A Short Descriptive Analysis On Individual Voices, Collective Visions: Fifty Years of Women in Sociology
Individual Voices, Collective Visions: Fifty Years of Women in Sociology is part of a series on women in the political economy. It is a selection of eighteen biographical essays about the lives of senior women sociologists which celebrates the contributions women have made to the study of society and to academe. Sharing life experiences, struggles, successes, and survival, the articles are reflective of the times in which they grew up, were educated, began careers, and entered the academy. Although the editors contribute an introductory and concluding chapter, the essays are presented without comment or introduction as they speak for themselves and further qualification would be redundant.
Keywords : society, women , individuals , sociology
Ann Goetting argues in her introduction that biography is essential for understanding our own constructed reality. There is a growing process involved in developing a framework to understand women’s oppression. The first step is to remove the barriers of isolation by recognizing the commonality of many personal experiences and to identify them as group problems. Datha Clapper Brack recalls how returning to school at age 45 “saved her life” by removing her from the isolation of suburbia. She further describes the experiences of her women’s studies students as “waking from a sleep, like being in a room without windows or doors and suddenly having walls open out and the wind blow through” (p. 29). Elaine J. Hall recalls “the click as the blinders fell, seeing clearly through the fog. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to teach women’s studies courses know the look, a sudden “ah…I see” that comes when the lived reality of this incident and that event come together into a pattern that can be named and understood” (pp. 212-213). The consequence that she discusses after the discovery of gender is that you can “never unsee” it. Each author discusses the issue of isolation created by their marginalized status of being a female academic. Goetting identifies how such “…isolation and marginality of women in the academy require creative response and adaptation” (pp. 4-5). Until one is brought out of the isolation created by the marginalization of women in the academy then what is defined as a individual experience cannot be seen as a collective problem.
Two themes that emerge from the book are the influence of role models and mentors and organizational involvement, especially in Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS). This book takes on the responsibility of alleviating isolation, at least in part, by connecting the reader’s and the author’s life. The testimonies given by many, such as Judy Long, Beth Hess, Datha Clapper Black, Gaye Tuchman, and Helena Znaniecka Lopata, name Sociologists for Women in Society as being a pivotal entity in confronting the problem of isolation. Making the personal political illuminates how SWS and other organizations can work to dismantle isolation and provide a “home.” Biography is often used to provide a role model when a physical one might not be present. For example, Martha Gimenez and Diane Rothbard Margolis are two who mention Marie Curie’s biography as formative in their early years by providing a female role model. This collection is an example of a “creative response” which offers eighteen unique female role models for other women who may need one.
Each author’s story gives the reader a glimpse into their humanity and readers benefit from it in two ways. The first is in their naming of their situations and the second is by making a personal connection between the author’s and the reader’s experiences. There is both recognition, being able to see oneself in the essay/situation, and a feeling of being unconnected. Each woman’s biography is unique and it is not possible to identify totally with all the experiences as portrayed in the title, Individual Voices, Collective Visions. At the same time, the insights from each author’s experiences parallel those of women today. We conclude that commonalities are empowering and our differences are strengths.
Part of feminist pedagogy is the acceptance of various ways of knowing. As Ann Goetting notes, women have “…different ‘ways of knowing’…, different styles of interaction, communication …, and relationality…; and they brought different things to their disciplines, universities, and students…Often those differences were not well received” (p. 4). In this book, it is seen in women citing other women, acceptance of qualitative research, and acknowledgment of differences. The book is readable because it is not bogged down with heavy rhetoric and it contains metaphoric explanations, as in Audre Lorde’s well known use of the “master’s tools” (pp. 213-214). Judy Long relates her life experiences using the image of a braid, describing how her different careers are intertwined, developing together. She envisions a French braid, “with each strand continually increased and each strand continually bound to the whole by these new wisps” (p. 110). The “third shift” is a metaphor utilized by Lynda Lytle Holmstrom. In addition to the second shift of domestic and family work, women also have a third shift which consists of work both physical and emotional that is necessary to manage the effects of sexism in daily life as well as voluntary efforts to combat sexism more broadly.
One of the few shortcomings of this work concerns representativeness. A more diverse group of authors would have made this collection richer. The editors recognize, however, in choosing a collection of senior women sociologists that they were confined by the practices of racist and class-bound institutions which resulted in a collection of primarily white, middle-upper class women. There is an overrepresentation of East Coast institutions, notably Brandeis University, in their various life histories. In addition, there is a lack of a discussion as to why many of these women began their education in other fields, particularly the hard sciences, and subsequently moved to sociology. What implications does this “female brain drain” have on the hard sciences which continue to be male dominated?
Kaleibar Azad University
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