My search for authenticity and for critical space
I am very interested in my feelings as I start to put this story down. I have done a fair amount of reading on narrative inquiry and auto-ethnography. I think I am starting to realise how much this matters, not only at a personal level, but also because I am concerned that my research should matter, too.
I hadn't ever really considered my position as a woman in research. Coming as I did from a liberal middle class home, I was always aware of my privilege as being middle class and white. But I was also taught that being female was a good thing, too. I never really realised for many many years that some women had a rough deal. I spent some of my childhood in a rough overspill area of Manchester. I remember my parents talking about a woman who had been hit by her husband, and they talked about how her previous husband had also battered her. My mum talked about how some women keep on going back to abusive partners and how others choose abusers again and again. That whole concept was a revelation to me, and it was the first time I think I realised that men and women were different in terms of power.
When I went to Manchester to study for my first degree I read psychology. I still think I was lucky that I was brought up as a social scientist; at that time this was a relatively tolerant arena and so gender politics were really an irrelevance to me; for a very self centred point of view I didn't feel that I had lost out because of being a woman, nor that I was misunderstood or that I was discriminated against. Perhaps I was falsely conscious. I don't know..... although looking back now thirty years I see that the undergrads were 80% female and only one of the lecturing staff at the time was female - Elena Lieven who is now a professor. I was also lucky enough to be studying at a time when Erica Burman was a postgrad and I took some of her seminars. She came to talk to my EHU psychology 3rd year group last year about deconstructing developmental psychology. An amazingly inspiring woman and one whom I admired then and still do now. But the whole patriarchal system stuff passed me by. I was concerned about race and about disability, and about the politics of developing countries, but my interest in sociology was really in the field of symbolic interactionism, where Wes Sharrock and John Lee both had a huge impact on my thinking. I loved reading Szasz, Laing, Wittgenstein, Searle and Winch. But again, feminism in no way really impacted on me.
As I write, I find this story I am about to tell really interesting from a feminist point of view. My mum was working in FE as a lecturer in English when I was about ten. She was a fashionable woman and had worn a trouser suit to work. A smart trouser suit, as befitted a young lecturer in the 1970s. She had two or three; striking colours, beautifully tailored and they suited her. Not long after she had started her job at the local FE college she was called in by the principal and told that if she wore trousers again to work she would be sacked. I was only young so I wasn't party to the discussions that she and my dad must have had that night, but she DID wear a trouser suit the next day, and indeed she was sacked. That started a big, big row. The press were involved and sat outside our house for weeks. My father got hate mail accusing him of being a terrible man who could not keep his harlot of a wife under control. In the end my young brother and I were sent away for a few days to our grandparents' so we would be less upset by the furore. Mum gave interviews on TV and to the papers, all the time wearing trousers. In the end, she got her job back, at which point she resigned, and a local head teacher phoned her and offered her a job immediately. That head teacher became a good friend and in many, many ways a guardian angel for my mother for thirty or forty years after the 'trouser suit' events.
There's a research paper here that I'm determined to wrote....
I was a psychology and social sciences teacher for many years and now I am in the throes of a teaching and research career in HE. I care passionately about education. This blog will show you why and how.