line dictionary due to both its convenience and its well-known and commonly accepted status as cultural arbiter of language and meaning. Admittedly, I often take issue with its rather positivist slant towards the definition of words, but I believe it will be an acceptable beginning from which to start the process of understanding — with the caveat that its use is not a requirement in order to create relevant and egalitarian meaning. Where Oxford's either gives what I consider an insufficient definition, or does not recognize a word or phrase, I have either turned to other dictionaries or authors, or added my thoughts and beliefs to the Oxford definition, or created my own definition for phrases which I feel are important to this work but which are not in standard usage. Each of these cases will be obvious to the reader, however — either through footnotes, or due to my clearly noting that I am explaining further rather than simply including a definition. Also, in situations where I am personally defining a phrase, I will demonstrate how I arrived at my choice through first applying definitions supplied by Oxford's for the separate words, then continue from there to work out an appropriate meaning.

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Butter chicken for dinner tonight — yum! It's in the crockpot and starting to make the house smell delicious. Combined with the fact that it's summer and my proposal deadlines are all stalled until my adviser returns from her (well-deserved) vacation, that means I find myself with a bit of writing time on my hands, and a moment to muse on my life, rather than frantically/busily trying to fix yet one more bit in the proposal. I confess I'm starting to actually enjoy methodology (gasp! ;-) as I finally get a handle on it, too. I should write something about that… later, I think.

During these bits of free time, however, I've also taken the opportunity to do a bit more freelance editing for folks, in order to pick up a bit more pocket money. It's been rather interesting, in an odd way, because I tend to get a light overview of whatever the paper's subject is, as I perform the editing process. Some of the folks I edit for, as an example, are working on various psychology degrees, and I'm getting a sort-of refresher course on psychology's epistemological background — what the field thinks is important, what's worth researching, stuff like that. What makes this oddly intriguing to me this time is that I'm doing this editing and psychology reviewing — while also holding all the women's spirituality stuff in my head.

There's a concept in feminist scholarship called a feminist heuristic of suspicion, which I really love having in my mental toolkit. Heuristics are a commonsense set of rules intended to increase the probability of solving some problem. A feminist heuristic of suspicion was originally and is still most commonly used, to my knowledge, in feminist religious apologetics, though I think it's applicable just about anywhere. What it means is that while you're reading you keep constantly in mind the fact that the text you're reading was most likely written primarily by men, for men, and about men. Recognizing the imperfect human natures of the male authors thereby allows you to perform a valid and valuable feminist critique of the writings — through demonstrating that, for example, demeaning portrayals of women in the "sacred" texts are the products of men's beliefs and attitudes — and not those of some deity that inexplicably decided to hate and punish half of what it created.

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Just a few happy-making things today! Most pleasingly, things are progressing well, I think, with my dissertation proposal — woohoo! I've sent in the rough drafts of the Introduction, Methodology, and Literature Review, and received commentary back. In all the cases there's a lot of polishing to do, of course, and a few bits where I was told this was a very interesting point and I should develop it further — which is very encouraging to read! But I didn't receive any requests for major re-writes or do-overs, which is a great relief. I'm guesstimating this should be all completed on my part in about a month, tops, which will include sending in the proposal, the dissertation committee paperwork, and the ethics committee paperwork. Whew! I think I'm gonna make it! ;)

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Speaking of hard work, I was seated in a local Kirk's for lunch the other day, enjoying my burger — delicious, as always — and just relaxing my brain a bit from writing. I was rather desultorily doing some reading on my cell, so it took me a bit to register the two guys in the booth before me. They appeared to be two blue-collar guys on lunch break, one in his 30s and the other in his 40s, and they were slowly talking their way through a difficult problem together. I couldn't tell exactly who was talking, since I didn't want to stare and be rude, but I could hear bits and pieces of the conversation.

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There is a French term I love: esprit de l'escalier. It translates literally as "wit of the stairs," and means roughly "the concise and clever retort that occurs to you too late, as you are on the stairs and leaving the scene." I was sad to hear it is rarely used any more in French, as I think it's a perfect turn of phrase for what often happens to me when I'm having difficulty focusing, or am participating in a particularly contentious discussion where everyone is both struggling hard to remain civil, but also exploring issues which are often hard to conceptualize or verbalize.

I've noticed I often come up with the perfect answer for a question only some time after I've had time to muse quietly and in peace. So that's what this blog is: an answer — maybe two — to questions which were important to me, but difficult to answer well at that particular, often heated moment. I suspect questions like these will come up more than once in my life, and I want to remember the good answers I was able to come up with. If this helps anyone else with similar issues, all the better.

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Consumerism often confuses me.

Statistically speaking, I am apparently taller than average for US women and (depending on what charts you use) either average or above average height for US men. I also mass more than the average woman, though I've not checked my weight in comparison to US men — that has the potential to be way too annoying! This means buying clothes is occasionally quite irritating, as "one size fits most" for women is invariably defined as about 2" to 3" and anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds less than I.

Further, as a student, I dislike spending money I don't have (to), so I believe the statement "Must-have seasonal fashion!" is an oxymoron designed to separate gullible suckers from their money. I am not a clotheshorse by any stretch of the imagination, so I really don't understand why some women get frenetic over purses and/or shoes. I tend to live in sturdy, simple, colorful shirts and blue jeans that are comfortable, which means they last a long time.

That being said, on rare occasion a colorful, pretty shirt — or something — will catch my eye as we walk through a store on the way to the mall. This happened to me the other day in JCPenneys, and my sweetie was so delighted to see me (vaguely) interested in shopping — something he enjoys far more than I — that we stopped and browsed around through the clothing to see what we might find.

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Our old apple tree has a few blossoms on it! They look like lovely pinkish froth, almost, despite there being only a handful of them. I hope next year the tree has more blossoms — I remember the apple trees we had in Texas nearly exploded with blossoms each year. To my knowledge we've also got two hummingbird nests on the property, which I love. There's one in the front and one in the back, and the backyard one is right outside the window where I sit to work. I was so pleased to see the backyard hummingbird feeding babies in the nest yesterday — incredibly cool! I've purchased a new hummingbird feeder and a metal stand to make sure it stays up high; that's getting installed this weekend. I'd like to plant a bunch of flowers that attract hummers, butterflies, and bees, but that's going to have to wait probably until next year — when I have more time and money to devote to planning and performing that.

On the other hand, in order to finish the bat houses all I have to do is find all the pieces, finish putting them together, and mount them. I think we're going to have to put them back-to-back on a pole, though. While the south side of a house is considered the best location, our south side is all first floor… and they need to be at least 15' up in the air. Maybe the west side of the house would work too? There's a nice, big wall on that side that gets all the setting sun, after all… and that's when the bats should be waking up, if my understanding is correct.

Electrical madness! ;)

Electrical madness! ;)

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I am very sad to report that the Women's Spirituality program at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology is being closed down. Apparently shortly after I graduated, the much-beloved president died, though this was not a surprise. A new president was selected, apparently without enough searching into his background… because — and here I condense and simplify considerably — he proceeded to spend the school's comfortable chunk of extra budget in expensive junkets to supposedly bring in more students, changed the school's very clear and descriptive name and logo to things which were (respectively) less clear and very ugly, convinced over three quarters of the Board of Directors to quit, declared a financial emergency, fired almost half the faculty and staff when they objected and asked where the hell the money had gone, and then sold the school to a Chinese conglomerate which was interested in creating an engineering school which also taught some Eastern philosophy.

Needless to say, the school that emerged from this is very different from the ITP where I studied. As a single example, they're not interested at all in Women's Spirituality, and so are not supporting it whatsoever. Further, the three women who started this marvelous program have been running it for about 15 years now. Two of them are either retired or retiring, and the third is getting closer to that point. Moving the program to another school would not be easy — tragically, there are very few schools which would be interested in such a program. One of the few that would be already has a Women's Spirituality PhD program — it's CIIS, where I'm going to school now — but even they have effectively changed the MA program into something else. It used to be Women's Spirituality; now it's something like Women, Gender, Activism, & Spirituality… or something similar; I don't recall precisely. Basically, in an effort by the school to be inclusive of other genders, one of the last places where women can learn about themselves and their history has been lost. The only other program I know of that skates anywhere close to the subject is in Germany: Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth's International Academy for Modern Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Spirituality (HAGIA).

I find the closing of the ITP Women's Spirituality MA program to be a tremendous loss which makes me very sad. The program was quite literally life-changing for me — and I do not use that phrase lightly. Further, for seeking women there is now no other truly comparable program anywhere in the entire world. As friends have told me in an effort to be encouraging, the individual classes and teachers are still scattered around the Bay Area, so someone could still theoretically get all the teaching. However, there are two issues with this: first, the purported student would not end up with the MA — which can make a difference in one's CV. Second, part of the reason the program was so dramatic for me was because it included required classes which (were I picking and choosing classes from professors and teachers all around the Bay) I would have skipped as not really important or relevant — and yet they were — incredibly important and an extremely relevant part of the process of life change and growth which the program encouraged.

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Bestiaries depict mythical, moralizing animals, but are also potential allegorical sparks that can bloom into brilliant mental bonfires. My bestiary is this mythologizing animal's fascinated exploration of beauty & meaning in the wonder of existence -- in the hopes of inspiring yet more joyous flares of intellectual passion.



Collie’s Bestiary