Becoming “War Buddies”: Underestimating Insider Status

By Heather Mooney

Mooney_blog

I’ve learned very quickly that it is harder than I thought to be an insider, though in completely unexpected ways. My dissertation explores the social construction of deviance and rehabilitation in total institutions through a case study of a therapeutic boarding school from the “troubled teen” industry. This industry loosely consists of various private facilities for reforming deviant adolescents including boot camps, wilderness therapy programs and last chance ranches. Many scholars warned me that even though I am an insider (I myself was a “troubled teen”), I am likely to be an outlier. Scholars assumed that I was unlike other fellow reform school alum (PhD candidate, single, childfree, Buddhist, activist). I was cautioned many times not to assume my thoughts, feelings, and experiences were similar to those of the participants. Understandably, it took me by surprise to discover during the early phases of data collection that I am very much an insider – almost to the textbook definition.

While certain variables make my narrators and me unique, the overarching sentiments echo my personal experience more than I had been advised. From the very start of data collection I connected with my contributors in many ways because sharing the experiences of attending non-traditional school and the therapeutic activities brought a strong sense of solidarity. Despite the similarities, we also identified notable differences: following reform school, pursuits of education, and in family relations. Through shared intense institutional experiences, bonding occurs in ways that outsiders may not fully understand. This has led to the unanticipated challenge of becoming friends with strangers – at a rapid pace.

Advantages of Insider Status

My insider status has been essential to studying this hidden population; however, I miscalculated how integral my position would become. I especially underestimated the value of the shared experience (attending a total institution) that engendered this insider status. I assumed that having attended the program would allow for shared language and an intimate understanding of the institution’s structure. As the interviews quickly progressed, I was not prepared to be treated like a “war buddy”. Nor was I prepared for the emotional affinity with my narrators after having mostly listened and talked for hours. I attribute this rapid rapport building to the deep and long-lasting impact the academy has had on each of us and what a rare opportunity it is to share this with a fellow former student.

The Sway of Insider Status

At the end of my first interview, I stepped back to reflect. I hadn’t laughed so hard in months as I had done while wrapping up that first dialogue. Since then, conducting my interviews has been like the high school reunion I’ve never had – though in slow, detailed motion. By the end of our interviews, I feel like a peer more than a researcher. I’m learning that often my shared understanding has inhibited further probing or explanation that an outsider would have had to question for clarity. Due to this I will likely query narrators again for further details on a few themes and ask even more in depth questions going forward. Some contributors have asked to stay connected via social media and all have expressed appreciation in my investment in documenting these experiences. Most of the narrators expressed heartfelt gratitude as our interview had been the first time in years, for some a decade, that they had been able to openly reflect,  be heard, and understand the impact the therapeutic boarding school has had on their life. In taking this moment to recognize that though the boundary between friends and participants is blurry, I would rather continue to break it down than enforce it.

Subverting Research Power Dynamics

In my dissertation, I “study up”; the narrators are mostly upper middle class whites. The average cost of similar private troubled teen programs is somewhere around $5,000 per month. This is in stark contrast to my previous research in which I “studied down” interviewing recently incarcerated homeless men. In this study, being an insider allows me to get closer to my narrators realities and shift at least some of the inherent research dilemmas that feel too perennial in their nagging truths about exploitation.  With my dissertation I seek a more equitable exchange in my position of power and social status, stemming from a variety of mostly ascribed sources. For instance, I encourage the narrators to select their own pseudonym to frame themselves as they see fit. I will send transcriptions and final drafts to be reviewed and commented on by them prior to publications. This allows narrators the opportunity to participate in and respond to interpretations and analyses.

These steps ensure that my status does not impose a unilateral framework and understanding onto the narrators’ experiences. There can be a false sense of insight provided by the insider status coupled with the powerful role of researcher that must be tempered by continued avenues for the narrator’s engagement and oversight of their truth (data). It is my hope that my position as an insider will foster innovative and inclusive methodological tactics that give inclusive opportunities to narrators throughout the research process in hopes of bringing parity to the generosity entrusted and given by the contributors to share these oft untold tales in ways that ideally benefit us all.

Heather Mooney is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI specializing in inequality studies. She is currently working on her dissertation about adults who were former “troubled teens” discussing their experiences and perceived impact of attending a therapeutic boarding school. In her spare time, she is committed to ending mass incarceration, enjoys exercising, and practices Tibetan Buddhism.

Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research

By Wendi Johnson

One cannot begin to enumerate the number of articles, papers, and book chapters that have addressed the gender symmetry debate within the literature on intimate partner violence (IPV).  Yet the academic sparring between family and feminist scholars has led to a circular argument with no clear winner and has ultimately hindered progress on IPV research.  Thus, this entry will not be another weighing in of the debate, but instead I will focus on providing several suggestions to IPV researchers. While most of my comments are likely to reflect my quantitative orientation, by no means are they meant to exclude qualitative researchers.  I do not claim credit for any of these ideas, as they have been introduced previously in other outlets.  Rather, this is meant to simply serve as a reminder to myself and other IPV researchers of areas that could benefit from scholarly attention. Continue reading “Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research”

Why Women’s Money Means Less

By Nadina L. Anderson

Is men’s money different than women’s money? How can we tell?

While men make more money than women, most scholars assume the physical dollars and cents are interchangeable. A woman’s dollar looks and feels the same as a man’s dollar. However, in practice, people exchange money in particular patterns.

Within families, husbands and wives earmark income to pay for different costs: rent, food, kids, parties, savings, etc. They decide whether to pool their income or leave them separate, when to spend versus when to save, who should manage joint resources, and how joint resources should be used. Together these decisions form a system or strategy of money management that couples use to survive and succeed in daily life. I argue that these strategies tell a revealing story about gender, money, and power.

I study how couples share money in Ukraine. By spending nine months conducting interviews with couples in Kyiv, I uncovered several patterns of exchange in families. In my paper for Gender & Society, I focus on the practices of thirty-four working class couples—describing how they spend, save, and share money. I discover that women’s money is not exchanged the same way as men’s money.

Managing money in Ukrainian families

 For poorer couples, earning money generally does not give Ukrainians a sense of pride or accomplishment. Men in particular feel exploited and betrayed by their employers and the labor market, making 40-50 cents an hour. Even in full-time positions, men cannot pay for their family’s most basic necessities.

Women try to save their husbands from feeling depressed or disheartened. They actively bolster men’s spirits by managing men’s money in ways that position their husbands as providers. However, this does not mean that husbands out-earn their wives. Out of the thirty-four couples in my study, twenty-two wives earn the same or more than their husbands. However, men’s money is spent and saved differently than women’s money, regardless of relative income.

I discover three main ways money becomes “gendered” in the home. These practices make men feel more like breadwinners, even when both partners contribute roughly equal amounts towards family expenses:

Placement and access: Men overwhelmingly bring their money home in cash, making it accessible to other family members. Women often keep their money separate: hidden in a bank account or kept in a secret envelope in a closet. This preserves the idea that women’s money is “private.” Men give money to women and ask them to pay bills, but women rarely give men money to do the same.

Earmarking: Women use men’s money to pay for “important” expenses, like rent, utilities, or car payments. They spend their own money on less visible things like education, food, medicine, train-tickets home to visit family, and other services. Over time, men’s money transforms into durable, tangible items like TVs, phones, cars, furniture, apartments, while women’s money seemingly disappears.

Timing of use: Couples sometimes spend men’s money first every month until it runs out. One third of my sample use this “his-then-hers” system. The couple spends the man’s money throughout the month until his cash disappears or his bank account gets too low, then the woman’s money “kicks in”. Women’s extra earnings are earmarked as shared savings. This helps both partners “feel” like the husband is the breadwinner, even if his wife earns more.

These findings suggest that couples use money to construct a gender boundary in the home: one that casts men as breadwinners and women as domestic managers. However, the gender boundary has some positive effects, like saving men from feeling emasculated in the labor market. Furthermore, when men give money to women, women interpret it as a gesture of deference and a token of gratitude. Men’s money provides a means of signaling respect for women’s unpaid labor. 

When I conducted my fieldwork in 2015, Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine. I talked to many families who were struggling to keep their jobs, pay their rent, and stretch the budget from month to month. They often earned cash, lived with extended family, and managed to survive by working two or four jobs. This changed the priorities of my sample. Couples were not overly concerned with fairness or equality in the home—they were more worried about how to pay rent next month. Because of these constraints, my respondents’ stories are most representative of other poor or financially struggling couples, not wealthy couples. However, my research did lead to some larger take-aways about money, power, and couples.

Generalizing Beyond Ukraine

Anderson_2https://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6848823919

1) Money becomes symbolic through exchange. When money changes hands, it can become symbolic. Money can symbolize care, affection, disdain, condescension, guilt, trust, and much else besides. Whether through communication or through unspoken understanding, couples usually come to agreement about what money means in the relationship. For example, if one partner thinks exchanging money means “care and affection” while the other assumes it means “disdain and disrespect,” conflict can emerge. Money can produce power when it invokes a sense of debt or gratitude in the other. Without feelings of debt, the link between money and power is severed.

2) Money can build trust. Because sharing money can be risky, successfully sharing money helps partners trust each other. Sharing can take on many different forms of exchange—unilateral giving, pooling, tit-for-tat, even dividing up costs in a systematic way. By behaving responsibly, partners prove to one other that they are trustworthy and competent. I found that men gave money to women as a gesture that husbands “trust” their wives, even if wives earned more money than their husbands.

3) Money isn’t everything. To understand power, one also needs to examine other resources, like labor. While money can cause friction between partners, monetary arrangements generally reflect deeper dynamics of the couple’s relationship. Fighting about money often reflects deeper disagreements about whose labor and well-being is more valuable. I discover that for many families, exchanging money is a method of symbolically giving value to labor. Couples in my study positioned the husbands as “givers” in part to symbolically give value to women’s unpaid reproductive and domestic labor.

Nadina L. Anderson is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Arizona. She is currently completing her dissertation entitled “Money Talks: Trust, Power, and Exchange in Ukrainian Households” in which she explores processes of conflict and cooperation in marriage. her other research examines housing, migration, and internally displaced people in Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Gender Differences in Working and Caring? A New Mom’s Perspective

By Mara A. Yerkes

For the past fifteen years, I have studied how men and women combine their paid jobs with care for children. I look at how governments and businesses differ in creating policies that can help people reconcile these responsibilities, and at how men and women differ in the way they work and provide care when they have children. In the past year, research from myself and others took on a new dimension as I experienced the combination of work and care first-hand after becoming a mom in late 2015 and returning to work a few months later.

Flexibility when going back to work

As a new working mom, it became clear to me how flexibility upon returning to work is valued by mothers. In an Australian study about the flexible arrangements mothers enter into when returning to work (e.g. part-time work, reduced hours work or working flexible hours), we found that mothers without university education and/or in female-typed occupations with limited career prospects rarely question the fairness of the arrangements they enter into when returning to work after having a child. But for mothers with university degrees, what is ‘fair’ when returning to work is much less settled. For all mothers, how they are treated at work when negotiating these arrangements matters.  If mothers feel they have been treated fairly and appropriately, they are much more likely to perceive flexible work arrangements as fair despite any long-term disadvantages.

Who works and who cares?

Becoming a working mom also heightened my awareness of gender differences in how men and women share work and childcare tasks after having children. In the US,  nearly two-thirds of mothers with at least one child under the age of 14 work.

Yerks_3In the Netherlands, where I now live, – nearly three-fourths of mothers are employed. But here, women are much more likely to work part-time than US mothers, particularly after having children. Despite these differences, the US and the Netherlands share a similarly unequal division of care tasks between mothers and fathers. In the US, mothers spent more than twice as much time as fathers providing physical care to children on an average day in 2015. The most recent data for the Netherlands (from 2011) tells the same story. In fact, research on the gender division of care tasks confirms that in most western countries, mothers consistently spend more time caring for children than fathers, and which types of care tasks moms and dads do differs as well.

Yerks_2Why do moms and dads differ in how they care?

So why do moms consistently provide more care than dads? And why do they often spend more time doing more tasks than fathers? In another Australian study, my colleagues and I investigated how couples negotiate who does which care tasks after having a baby and how they explain these choices. Even in couples where dads take an active role in caring for their child, key differences exist in the type of care tasks that parents perform. Our study shows that fathers often opt out of care tasks they perceive as difficult, such as comforting a very upset baby or night care. Moms and dads rationalize these differences by talking about mother’s superiority in caring for and nurturing infants, for example. Mothers’ willingness to step in and do care tasks when fathers step back supports and reproduces these gendered differences.

The need for better work-care policies

Such gender inequalities are persistent and difficult to address. On the one hand, such inequalities can reflect personal work and care preferences of mothers and fathers, as well as differing country contexts. For example, I feel lucky to live in a country where it’s possible for my to each spend at least one day a week caring for our son. Living in the Netherlands, our jobs are flexible enough to make this possible. On the other hand, gender inequalities in work and care reflect structural problems, such as unequal access to time off from work to care for children or unequal access to childcare alternatives, such as formal care. Unequal access to paid leave following the birth of a child helps to establish gender unequal divisions of care that persist long-term. If I have learned one thing by becoming a working mom, it’s that fathers can and do play a crucial role in caring for their children. Providing fathers with opportunities to care is not only essential for children’s development, it is key to improving gender inequality in care and paid work. Hence work-care policies that provide fathers with such opportunities are crucial to achieving greater gender equality in work and care.

Mara A. Yerkes is Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Social Science at Utrecht University and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), University of Queensland. Her research interests include work, care and family, the sociology of gender and sexuality, comparative welfare states, industrial relations, social inequality and women’s employment. She is the author of Transforming the Dutch Welfare State: Social Risks and Corporatist Reform (2011; Policy Press) and co-editor of The Transformation of Solidarity. Changing Risks and the Future of the Welfare State (2011; Amsterdam University Press). Yerkes is also the author of multiple articles, including the recent article on mothers’ perceptions of justice and fairness in paid work ] and an article on attitudes towards the social and civil rights of diverse families.  She is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society.

 

 

 

Credit for Poor Women: Debt or Empowerment?

By Smitha Radhakrishnan

You have heard the story. A poor woman in a rural village is trying to support her four kids with the meager income that her drunkard husband deigns to give her. She is then offered a group loan, without collateral, for a small amount of money that allows her to buy a cow. She tends to the cow and sells the milk, and eventually, starts to earn a bit more money. She pays back her loan and then takes another. Before long, she owns a herd of cows, her children are educated, and her husband has given up drinking to become her business partner. This is the motivating story of the $115 billion global microfinance industry, popularized for years by everyone from the Nike Foundation to the Harvard Business Review.

Now, this story may well have been possible in some places in the world at some point in recent history. But today, microfinance has become a profitable industry that provides financial products to the poor that are too expensive for the rich. At interest rates typically ranging from 22%-90% per year, profitable microfinance companies around the world now consider themselves providers of “financial inclusion,” and not women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation, or even enterprise development. This “mission shift” comes as a result of significant criticism from academics, social activists, and even microfinance practitioners around the world, and a significant crisis in India. Critics have noted that microfinance can push vulnerable families into debt spirals, that microfinance has been associated with suicides due to overly aggressive collection practices, and that for-profit microfinance especially caters to the better off working classes rather than the poorest. In contrast, however, recent research in West Bengal, India supports the idea that some forms of microfinance may provide women with the potential for collective social action.

2012-04-02-11-13-04
Borrowers engage in entrepreneurial training activity, Coimbatore.

Continue reading “Credit for Poor Women: Debt or Empowerment?”

Can U.S. Government Marriage Education Programs Promote Gender Equality?

By Jennifer M. Randles

Since 2002, federal and state governments in the United States have spent over $1 billion from the welfare budget on marriage and relationship education programs through the Healthy Marriage Initiative. This federal policy seeks to encourage marriage and the many social and economic benefits the government claims are associated with it—less poverty and domestic violence, better physical and mental health, higher academic achievement—by helping couples develop relationship skills focused on improving communication and resolving conflict. The federal agency in charge of overseeing healthy marriage funding recommends that curricula used in marriage education programs address how couples think about gender, specifically their beliefs about differences between men and woman and what they expect spouses to do based on gender. Many marriage education curricula address these topics because gendered expectations often influence how couples experience marriage and what they commonly argue about, namely housework, childcare, and earning money.

To understand how marriage education programs funded by the government teach about gender, communication, and power within marriage, I analyzed twenty curricula approved for use in healthy marriage programs and participated in a training session, workshop, or class for eighteen of these same curricula. I specifically wanted to know if and how the curricula reinforced or challenged stereotypes of gender responsibilities—such as the beliefs that women should be caretakers and men should be family breadwinners—and whether the programs taught couples about how social inequalities between women and men shape couples’ abilities to share power and family labor. Continue reading “Can U.S. Government Marriage Education Programs Promote Gender Equality?”