Reflections in recent times

In recent weeks I have felt a little confused and occasionally wracked with self doubt concerning my place in the research world. I often worry that I am not progressing in the way I should be, or that my focus is fragmented and lacking the necessary systematic rigour of a literature review. I worry about the specific direction of my PhD and how I will achieve my goal of disruptive, interdisciplinary research. I often have to reassure myself that the nature of my work is going to produce feelings of uncertainly and self doubt, due to my research topic.

I started my journey with some basic assumptions. I perceived a fundamental unfairness in a workplace system that rewards men dis-proportionally to women. I was also aware of a vast body of research which has measured, critiqued and theorised this problem over decades. Finally, I was conscious of the excellent academic research that continues to be produced is not having the transformative impact that you would expect when the outcomes all point to significant biases and hegemonic control of a workplace patriarchy.  All these factors led me to the conclusion that there is a legitimate space and rationale for me to introduce something that challenges the traditional methods of academic research.

My intention with the introduction of dystopian fiction is to disrupt academic assumptions about where useful data can be derived from and the lessons and insights that can be gained from this source. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I love dystopian fiction. I felt that if I was going to dedicate my time to a significant and consuming PhD, I would greatly benefit from immersing myself in a genre that excites and challenges me as a reader. I also feel that the genre does something very different to a lot of other fictions. This is due to its persistent speculative warnings about the future of humanity, derived from the contemporary and historical weaknesses in human endeavours. I saw a critical lens and creative space where my original assumptions of the organisational biases can find a natural confluence of critique.

This initial idea has led me down various paths during my first nine months. In may ways I have been gestating a project akin to the gestation of a baby. This metaphor feels crude as I write it, but the idea springs to mind for a couple of very important reasons. Firstly, my research has organically oriented itself around the dystopian fiction trope of ‘fertility’ since the very early days of my literature review. It was in conversation with Holly in the early months of my PhD that this became such a pertinent focus. It must be noted that this option was partly biased by my conscious awareness of our own plans to start a family, but also the prominent release of TV series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. All signs seemed to be pointing me towards ‘Fertility’ and its crucial intersection with women’s disadvantages in the workplace. As a father-to-be my additional motivation is to undertake this research as a personal journey of self discovery and to understand how fertility expectations also impact on men.

Since my last post, and my supervision meeting concerning masculinity and fertility, I have been reading Masculinity by Raewyn Connell. Masculinity is an area of gender research where feel I can contribute something from my own critical lens, which intersects with ongoing debates about men’s roles as parents. I believe that men have a crucial role to play in co-creating change with the feminist movement. I proudly call myself a feminist and write from the perspective of someone whose intention is to challenge and change patriarchal norms.

My masculinity reading is reinforcing my beliefs in the self-limiting and sometimes damaging social constructs of masculinity in western culture. I am lucky that my parents did not impose overtly masculine frameworks of what it means to be a man, but I still conformed to many socially accepted norms of boyhood. I felt the societal pressure to conform to many masculine frames of normality such as clothing, interests and behaviour. Sport became the outlet to validate my masculinity as a child and I still adore sport today, but while reading Masculinity I was struck by the passage on the hierarchical world of sport which has lasting impacts on the world of work for men. I perceive, and have experienced, a pervasive motivation for men to behave hierarchically in the workplace as an extension of sporting tropes.

I observe and hear countless references to sport through analogies or metaphors which draw a direct comparison between the workplace and sporting worlds. People often frame such conversations around competition and hierarchy, which contrasts with familial themes of sharing, loving and nurturing. There are also positive aspects to sporting references such as teamwork, focus and dedication, but I often perceive these as secondary in the sporting analogy conversation. Sporting frameworks influence working behaviours and responses to scenarios; they derive essential inspiration from a dichotomy of winners versus losers. It is this underlying relationship that I feel is the most damaging influence of masculinity. The implied loser in a sporting analogy supports a hard edge to the workplace and feeds from a narrative of domination and oppression, which is a workplace dynamic I am finding in my reading on fertility.

I will remain alert to masculine sporting language in my research and my interviews, and I am intrigued to see if masculine sport intersects with the world of fertility in the workplace. From my own perspective, I try to maintain sporting masculinity as a ‘separate sphere’ to workplace masculinity, but this is a conscious effort on my part. I am increasingly conscious of the ease at which these conversations can arise, how exclusive they can be, and how they relate physical masculinity to workplace success. Sport can be a wonderful pleasure and I love playing and watching many variants of elite sport, but I am also aware that sport analogies should form a proxy for workplace relationships and ‘success’.

That’s all for now! My reading on masculinity will continue and I will report on my progress in the coming weeks.




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