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Reflexivity

Statements in Research: An Example


By Jane Gilgun Reflexivity statements are researchers attempts to be as open as possible

about the sources of their thinking as they conduct their studies. I have done research on interpersonal violence for many years. In this essay, I reflect upon my perspectives on discourses of femininity and masculinity related child sexual abuse. By discourses I mean wide-spread beliefs that help socialize individuals into their various social roles. In the present article, I focus on beliefs related to gender socialization and beliefs related to child sexual abuse. I have done research on child sexual abuse for more than 25 years, first focusing on girl survivors and branching to perpetrators of child sexual abuse, primarily men, and adult female and male survivors. I have seen repeatedly how beliefs about proper womanhood and manhood shape survivors experience of sexual abuse, but I have not yet documented them. Thus, I have many ideas about these beliefs, but at the time of this writing they are intuitive and rather unformed. As a girl and young women, my perspectives of myself, my sexual behaviors,

and my responsibilities as a sexual being are consistent with research and theory in the field. Having a boyfriend, being popular, being a pretty, feminine girl were essential to self-respect and the respect of others during my teen years and even extending far into adulthood, where boyfriend changed to husband.

The possibility that I or other girls could be lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered never presented itself. A girl who was a year or two behind me in school was born without a uterus, a fact girls discussed while in high school. I felt sorry that she could not have children, and I continued to think of her a real girl because she was so charming, delightful, feminine, and popular, an honor student and a cheerleader. Today I wonder if she were not intersexual, but this was not a possible question years ago. Finding out about sex was like the childhood game find the button, where I

wondered a lot and did not have much information. I loved the mother of a childhood friend, my first boyfriend, when she told him about sexual intercourse, when we were about nine years old, catching frogs under the bridge by the village green. He told me immediately, of course. I was fascinated. Another memory I have about my sexual socialization was being on retreat

with high school classmates, and the priest told us always to have money for a taxi in case our dates were sexually aggressive. We did not learn that boys should not act that way and respect our wishes. I took from that lesson that I was responsible for whether a boy had his way with me. I was the gatekeeper for whether and when sexual behaviors took place. My first sexual experience is vivid in my mind, but personal enough not to

share. I do know from experience how significant this event is for me and most likely for other women and how important the circumstances, the partner, and the consequences are for self-worth and identity as a worthy woman. Does he like me?

Does he love me? If he doesnt, I will die. This is line from a poem I wrote about that time in my life. As for gendered discourseswhether they have the label feminine or

masculine--and how they affected me, I believe that I was not supposed to ask boys out, although my first date was a case of my asking a boy to a Sadie Hawkins Dance. He didnt dance, and we went bowling instead. My father drove us and picked us up. I beat him, not knowing I was being gender-transgressive, although I remember a slight embarrassment. That was my first and last date with him, although we had been childhood friends for years before, doing many different things together before I developed a crush on him. Throughout my life, I been fearful of expressing too much interest in men I find interesting because I am afraid of labels such as desperate, aggressive, and clingy. I heard family members criticizing a young woman who chased a young man, as if this was something awful to do. Early in my graduate education, I became fascinated with differential

psychology and psychology of the sexes. I read everything I could on the topic and marveled at how I had pursued my own academic interests without thinking about how my choices affected my marriageability. I learned through these studies that girls often repress themselves so as not to scare men off. Let him think he is smarter than you. Let him take the lead. Listen to what he has to say. Encourage him to talk. Adults who had my interests at heart told me to do this. My high school guidance counselor advised me to go to a small, second-rate girls college in New Haven so I could meet boys at Yale.

In response to my research on child sexual abuse and my experiences in the feminist movement I went through three or four years of being mistrustful of men and angry at them. At first, I was through with all men, but gradually, I took a more nuanced view that some men are rapists, child molesters, and child and woman beaters, but not all are. I learned to trust my judgment about men and no longer paint them with the same brush. Through personal experience, I learned that the use of sexual language is the

prerogative of men. Women who use sexual terms, even in academic and scholarly discourse, are at risk for stigmatization and depictions as a dirty woman. My first full-time job was as a health and family life educator in a huge suburban high school in the northeastern United States. Part of the curriculum was to teach about human sexuality. Students had questions about sexual terminology, and I answered them factually. Within days, the principal called me into the office and told me to stop talking about sexuality and that there were rumors circulating that I was promiscuous and a dirty woman. Furthermore, I was putting ideas in childrens heads. I had transgressed a discourse of female purity, but I only know that in retrospect. At the time, I thought I as being an educator. My masters thesis committee had discourses similar to mine because I received my degree with honors based on course work and my thesis on the pedagogy of proscribed sexual terms. This is one of multiple dueling discourses I have experienced in my lifetime. My hopes about discourses of masculinity are that are that we undermine the

dangerous dimensions of male gender socialization and their associated discourses,

promote male emotional expressiveness and the values of emotional connections to others, and that we raise boys who automatically question any thoughts that may lead them to assert that what they want is more important than what others want. I want boys and men to question discourses about who makes decisions, who should trust whose decisions, and who is to be consulted when making decisions. I want boys and men to rethink the meanings of physical and sexual aggression, vengeance, and war. I want women who buy into these gendered discourses to question their own beliefs, the effects of these beliefs on their own self-worth, and the effects of these beliefs on how they view other women and man. Finally, I want both women and men to resist dangerous discourses of masculinity and to promote egalitarianism. I want to be part of an on-going movement that attempts to sort through the massively contradictory discourses that guide womens behaviors and confuses them simultaneously and do the same in regard to discourses that guide and confuse men. References Alexander, B. K. (2006). Performing black masculinity: Race, culture, and queer identity. Lanham, MD: Altamira. Andersson, K. (2008). Constructing young masculinity: A case study of heroic discourse on violence. Discourse & Society, 19(2), 139-161. Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Womens ways of knowing: The development of self, voice and mind. New York: Basic Books.

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