Some brief notes on fatherhood and masculinity

I want to share some general thoughts I have recently had about fatherhood and how it has affected my ideas of masculinity. The reason I am doing this is to better understand my own position as a student in this areas and hopefully someone who can express a clear argument based on my research. My main thoughts relate to three themes: emotional masculinity, physical masculinity and responsible masculinity. All three of these themes owe a debt to Connell’s concept of ‘re-embodied’ masculinity and their illustrative example of fatherhood.

I start with emotional masculinity as I regularly find myself grappling with conflicting emotions as a new father. Waking up to the sound of my son crying immediately stirs parental protective emotions, tinged with the resentful emotions of a disrupted sleep. The moment I see my son, I am immediately lifted from resentment to pure love as I switch on the light and his confused squint grows into recognition and a smile. With that smile, I cannot help but reciprocate and feel the malaise of the morning begin to fade. I can’t remember ever feeling this way as an adult. There is something about the dependency of a child that brings out an emotional malleability I have not experienced before. I have opened myself up to such emotion by involving myself in his mornings and by regularly interacting with my son as a daily routine. I think this emotional openness has taught me to be more physically interactive with my son too. It is something that has grown as time has gone on, but stems from my emotional bond with him.

I have recently started incorporating a morning cuddle into my morning routine with my son. It might seem like a strange thing to write, but previously I was a lot more transnational with him in the morning. We used to start with me lifting him out of the bed, doing a nappy change and taking him downstairs for breakfast. In the last couple of weeks, as he has grown in confidence and become more interactive, I have sensed the opportunity to cuddle him and nurture our physical bond. This is something I ascribe to re-embodied physical masculinity, or the idea of physical masculinity as an intimate and close interaction with my son. I know Connel described the transactional elements of physical masculinity as important to the ‘re-embodiment’ of masculinity, and I feel this has been an important gateway to my own re-embodiment, but I also feel I had to make the leap to the sincere and genuine cuddle and open emotional bond I am growing with my son.

I have felt this physical masculinity influence my interactions with others too. My cuddles in the past were a lot more transactional than they are now. In the past I would ‘hug’ as a social behaviour, but not as a natural and comfortable interaction (apart from with my wife). Now, I find myself embracing the natural connection a hug can bring to human relationships. It is symbolic of family connection, love and warmth, which I contend is often missing in workplace interactions. Perhaps my interactions with others will become more loving and emotionally open as my experiences as a father develop, I can only hope.

My final reflection on responsible masculinity comes after a weekend with my family during which my wife had an evening with friends from our antenatal class. It was apparent to me that this was one of a few rare occasions when I have been responsible for getting my some to sleep without the crutch of my wife in case he wouldn’t fall asleep. Falling asleep is simultaneously the most natural and more complex human process I know. It requires a feeling of safety, comfort and calmness as well as the simplicity of ‘feeling tired’. Being responsible for my son’s sleep time meant that I had to embody the safety, comfort and calmness typically provided by my wife with breastfeeding. I held him, read to him, rocked him and responded to his irritation. It felt very precarious at points as I was following my instinct, but it taught me about my ingrained intuition as a father and the need for fathers to take responsibility for their children as independent parents.

I think the independence of masculine responsibility for a dependent child is the critical point here. I have taken collective responsibility for my son (with my wife), ever since he has been born, but a part of me has always known that my wife has been there to take over if needed. As I have grown more confident, I have increasingly felt the impact of taking sole responsibility for my son on my ideas of masculinity. Responsibility, to me, has become a far more all-encompassing concept. In the context of the workplace, line managers take responsibility for their team, but don’t always take full responsibility for the ‘whole’ person.

The ‘whole person’, in the context of work, includes the personal life and commitments therein that comprise a colleague’s substantive life outside of work. So, parents need support to be parents, not just lip service to that life outside of work. It is the responsibility of the workplace and it’s hierarchical representatives to enable that. Equally, it is the responsibility of the parents to push for those rights in their working arrangements. Therefore, when fathers are asked to do longer hours, or work outside of the norm, they should take responsibility for their parental responsibilities at home being just as important as their working responsibilities.

Masculine responsibility means taking full responsibility, not shirking that responsibility because you feel the ‘primary carer’ will pick up the slack. I have been guilty of this at times at work when I set of 10 minutes late. Would I have done the same thing for a work meeting? Probably not. I realise as I type these closing remarks that my own masculinity is not coming up to the mark and before I can write about this, I need to live it!

To conclude, I have found my recent experiences have refocused my ideas of masculinity as a product of fatherhood. Masculinity is associated with ideas of physicality, emotion and responsibility. These three pillars can easily be interpreted in different ways depending on cultural influence and personal circumstances. I presented my own reflections here as a father forging his own path of masculinity and aspiring to contribute something to this complex theoretical landscape. I hope my reader will also reflect on their version of masculinity and consider how they experience and live emotional, physical and responsible masculinity in their life.

2nd year reflections – the flaws in my writing

I’m just over half way through and experiencing mixed emotions after a recent supervision meeting with my primary and 2nd supervisors. I had submitted a draft of my literature review and received feedback on my work in the session. In summary, I am not as far along as I had hoped and this is because I am succumbing to some basic errors. I also must admit to myself that I was aware that one of the sections was not as strong as I has hoped. I reflected on this after the meeting and over the weekend. I have felt anxiety and discomfort at my progress and am starting to worry about my ability to produce the work I have planned.

Rather than stew any longer, I have decided to write it all down here and commit myself to some actions. My faults are based on three core areas:

  • Clarity and consistency of definitions and terms
  • Structure and flow,
  • Use of theory.

I will outline my reflections on each and my plan to try to address this in the rest of this blog.

My use of gender terms suffers from inconsistency and a lack of clarity, which in part derives from my own lack of confidence in the correct terms to use sometimes. One example is that I have interchangeably used ‘patriarchal dividend’ (Connell, 2005), ‘masculinity dividend’ and ‘fatherhood dividend’. I am conscious that this is categorical error reflects my own conceptualisations of what I mean when I use such variations, but that is not clear to the reader. As a consequence, I create abstract meanings in the way I express myself, which means my reader will lose confidence in my argument. This inconsistency highlights the occasional chasm that emerges between what I am thinking as I write and what I actually commit to the page.

To correct this problem, I need to emphasise and construct very principled and precise prose for future contributions. I am realising the importance of precision and exactness in my work as there is no point in thinking of a really convincing argument in my head, but rushing it on the page. I have realised that such folly not only irritates my reader, it also damages my own purpose of expressing a clear and cogent argument.

My second error is with structure. I find myself meandering within defined sections of my essay, often jumping from one point to another, paying only lip service to the flow of the argument. This is a consequence of the way I think in general, which is often tangential and muddled. I am frequently reminded of this in conversations with my wife, Holly where I am guilty of starting a conversation mid way through, having had part of the preamble in my head. The subsequent conversation makes perfect sense to me, but absolutely no sense to her. This fault seems to also occur, perhaps to a lesser degree, in my writing. Which begs the question, is this fault totally debilitating, or can I find a method to correct it?

On one side, I am conscious that I am a natural ‘plan as I go’ writer. I love the George RR Martin analogy of the ‘gardener’ writer versus the architect. The gardener plants seeds and nurtures whatever grows into a wild, but hopefully beautiful garden. The architect plans the garden in meticulous detail, from borders, to plant species, and colour of wood stain on the decking. I know I am not a natural architect, but I am not succeeding as a total gardener either. I have tried constructing a skeleton structure in my recent writing, but this appears to be too loose and subject to repetition and incoherent sequences. I like to see what emerges as I write, but recognise now that this process needs to remain as a ‘process’ prior to a serious edit! One thing I am not succeeding in is constructing a final version that reads well for my audience and I believe my structuring is to blame.

To address this issue, I need to plan my ideas first (I like the mind map for this, and Jamie also suggested the Venn to articulate the themes that intersect and form my actual argument). Second, I should construct a clear outline of the essay, which expresses the flow of my argument and the basis of my view in evidence. If I am using evidence for frivolous reasons, it needs to go! If I am light in other areas, it needs more evidence! I will also do some ‘retrospective structuring’ to identify what my current essays actually say (based on a sentence summary for each paragraph) compared to what I want them to say.

Finally, I must admit I am sometimes guilty of some lazy writing when it comes to citing theorists without the necessary depth of understanding. I tend to latch on to the headline of the theory without grasping the fullness of the argument and this is a serious problem. What I am primarily guilty of is a scatter-gun approach, which fails to identify a clear theorist to build my ideas upon. I think this comes from a lack of clear conceptual clarity on what I want to say in my essay. I am writing about a subject, but not following a clear argument, aligned, or building on a theory, that expresses my view.

If I am to become a serious writer in academia (and beyond), I pledge to myself that I will, from this day forth, decide on my argument and commit to it with a clear basis in a theory that reinforces my view. I need to strip away the superfluous theories that represent interesting, but underdeveloped distractions in my writing. I also need to ensure I am properly educating myself of the wealth of existing theory on prominent terms. One example in my masculinity essay was ‘female masculinity’, which was coined by Jack Halberstam, that I had totally missed in my reading. This omission was unacceptable and embarrassing for someone trying to produce coherent gender academic writing. I will not make this mistake again!

To conclude, I want my writing to be coherent and consistent so that my reader can understand and follow my argument. I commit to maintaining clarity in my writing by anchoring my argument to consistent, well explained terms. I will plan my writing to form a cogent structure with a convincing progression of ideas, not just a cluster of ideas around some central themes. Finally, I will write with more confidence and stick with a theory that works for what I want to say, not just because a surface idea is related to what I am thinking at the time of writing. Ultimately, I need to be more disciplined in my writing and treat it as a discipline, not just an indulgence. If I want writing to be my job, I need to treat the process with the respect it deserves, and that means more practice and more respect for the process.


11 weeks since becoming a father

Now seems like an opportune moment to reflect further on my research experiences and life as a father. I have been attempting to reconcile work and family life through increasing home working. It is really lovely to get the chance to see Luke during the day and I am also able to lighten the load with Holly by occassionally watching him if she is going for a run, or just getting her a drink when I have a coffee. I find myself wondering how working fathers manage to build any kind of meaningful emotional bond with their children at this stage of parenthood.

I regularly feel like a secondary actor in Luke’s life and I am probably more involved than most working fathers at this stage. How must other fathers be feeling? The secondary role of a father is something I grapple with on a daily basis. I feel the pull far more significantly when I am sitting downstairs working and can hear Holly and Luke upstairs. It is lovely on the weekend when I feel released to take a far more active role, but the disparity between his connection to Holly and me will only grow as he continues to spend more and more time with her.

Such disconnection with fatherhood and work leads me to some of my recent literature review work on masculinity, work and parenthood. I have encountered articles considering ‘caring maculinity’ and ‘involved fatherhood’ which seem to be persistent terms relating to re-conceptualised masculinity in modern western society. These concepts are drawn from the increasing prevalence of stay at home fathers and men who have greater involvement in their children’s formative years. I feel like I can place myself in the middle ground with this. I am not a fully involved father in the same way as someone who actually leads on childcare, but I know I am far more involved than the vast majority of fathers by virtue of my literal presence in the home and consistent willingness to support Holly with various household chores such as cooking, cleaning etc. I wonder if I can conceptualise my involved fatherhood as a version of caring masculinity? I often have to stop myself and consider if I am being true to the values I am espousing in my research. It is these reflective points in any given day of any given week that I feel are crucial if fathers are going to make meaningful steps towards genuine equal shares in parental responsibility.

The opposing end of the spectrum still represents, what I presume to be, an overwhelming majority in terms of mothers dominating childcare. My question is, will the trend for greater father involvement influence organisations to reassess their own attitudes and policies towards family life? Certainly case studies in Sweden point to shifting attitudes and statistical involvement secondary to favourable father’s leave. Does statutory policy have to precede social change? More importantly, is written policy enough, or does the oranisation bear some additional responsibility to promote and educate their employees about the organisational values such as ‘people first’. I encountered an intersting example in a recent interview where the couple I interviewed were simply unaware of the precise policies and benefits available to them. This was an example of a father trusting the organisation by virtue of his collegiate colleagues. Such trust, I hope, is not misplaced. However, it did lead me to think that the organisation does have an important role to play in not simply presuming the individual should be fully aware of all their entitlements. What if the organisation explicitly directed their employees to the policies and benefits they are entitled to, when such policies become relevant? Such questions lead me to another more pressing question, why don’t organisations already do this?

I recognise we cannot expect organisations to take full responsibility and I believe individuals also have a role to play in shifting attitudes. However, the relative status of these individuals is very important. Leading by example is critically important in any organisational culture.  Certainly, I wish to use my research as a voice for change and subversion of the masculine norms in organisations. I hope, by constructing myself as an expert in this area, I can lead by example and encourage other to follow suit!

I will try to increase my frequency from now on as I feel this is a critical time in my self reflection as a working, studying father.

Parental Leave and Masculinity

From February 16th, 2019, I entered the world of parenthood and gained first hand experience of parental leave, sleepless nights and unrivalled love. My son, Luke was born on a Saturday at midday after his mother had laboured for 66 hours. It was an exhausting experience, both physically and emotionally, and I gained new insights into the substantial demands of parenthood. As a father, this time can be incredibly draining, as well as wonderfully special. I found myself contemplating the ‘typical’ UK father’s role in this tumultuous, family time.

Before I became a dad, the statutory maximum of two weeks seemed rather inadequate. After experiencing the extremes of postpartum haemorrhage and the impact this had on Holly, I couldn’t imagine leaving her with Luke after only two weeks. To be honest, I found the four weeks I did take were barely sufficient to ensure both Holly and Luke were OK. It has been the most incredible experience of my life, but also the most draining. Being a father should mean you share an equal load in your parental responsibilities, but I can’t conceive of how a father can achieve this in two weeks or less, especially if their partner has a difficult birth. This experience has confirmed what I have come to know, that the current system of shared parental leave must improve if the UK workforce is ever to achieve equity for mothers and fathers. Now, more than ever, the Nordic system of shared parental leave with protected ‘daddy months’ (3 months in Sweden) is the only way to properly enable fathers and mothers to bond with their children and support each other.

When I consider the reasons that system is not already in place in the UK, I find validation for my assumptions, supported in the literature, concerning masculine,  ideological influences on parental choices. It is this ideological system, reinforcing men’s roles as ‘breadwinner’, not caregiver. which reproduces the imbalance between mothers and fathers. The incentive for fathers to prioritise their own involvement with their families is secondary to the cultural influence rewarding their conformity to workplace organisational expectations. I cannot, in all consciousness, collect this masculinity dividend at the expense of my wife and son, but I realise I am in a very privileged position at a flexible Research Associate and PhD student. The question I return to is how to raise the awareness of working fathers to re-evaluate their priorities. I suspect, such a revelation will not occur spontaneously, rather following an intervention to create a new cultural normality.

As a new father, I feel invigorated by my time spent with my son. I am grateful to my supervisor for her understanding and encouragement to enable me to fully embrace this time in my life. I know this opportunity has revitalised my motivation to achieve as a research associate and student. I am filled with a desire to show how the masculine ideological system, which discourages men from indulging in extended parental leave, does not have to work the way it does. If I can experience an extended sample of the wonderful complexity of parenthood though the fortune of my current circumstances, it is my duty to spread the message to others. Through my work, I want to subvert the generations of imbalance, which have burdened mothers with the lions share of caring responsibility, and denied fathers this precious time with their children. This system is dystopian and rotten; it steals fathers from their children and overloads mothers to the detriment of their personal ambitions. The worlds of family and work can only benefit from father’s increased involvement as mothers feel more supported and fathers realise the boundaries of their role have widened and become far richer than they once were.

To conclude, I feel so lucky to have avoided to oppressive pressure of conformity to masculine ideological influence. I only wish that pressure could be lifted for all fathers. If it could be, I can only imagine the brave new world we could venture in to. A world where family, not profit, holds greater value in all our lives.

Masculinity and the promise of parenthood: reflections of a PhD student and Father-to-be

My research continues to evolve as I find my personal life merging with my academic pursuits. It is a strange psychological place to occupy as I find myself thinking about whether my research focus would have gone in this direction without Holly and I becoming pregnant. I sometimes wonder if I engaged in an approximation of prefiguration in the timing of our first child; it is a highly convenient that my personal life can so perfectly track my refined PhD focus on masculinity and fertility. However, it makes things very messy at times as I find myself reflecting on my experiences as a man in an organisational setting waiting to become a father, while simultaneously experiencing this reality in real-time and the emotions that go with it. Detaching myself from my experiences is impossible, but I am very conscious that I am inadvertently a primary subject in my own research.

One question that surfaces from time-to-time is whether I should include my own auto-ethnographic experiences as a working father-to-be in my data. Given the intractable relationship between my personal life and my research, my proportionality will inevitably infuse my work, but will I be a reliable narrator? It almost seems appropriate to compare my contribution to my own research in comparison to Offred’s narration of her experiences in The Handmaids Tale. As readers, we are never certain how far we can trust her version of events; her memory is unreliable at times. If I am going to include my own voice and experiences in my thesis, how will I achieve this as a valid methodological approach?

My experiences are, I believe, a-typical of employed pre-fatherhood men. I also beleive I inhabit a different paradigm concerning concepts of masculinity compared to many working men of my age. I recognise similar attitudes amongst my PhD peers, but very few are also parents. Those who are tend to be older than me and with older children. My employment status is consistent with alternative ideas of masculinity. I am a part time research associate and full time PhD student. I am the secondary wage earner (by a considerable margin) in our relationship. I am also, considerably less successful than my partner (a highly regarded Doctor and researcher) by nearly all professional measures. My work and studies afford me a degree of flexibility, which means I can be far more involved in our child’s first years than most men in full time work. All these factors position me as a counterpoint to many of the men I anticipate I will speak to in my research. Yet, I will conform with my hegemonic masculine role when our baby arrives as Holly is taking her full entitlement of parental leave, while I continue my studies (time being the only deciding factor here). I expect I will be able to enjoy the benefits of flexible involvement in our child’s first year, especially compared to men whose job rigidity prohibits such involvement. In future, I would love to take advantage of shared parental leave if we are fortunate enough to have a second child, but for this time, I will only experience masculinity through its support role in parenting.

Today, we are at 37 weeks and eagerly anticipating the arrival of our first child. Thinking about the preceding months, I am conscious of how easy it has been for me to continue as normal while Holly experiences the physical and psychological challenges of pregnancy in and out of work. I show no physical signs of the preceding 8 months, bar a slightly enlarged belly which I attribute to sympathetic eating… This means there is no cue for colleagues, associates, students or stranger to inquire of my status. My emotions have remained fairly level concerning the impending arrival too. I have experienced periods of anxiety concerning Holly’s health and that of the baby, but these have thankfully been resolved. Unlike pregnant women, I was in total control of when I disclosed my ‘news’. Apart from the obvious expectations of concerning disclosure to my supervisor, I genuinely believe I could have kept my news entirely secret until the stage at which I suddenly didn’t turn up to the office. This, in itself, is an interesting thought experiment given my presumption that men are affected my perceptions of masculine expectations  in the workplace. As a pre-fatherhood subject, how might fertility impact men who withhold their pending change of identity? Did I withhold my news to preserve my own identity as a student? I have ‘form’ when it comes to keeping my private life separate, but I must admit I did consciously withhold my news to maintain my focus in work. In effect, I created two personas ‘father-to-be Mark’ and ‘PhD/Research Associate Mark’. I have subsequently created a third identity as the ‘Father-to-be Mark Phd/Reseach Associate’ for interactions with peers and colleagues who now know about my impending life event. Creating my identities was a masculine privilege not on offer to many pregnant women whose physical pregnancy is obvious to colleagues very early. This masculine identity privilege is something I want to explore further in my data collection and analysis. Furthermore, I am also aware that I will continue to maintain my split identities after I become a father as not all colleague will be aware of this. This again establishes a masculine paradigm where I control to whom I disclose this information.

As I consider the next steps in my research, I am aware of the advantages of my positionality concerning trust and sympathy during interviews. I hope my experiences will give me insights into the experiences of other working parents and allow me access to narrative that could elude other researchers.

I will blog again soon as this strikes me as a crucial time in my research and personal life. It is a time I want to record for posterity and I believe my thoughts, tangential as they often are, reveal quite a lot about the blurring lines between my own fiction and reality.


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.




Fertility and Gendered Violence and masculinity

In the last week I have had a few moments of clarity which have helped me to see the direction of travel for my PhD a little clearer than before. I have attended sessions exploring philosophy and my philosophical stance. I have previously talked about this and outlined my inclination towards radical humanism. This means that I place my views in the subjective end of research methodology in organisation inquiry as I question the supremacy of factual an quantitative data when examining persistent problems, particularly gender and inequity. The humanist perspective appreciates the endless complexity of individual perceptions and human ability to interpret or affect their environments differently. My radical position comes from my innate desire to do research that can contribute to discourses of change (and ideally have meaningful impacts to make change). My humanist inclination is reinforced by my belief in fair opportunity for all. Overall, I felt this centring of my philosophy represented me as well as possible, but I was pleased this week when a professor talked about borrowing from other paradigms. This is especially interesting to me given my occasional drifting alignment and my concern that over subjective focus can be exploited by hardened objective structures.

In recent times I have thought a lot about the implications of my positionality, particularly when considering my ideas of ideology and the structures of control. I have long viewed the structures of the state as working in concert with corporate power and ideological views imposed on the population. Listening to Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ has reinforced my view and provided further evidence of the tentacles of power, strangling humanity and our environment, all for the pursuit of market forces and neo-liberal ideology. Partriarchy is a natural bed-fellow in this ideology of competition and corporate greed, as men have inherited social power, influence and a tradition of dominance extending back in time. Powerful men have sculpted our world, for good and ill. One theory that has helped me to access this conflict between the individual and the structure is Structuration (Giddens). The continuum of powerful structures of control and individual motivations for security have helped me to see where dystopian control structures and individual acts of collective resistance and subversion can fit. It has been a time of focusing on my conceptual framework with theories that can underpin my thinking.

Focusing in

The week started with a supervisor meeting with my primary and second supervisors. I have shared my edits to my fertility paper and received written feedback on the updates I have made. Reflecting on the impact of fertility and its relevance to my research question, it has become increasingly clear that much of my focus can be centred on the fertility and infertility in the workplace. Through my reading so far, I have encountered examples of inequitable and unreasonable treatment for mothers, as well as women feeling pressured to conform to a masculine workplace paradigm. The aspect of fertility in the workplace I find most troubling and therefore most important to investigate is the fertility/infertility double-bind. Women encounter the double bind when having to either choose to delay or indefinitely defer families to pursue their careers, versus women who encounter detrimental consequences for becoming mother and trying to retain their careers and progress. The questions I am left with are:

  • Why do women shoulder so much of the responsibility for parenting?
  • Is there a culture that promotes women as mothers, but not men as fathers?
  • Why don’t more men take a more active role in care giving for children?
  • How can the expectations of women and men be influenced so that it is not a mother’s duty to deal with the consequences of being a parent?

Fertility is a prominent and highly relevant trope within dystopian literature and this will enable me to access the lessons of dystopian resistance and highlight the controlling structures of ideological totality.

Gendered Violence

I attended a thought provoking, challenging and stirring lecture this week. Gendered violence, and specifically violence against women, is something I abhor. I watched the Kavanaugh hearings and my heart broke for the life time trauma Christine Blassey-Ford has endured. One thing that really stood out for me in the lecture was during the discussion when an insightful was the underlying issues that lead to men acting violently towards women. It struck a chord with me as I often fall into the trap that societal narratives lay of blaming the perpetrator and not considering the system that guided them there. Let me be very clear, there is no excuse for violence against women and I am not excusing any perpetrators of their responsibility. I am, however, postulating that men who commit acts of violence, harassment or sexism do this for a reason and it is that reason that allows these incidents to persist. The answers may lie in the experiences of men in patriarch and the ideology of masculinity as portrayed in familial, educational, media and cultural realities. These normalised and normative behaviours can become almost ritualistic in society. The wolf whistle, the sexist comments, the ‘man spreading’ on public transport, the physical intimidation in work spaces… all acts of violence, and precursors to more physical acts. These are clear examples of ‘masculinity’ that need an overhaul!


I am going to be exploring the role of masculinity in greater depth, particularly in the context of fertility. I am intrigued to investigate men’s perceptions of their duty as a father during pregnancy and with children. I feel that cultures can shift if men are encouraged to take more responsibility for child care and as a parent. I perceive, as a father to be, a delineation between the experiences of men and women in this area. Apart from the obvious physical experiences of women opposed to men, there is something psychological that is obscured or avoided between men which seems far more open between women. I think masculinity could be a place for further exploration in light of men in dystopias as allies or men’s roles to support subversion. Ultimately, the problems of gender inequity affect women and men and it will be collective cooperation that will help to change things.

Until next time!


Why I am writing here again

I have not written here for a few months, for which I can only apologise to myself and my avid readership… I have always enjoyed writing and I think my avoidance of the blog has been partly due to distraction with the PhD and also Holly being pregnant, but also a sense of it feeling unnecessary or an indulgence compared to other commitments. This week, I spoke with my dad who was suffering from a relapse of a preexisting back problem. During our conversation, he mentioned that he wanted to stave off boredom the next day, having limited movement and being stuck in the house. I encouraged him to write a story as he has produced some really heartfelt and also innovative pieces in the past. To my delight, I received an email from him the next day with a beautiful reflective piece attached. Reading this piece on my train journey from Newcastle to Carlisle, I was transported back to hill walking on green and rocky scenery warm sunshine with my dad, specifically our walks on Blencathra. My dad’s writing was honest, heartfelt and highly personal. I cried as I read it, swam in my happy memories, and felt the raw emotions of the love between a father and child burst forth. Having sufficiently recovered from this experience and staring at the rolling Northumberland hills as they cascaded into Cumbria, I was immediately reminded of the vital importance of writing in my life, and its pivotal role as a lifeline and catharsis to my own research journey. I immediately resolved to resume my writing commitment and always remember its impact on my own emotional and cognitive focus. Writing will always be the place where I feel most free to express myself. This form of reflective writing is particularly helpful as an ally to the constant whirring of PhD concepts and theories that occupy my conscious and subconscious mind. I have agreed with myself that this is a very worthwhile process and something I must continue. I will start this post with a general update before briefly outlining my thoughts on lies, revisionism and ideology which are some areas of theory and dystopia I am fascinated with.

General Update

I have spent much of the last few months reading about gender theory through Connell’s work, the ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ by Freire, and latterly, Ideology through Althusser. I have also continued to read dystopian fiction including the recently published ‘Red Clocks’ by Leni Zumas, which I can highly recommend. In recent months, I have also moved away from a focus on leadership and towards resistant movements of change as depicted in the subversions in dystopian literature.

The Equity Challenge project has been progressing over the summer and I have been really pleased to build a partnership with the Student’s Union on our student audit. I have met new team members and been really pleased to find continuing enthusiasm for this important action. Working for cultural change is as difficult as I expected. Speaking to groups of students in lecture hall about this is a really odd experience. I have found myself pivoting the ‘pitch’ to appeal to the individual gains that students may pull from getting involved. I am happy to report some genuine interest from students so far and feel hopeful for more to come. I think student involvement is an acid test for the viability of sustainable cultural change. I my mind, this will happen far more effectively with a strong and unified staff and student collaboration, but without the students it will be a far more challenging and lengthy journey.

I have also been writing about fertility in the workplace as a trope of dystopian literature through a range of organisation based research into the negative impacts of fertility. This has been through a few drafts already and,  thanks to my supervisors, I have been learning how to craft my writing into an organised and cogent academic essay. I must admit I have fallen into some bad habits since completing my Masters, so their feedback has been vital. Since working on this essay, which I hope to submit to a conference next year, I have started to narrow down my theoretical framework and the theory of ideology has become prominent in my thinking.


My second supervisor suggested that I read Luis Althusser’s work on ideology as a potential theoretical framework that can work in concert with my ideas of dystopia. One of the underpinning ontological assumptions that drives my research is my perception and assumption that people internalise the values, structures and ideology of an organisation, which is often an arm of a larger state/global structure. In the case of Universities, Althusser would define them as Ideological State Apparatuses. Althusser, a prominent, Marxist theorist and philosopher from the mid and late twentieth century, wrote his essay on ideology, outlining state structures underpinned by dominant, bourgeois ideology which reproduced its dominance over the masses through two arms of state apparatuses:

  1. (Repressive) State Apparatuses – acting with the overt, though usually subdued threat of violence as a primary motivating factor.
    • Government, Administration; Army; Police; Courts; Prisons
  2. Ideological State Apparatuses primarily acting through ideological means to inculcate and coerce the masses into a unified social purpose
    • Religion, Education, Family, Legal, Political, Trade unions, Communication media, Cultural – literature, art, sports

These two arms of the state apparatuses work together with various elements acting more prominently or less so depending on the context. Religion in the UK plays a less prominent role in ideological influence than it once did, while communication media relentlessly influences us on a minute by minute basis. The repressive state apparatus form the legitimate, yet often unrequired threat of violence and physical suppression that inculcates a sense of apprehension, self regulation and fear, all experiences of fear. Why do we choose not to rise up and overthrow seemingly incompetent governments? Historical events such as the civil rights backlash of police, imprisoned suffragettes and internationally hounded and outcast whistle-blowers provide clear examples of the consequences of any efforts to rise up against state and ideological power.  We internalise this knowledge and I believe it permeates our daily choices to act or not act. Of course we do internalise different ideologies based on politics, values (religious or other) and family environments etc.

Ideological differences are always present at a personal or group level, but the ideology that is often depicted in dystopia is that of state ideology and dominant elites with one purpose, to retain domination over the masses. Capitalist society, especially neo-liberal society, functions through an ideology of self preservation, individual self-interest and  domination of one group over another. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, contemporary society’s dominant dominant group is the super-rich, white men; often descending from a dynasty of family wealth and power (inherited and accumulated in various ways). If we accept that this group of elite and super-wealthy people have achieved their success by a mixture of individual achievement, inheritance and a societal system that rewards efforts to reinforce the domination of this group, we can begin to conceive of the possibility that the dominant group of white men may not be very receptive to alternative approaches to societal structure. These alternatives include theories and concepts of gender inequity.

Ideology and gender 

Ideology intersects with gender in the disputed concept of patriarchy which runs through western society in much of its ideological and repressive state apparatuses. For the repressive state we have the Government (historically dominated by men, particularly in the US) and the army (a bastion of masculine, aggressive power and tradition), the police (a long time boys club).

Topical this month, the law is a major actor in the repression of women, I don’t think I need to go into the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings other than to ask how a non-conservative woman judge would have been received by the senate if faced with similar allegations. Kavanaugh’s imminent confirmation (barring an unlikely Senate rejection) will encapsulates the ideological challenge for women in western society. He is a wealthy, white man from a privileged upbringing who represents conservative values and has previously talked about Roe Vs Wade as precedent on precedent. This means a ruling that has been reaffirmed in the supreme court after its original ruling. His view is accurate, but does leave the door ajar for alternate rulings as it does not describe the ruling as ‘settled law’. Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will join 5 other men and 3 women on the US supreme court. The events of the Blassey Ford hearings have highlighted the high stakes involved in legal state power. If confirmed, a man accused of sexual assault by multiple women will serve for the rest of his life in a highly influential position as the embodiment of the ideology of the current US administration under Trump. Trump, who this week was exposed in the New York Times as the recipient of a huge inheritance from his family’s real estate business through tax dodging and suspect schemes to siphon millions of dollars into his own coffers for posterity without paying appropriate inheritance tax. Trump, a man who campaigned with Mike Pence, both rich and powerful white men, on an ideology of conservative values and pro-life legislation. The repressive state apparatus really do matter, particularly when working in concert with ideology.

The ideological apparatuses of education, as I have stated before, are dominated by men in positions of power in Professor and Executive roles. The media also repeats the domination with only 20% of national newspaper editors being women. Religion has only very recently even contemplated women in positions of power and this is limited to the Church of England, not Catholicism, Islam or the Judaism.

If I add the recent rise of social media and online tech giants into the mix, we have Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Alphabet Inc (google parent company) Larry Page and Sergey Brin. These three giant companies dominate and influence our lives on a minute by minute basis and all three have dominant, super-rich men as their founders. This is omitting the enduringly influential Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as titans of computer technology.

If we can accept that there is a dominant ideology running through the state apparatuses, it is not a great leap to also accept that this ideology will protect its dominant and powerful players, the white men. How do the dominant protect their dominant position in the face of calls for change?

Piecemeal Ideological Responses

When faced with rising calls for change and progress from groups in society, the dominant group protects its position by offering piecemeal amendments, restoring order through concessions which may fall short of the full demand but pacify the rising anger of the masses. When feminist movements rose in the 1960s and 70s, one of the state’s responses was the abortion rights legislation in UK (1967) and US (1973). Such offerings can serve to reduce tensions and give new freedoms, but they do not displace the dominant groups at the top. They do not reduce their power, in fact their domination is secured for a generation by this negotiated offering. As we are seeing in the US, such offerings can be placed at risk in backlash movements underpinned by another state ideological apparatus, the conservative religious apparatus. The dominant elite will respond to this powerful group in the US because they have infiltrated the government as an arm of the repressive state apparatus and we are seeing reduced abortion clinic availability in a number of states across the US. State Apparatuses are already mobilising to offer piecemeal limits on abortion rights. This erosion leads to speculation of the abortion law being repealed in the US.

Dystopian ideology

I will conclude with a brief overview of the book I have recently read ‘Red Clocks’ by Leni Zumas. This highly relevant dystopia depicts an all too plausible future society in America with abortion rights overturned, an ominous ‘pink wall’ border for Canada and a new law to prohibit single mothers from adopting children. This novel may well be read for years to come as a prophetic example of state ideology fuelled by the fear, oppression and control experienced by women in oppressive societies. The US of ‘Red Clocks’ is very recognisable to our contemporary western society, with one difference, the erosion of women’s right to choose. Losing this right devalues women’s autonomy and reduces them to secondary subjects relative to dominant men. The ideology depicted here is likely derived from contemporary religious ideology in the US and the pro-life movement. The consequences for women in this novel are sometimes subtle, sometimes terrifying, often heartbreaking and always unfair. Here, the dominant state ideology has shifted and the repressive state apparatuses move to reinforce them. Once the ideological battle is lost, the struggle changes from progress to clawing back lost ground.

We must be forever vigilant of this constant, distopian threat. If we fall into the trap of internalising the dominant ideology, we can easily become complicit in the creation of dystopia. Ideology is everywhere in many guises, but the dominant state ideology is the most important and powerful, yet representative of the smallest group. Those at the top will ruthlessly protect themselves and we must also protect our own interests as fiercely. In Red Clocks, each protagonist has their own resistant act and shows the fire of subversion within them. We must all keep the fire burning to resist any erosion of progress and recognise the power of ideology as a weapon of dystopian societies.

The Pedagogy of Dystopia

In that last few weeks, I have been reading about pedagogy and story with a view to exploring  approaches to change. These are topics that I find simultaneously fascinating and incredibly complex. We are often faced with a ‘catch 22’ situation of how to influence change from within as described in the wonderful article on Tempered Radicals by Meyerson & Scully (1995) which highlights the middle road to change by striving for incremental wins from within the established system. This is a process of inculcation into the norms of organisation, to take opportunities when presented, to make incremental changes on the road to a greater goal. On the face of it, such an approach sounds like the perfect strategy for covert radical agents to unpick the established order from within, yet it disregards another truth (as I perceive it) that such small wins are also met with other wins (often larger in scale) that wrestle the balance of power back to to dominant group (the tax relief legislation in USA is a prime example of this).

To elaborate on this thought, let’s consider the wonderful story of the victory of the suffrage movement in 1918 winning the right to vote for women (over 30 & ‘of property’). We recently celebrated the centenary of this event and a statue to Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in Parliament Square to mark the occasion. This moment in history was a significant step towards greater democratic voice for women in all global societies and had followed similar breakthroughs in New Zealand, Australia and Northern Europe in preceding years. The global watershed was in and around 1918, but it should be noted that the UK lagged behind in terms of the full right to vote until 1928. This story could be heralded as the dawn of true democracy and equal rights. However, viewing the story in that way begs the question; with such a significant advance in the equity movement 100 years ago, why do we continue to see inequity in the the leadership positions across society today? I can only speculate that the victory was also met with an equal effort to redress the balance by the dominant. Such efforts are simple to understand when considered. After all, allowing all people the right to vote, but only offering up candidates from parties who reproduce male dominance, is not really offering a meaningful choice. We must ask ourselves, where do the parties come from and who maintains them? This is a dystopian story we don’t hear about and one that would not suit the dominant to tell us.

I am reminded of a scene in the film ‘The Remains of the Day’ which perfectly encapsulates my feelings on the attitudes of many of the dominant in society towards the dominated. The scene centres on some male guests of Lord Darlington enjoying cigars and brandy while discussing foreign policy and economics. One particularly pompous man repudiates the butler and main protagonist, Mr Stevens’ qualification to vote (and that of all working class people) based on his hypothesis that working class people are ill equipped to make such weighty decisions based on their inferior knowledge of vital national interests. In a way, they are protecting the dominated from their own ignorance. He continues to ‘prove’ his hypothesis by questioning Stevens  on such themes to which Stevens (a life long butler) is naturally unable to provide any meaningful response. The questioner disregards Steven’s vast and comprehensive knowledge of the complex order and balance of this grand household, his admirable sense of duty and the various responsibilities he masters with ease and instead lends greater weight to the privileged knowledge he, as a privileged person, holds. This example of inequity in story exemplifies what I perceive to be the rationale of the dominant to re-stack the deck when new rules are imposed that aim to move society towards egalitarianism.

I can only speculate that the dominant will always find a way to remain dominant if the dominated allow them the privilege of time to adapt. However, history has also taught us that radical overthrow does not often result in better outcomes for the majority. The dystopic Bolshevik revolution in Russia proved that comprehensively. In the aftermath of collective action victories in the USA such as civil rights and second wave feminism, democracy in the USA has become owned by dystopic corporate interests, ‘Usually, US elections can be predicted pretty well by the level of funding, overwhelmingly from the very wealthy and corporations’ (Chomsky, 2004) If we accept that dominant interests will always fight to preserve their domination, what can the dominated do to change this cycle? Bourdieu taught us that we must harness the intellectual tools of the dominant, the valued status commodities of industrial progress that create economic prosperity, to carve out our own prosperity within the hierarchy of society. In my view, such destiny is doomed to reproduce a dominant power dynamic in perpetuity; to reinforce the privilege of the few with greater and greater degrees of power bestowed as more people conform to the rules of the game.

The seeds of a plan

It has become increasingly clear to me in writing this blog that persuasion, lobbying and education (upwards and downwards) are the best means of achieving meaningful change. It is the dominant story that needs to be changed, not the story of the dominated. Embedding critical thought, healthy scepticism and existential questions into our curriculum for children and adults can show people that gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation and any other characteristics are not, and should not, be a barrier to success. I believe that focusing on raising collective awareness of equity and building an intrinsic expectation of fairness is how we can ascend to the real goal of equality for all. We have so many tools at our disposal now with instant communication enabling organising on a scale not possible 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. The influential figures who can really change minds are the teachers, parents, friends and colleagues you live with every day. Start a conversation, start a group, start a movement and change some minds. I see my role as a story teller in this movement. My research will be a conduit for a narrative to raise awareness and point towards change.  I believe that stories can be incredibly powerful in changing ideology and this is how I feel my abilities can be best utilised. We must, however, be wary of the equally powerful and dystopic use of story to maintaining ideology.

We must not be distracted!

With the royal wedding looming, the story of fantasy and escapism reigns dominant in the land. We are encouraged to bask in the pageantry and glamour of royal decadence and marvel at the benevolence of the royal couple who deign to open their special day to a few hundred special guests from the public (of course they must bring their own lunch, booze and finance their travel, clothing and accommodation for the occasion). Here we see the ultimate slap in the face for the dominated. They have their place in society branded upon them as the passive observers of privilege, while the wealthy gorge themselves on state financed delights. We do this willingly and gratefully for a mere glimpse into a lifestyle that most people can only dream of. The royal family represent the high benchmark as an example of reproduction. Maintaining their grasp on privilege and adapting to the changing world with brilliant skill. Gender dynamics in this institution have only ceded to global standards in the last decade with the changing of patriarchal royal succession so male heirs no longer trump older females in the family tree. This, apart from anything else, should highlight the snails pace of change still blighting the gender movement. These establishment rules were written and remain in force to maintain and reproduce the power dynamic. It is their dystopian story to pass down through the generations and it does not change easily. This is an exclusive story and a game that only the lucky few can play. The lucky few in society just so happen to be predominantly male…

We must remain focused on writing our own story and sharing it widely. Only when people start to enjoy and reproduce the story of equity can equality be achieved. Until then, the dominant will continue their dystopian tale, to distract, pacify and maintain their place in the hierarchy.



Bourdieu, Passeron, & Passeron, Jean-Claude. (1990). Reproduction in education, society and culture (2nd ed., Theory, culture & society). London: Sage.

Czarniawska-Joerges, B., & De Monthoux, P. (Eds.). (2005). Good novels, better management: Reading organizational realities in fiction. Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed, 30th anniversary. Trans. MB Ramos). New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (2014). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Gabriel, Y., & Connell, N. A. D. (2010). Co-creating stories: Collaborative experiments in storytelling. Management Learning, 41(5), 507-523.

Meyerson, D. E., & Scully, M. A. (1995). Crossroads tempered radicalism and the politics of ambivalence and change. Organization Science6(5), 585-600.


“She breasted boobiliy to the stairs, and titted downwards” my voice in the gendered paradigm – Weeks 4 & 5

The main quote of this blog is inspired by the twitter sensation this week which sparked the prompt: #describe yourself the way a male author would.

The origin of this topic was a male author’s claim that he had proven that ‘it’s possible for a male author to write an authentic female protagonist’. What was shared on twitter this week by his peer reviewer was a sample of his work with a female protagonist voice which was anything but authentically female (even from my white, male perspective). I believe that men can write a well rounded female character, just as a woman can write a well rounded male character, furthermore, I worry about the delineation that is naturally caused by this debate. It leads me to ask the following questions:

  • What is ‘female’ and what is ‘male’ and how can we recognise it without lowering ourselves to well trodden stereotypes?
  • Should we appreciate our differences or aspire to a blurring of boundaries between gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability, after all, we are all people aren’t we?
  • Why do we limit our understanding of each other’s consciousness to base labels of gender or other protected characteristics?
  • How can we hope to understand each other if we immediately draw upon conscious and unconscious biases of what defines each others’ character? 

In terms of leadership, I believe it is important that we evaluate leaders according to what we view as common attributes and values. A recent Harvard Business Review student surveyed ‘195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations’ to ask for their top 15 leadership competencies.

W160302_GILES_TOPTEN1-1200x800 HBR Leadership competencies

We can see from this list that none of these ‘competencies’ should be viewed as exclusive to men, women, ethnic groups, LGBTQ or disabled people. These are recognisable qualities that I agree with, though I may reconsider the order of priority for some. What was not considered with this study was whether respondents were envisaging a model leader when describing competencies and this unconscious bias may have affected the choices made.

Unconscious bias can have a major impact, as I have previously alluded to, in terms of the ‘leaky pipeline’ for female academia. A recent CIPD, People Management article discussed it’s impact across a range of protected characteristics:


What is worrying from these statistics is that Academia features prominently in gender, ethnicity and disability bias. It certainly feeds into my underlying assumptions that there is a culture of sameness (white male) that pervades academic institutions. It concerns me that places of learning and academic development, where we espouse noble values and promote our leadership role within our communities, cannot lead in our approach to equitable career progression and bias.  I do not want to tarnish all institutions in this way, but I also do not feel the observations and the discussions I have had are unique and limited to one organisation. We all have a part to play in changing this and the Equality Challenge Unit and the Athena SWAN charter is a great step in the right direction.

A test that I have taken recently on the recommendation of my supervisor is the Harvard Implicit Bias test: Using a word association method, this test is rally illuminating as a means of uncovering your unconscious associations for gender and other characteristics and careers etc. Before we can act collectively, we must assess and become aware of our own individual biases and mitigate for them.

Certainly, the naive male author quoted on twitter had succumbed to imposing his unconsciously biased version of the female voice without consideration of each individuals’ independent consciousness. It is an absolute failure of characterisation to impose your perceptions of a character’s individuality (be that gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability etc.) without serious and dedicated time and effort to engage with, interrogate and understand what it is to be that person. I expect this author has attempted to embody someone (and a gender) he thinks he knows and has focused on the external projected personality he has observed without contemplating the internal, intrinsic personality he has neglected.

My reading over the last two weeks has centred on my sociological alignment, or where I see myself relative to theoretical schools of thought. As I have alluded to in previous posts, I am focused on my contribution working to disrupt the gender imbalance in organisational reality I personally perceive and encountered through discussions with peers. From my exploration of the four paradigms, I have placed myself within the Radical Humanism quadrant which is formulated on my belief in subjective truth, not objective certainty, conscious individual freedom and a desire to enact change. I am critical of the systems and structures that are in place and the effect they have upon individual liberty and our conscious selves. I am particularly critical of organisations which promote collective values (granted these may be consulted with its employees), but are ultimately imposed as core to the operation of the organisation and with a range of influences including market forces.

The diagram below is taken from Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017) and shows a range of theoretical stances within the Radical Humanism paradigm. I am exploring French Existentialism as a possible fit to my approach. I have identified Jean-Paul Sartre as a potentially useful theorist and thinker. His three concepts of being ‘in-itself’, ‘for self’ and ‘for others’ identifies the intersection of and concept of  ‘nothingness’ where the gap between the real world and the consciousness of individuals enables the space for individual liberty, freedom and creativity. I am excited by this concept as it aligns with my proposed use of fiction and dystopia to disturb the reality and raise the consciousness of my readers to new possibilities and the nightmarish reality that we may all be inhabiting already.


Sociological Paradigms

When considering the other options, and having read about solipsism, I cannot find myself in this ultra subjective theoretical framework. I believe that humans have conscious, subjective selves, but our actions and perceptions of reality have a real and tangible impact on what I see as out shared reality. For me this shared reality includes community and our environment (global sustainability and shared responsibility). Conversely, the functionalist and structuralist quadrants strike me as too dependent on a predominant assumption of shared understanding of objective reality and the ability of actions to uniformly work within this framework; grounded in a reality that is independent of subjective differences. In my view subjective truth can be recognised and appreciated and by respecting each other’s truths we can find common ground for meaningful understanding.

There is one question has been nagging at me as I have started to position myself and it is something I need to spend a lot more time to figure out:

How can I be credible as a privileged, white male within the paradigm of gendered leadership I wish to disrupt?

I believe, and share this view with others, that we cannot achieve any meaningful change if we work in silos (be that gendered or other interest groups). If we invert the imbalance, we create a new problem and a new conflict, not a joint solution. I believe I can position myself as a self aware and humble practitioner within the gender movement, but I hope I will not be as naive as the male author quoted on twitter. I know my task will be challenging and I am sure I will encounter sceptical views from my peers. I accepts this reality, strive to unburden myself of latent biases that may taint my authorial voice and continue on my journey to learn more, respect my subject and value each individual as a conscious and free person.


Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Routledge.



Gender Pay Gap and the stories organisations tell – week 3 – 24/03/18

This week more gender pay gap reports were released, including at Northumbria University as the deadline for publication looms large. The process of reporting gender pay gaps is revealing some expected outcomes and also some results that invert the traditional narrative. The mean and median pay gap reporting across all submitted reports to date (24/03/18) shows a mean pay gap of 13.3% and a median pay gap at 11.7%. This presents us with a familiar story and one that is not surprising. As a general rule, men are occupied in higher paid positions across the country than women (74% of companies). This is not the story in every organisation and there are clear examples of large pay gaps in favour of women (15% of companies).

One story this begins to tell us is that some sectors may favour women in the same way the majority favour men. In an ideal world, it could be argued that all professions should be gender neutral or within an acceptable range of difference (what this acceptable range could be depends on the pay scales and remuneration differentials in place at an organisation). I believe that a structure of consistent, equal representation at all levels of an organisation, both power and pay, would breed a  culture of mutual respect between people and appreciation of our differences. There is also a strong economic argument as forecasts based on coordinated gender equality measures suggest GDP per capita is estimated to increase by 6-10% relative to the baseline by 2050 (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017). We are all familiar with the risks of forecasting, but many investors trust economic models for company growth so it stands to reason that this narrative should also bear serious consideration.

From my perspective there should be no reason for any vocation, or profession to favour one gender over another. In Higher Education, the leaky pipeline phenomenon clearly points to a sector problem and one which we should be able to affect. Men currently  dominate the upper echelons of university academia and it is difficult to imagine this changing radically any time soon without radical action. The pinch point of the pipeline occurs between undergraduate and post graduate study, but the clear point of divergence is between Faculty Academic (Lecturer) and Professor. Here is where volume skews and the narrative shifts. Here is where the story of leadership ends for many women, yet continues with increasing success for men. Here is where the dystopic meets reality.

Leaky pipeline

Considering the dystopic reality, my reading this week continued on the theme of method with Kuhn and Popper as competing methodological muses. I have become more convinced of my preference for Popper’s revolutionary argument that ‘…we approach everything in the light of a preconceived theory.’ (Popper, 1970 p52) Set against the framework of masculine privilege, I have started to frame our preconceived theory of organisational normality as a similar restrictive framework to the prevailing scientific theories that scientists work within as per Kuhn’s ‘Normal Science‘.  My question has become centred around the mechanisms and pathways to enable the oppressed to break free from this reality.

With the concept of change and collective movements in mind, my reading of Paulo Freire’s ‘The Pedagogy of Hope’ has directed my thinking towards a clearer appreciation of contextual factors which may influence women in their careers. Freire states that ‘hope, as an ontological need, demands an anchoring in practice’ (Freire, 2014 p2) it is this dependent relationship between hope and reality that interests me when applying dystopian models of subversion to organisational reality. Freire’s describes a seminal moment in his formative years as an educator in Brazil and Chile which stayed with him and informed his later actions. He was touring series of talks to local communities with the intention of sharing his findings concerning corporal punishment between parents and children. His external analysis had found that parents in some inland communities were more inclined to punish their children more severely than parents in coastal communities. Sharing his findings with the intent of educating and raising awareness, he speculated as to the cause and welcomed questions from the audience. The response of a parent from the audience shifted his thinking on the subject of pedagogy and change initiatives.

The parent started by describing the house and environment he envisaged that Freire inhabited, one of relative privilege, but not ludicrously wealthy. They then described their own living conditions of abject poverty with chaos, hunger and exhaustion at the end of the working day. This was a reality of despair in the absence of hope, yet still this parent attended the talk. The message concerning overly harsh punishment of children was necessarily sidelined in the mind of Freire in the context of the oppressive forces that impacted on these communities every day. Sheer survival was the abiding motivation and any means of achieving this were deemed acceptable. This message has resonated with me and I believe it is absolutely vital to consider and adapt to the influences of context when evaluating the actions and outcomes of people in society.

What I have taken from this example is that my privileged position as the academic investigator of gender inequity in leadership is one I cannot dream to effectively articulate without appreciation of the reality for the women I am identifying as oppressed. Their oppression in my framing relates to the barriers evidenced in University contexts to senior leadership, or ‘what we are doing to them’. One factor I continually return to is fertility, with pregnancy and career transitions forming a primary pathway for many mothers. I feel this strikes to the heart of female oppression within the current paradigm and colours the reality of many women as their career progression stalls on the brink of senior leadership. I cannot prove this yet and it is beginning to form part of my ontological assumption on this area. The multitude of variables affecting this ‘leaky pipeline’ phenomenon is something I need to understand to be able to apply my dystopian method. As the next week progresses, I will continue to read about pedagogy and how we can support meaningful change in higher education and I will retain a healthy critical mind when restraining myself from academic indulgences in


Freire, P. (2014). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Kuhn, T. S., Lakatos, I., & Musgrave, A. (1970). Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Criticism and the growth of knowledge.

Legally Blonde paradigms and dystopian inspirations: Resilience and identity in Gendered Leadership: – Week two

My eye was drawn to the BBC article this week relaying an encounter between a film journalist and Legally Blonde star, Reese Witherspoon. On the surface, this encounter described a wonderful opportunity for a fan to share something meaningful and inspirational with an iconic female star who inspired her. The fact that her dissertation was enthusiastically received is also a positive angle that we can all appreciate and dream for with our icons. Looking deeper, the themes of female identity and resilience are admired qualities present in the film and its lead and these qualities appear frequently in dystopia.

Theoretical readings of Dystopia and Young Adult Dystopia have often returned to the idea of resilience and the ability to take action (Mallan, 2017) as a critical contributor to success. We can look to the example of Katniss Everdene in ‘The Hunger Games’ (Collins, 2013) and countless others who transcend their reality to walk a new path. The idea of resilience conjures up thoughts of strong characters who ‘bounce back’ despite a series of potentially detrimental circumstances. It is sometimes predicated on a context whereby oppressed actors are unable to express themselves fully and must therefore exhibit resilience to cope with the challenges of these negative forces to retain their purpose and identity. In the case of Elle Woods, her resilience is founded in an unerring desire to practice law in her way in spite of a tirade of judgemental and conservative principles which exclude her ‘type’ from participation in such noble professions. It is her personalised approach, coupled with some required conformity to the learning practices of her Law school, that enables her to achieve the respect and admiration of her peers in academic and legal practice. In organisations, two of the phenomena I am interested in are conformity and resilience for female leaders. One of the questions I want to explore is how do women succeed in this masculine paradigm with rules created by and for masculine leaders?

It could be argued that they succeed through conformity to this paradigm, compromising their own identity to align with the expectations of the organisation and the broader perceptions of what a leader is.  Alternatively, it could be said that women channel remarkable reserves of resilience against wave after wave of mansplaining, hepeating and unequal reward. What we need to consider is how we channel this powerful resilience to harness the power of the repressed and take responsibility for change as per the young adult protagonists combating the adult power of their dystopias (Mallan, 2017). Certainly ‘collective unity’ (thanks to John Mabillard) and solidarity in pursuit of our cause are vital. My supervisor promotes the role of the ally in providing support for female (or minority) ideas that may otherwise be marginalised or re-framed by a dominant actor in the room without recognition for the originator. We can all become allies in our workplaces and lives by standing together on issues that we agree are important.

One damaging influence upon the goal of collective unity is trust. In our increasingly individualistic and fearful society, the circle of trust we can draw upon becomes smaller and smaller. If we are unable to open ourselves to the benefits of a wider network of trust, we may be fatally flawed in our journey towards equity. Power, in dystopia and reality, seeks to disrupt collective movements and dismantle collective unity. Beware the spectre of fear that drives a chasm into the collective visions we aspire to; it breeds distrust, betrayal and individualism – the enemies of collective unity.

Finally, I have been considering my philosophical approach in addressing my research question. One of the primary problems I face concerns the dominant paradigm of masculine power which has defined the business world and therefore the gender dynamics, rules and behaviour norms of organisations. As I have engaged with the scientific methodological approaches of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, I have begun to consider the problem of trying to answer a problem when the rules of the world you are trying to understand are stacked significantly in favour of the men who predominantly receive the lion’s share of the benefits.

It is human nature to protect what we have and to maintain our position of power when we achieve it. I am beginning to consider the falsification principle of Popper’s ‘refutation’, the subjectivity of knowledge and the absence of certainties in science as more philosophically aligned to my radical approach of disrupting the gendered organisational paradigm via dystopian trope analysis.  This challenges the Kuhnian approach of working within the paradigms to confirm and expand existing theories. I conceptualise the gender movement, at present, as constricted within the prevailing paradigm of masculinity. To achieve equity and parity for women and minority groups based on current rules, it is necessary to work within the system, not create a new system outside the existing parameters. If we live as hermits, we only impact our own lives, we don’t things for the better.

I am not dismissing Kuhn’s conceptualisation of scientific method as he also points to new paradigms as historical realities within scientific reasoning and methodology. I  argue that my research goals are centred on demonstrating a critical and robust argument against the current system and showing the ways to a new paradigm inspired by the lessons of dystopia. Popper’s insistence on validity of scientific theories only if they are refutable by testing to the degree of falsification may present a challenge to my approach. To build falsification measures into my paradigm for progressive action may weaken my argument for the inspirational influence of subjective hope which drives collective agency and is found in the Dystopian subversions of power.

I am concerned with highlighting the inherent flaws of the system and ‘breaking the box’ to create a space and opportunity to explore a new paradigm where the rules and principles are based in equitable shares in prosperity. If we can take inspiration from Elle Woods and her journey to ‘break the box’, we can see her resilience, identity and integrity never wavered. A character who has inspired millions should be taken seriously. She is an icon of female empowerment and someone whose approach subverted the dominant paradigm and redefined the rules of success. Progressive gender movements must draw strength and inspiration from these icons and remember their identity, resilience and power.


Collins, S. (2013). The Hunger Games Complete Trilogy. Scholastic UK.

Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.

Mallan, K. (2017). Dystopian fiction for young people: Instructive tales of resilience. Psychoanalytic Inquiry37(1), 16-24.

Popper, K. (2014). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. routledge.