Februrary 2022 Newsletter | www.orwac.org
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2015 ORWAC Grant Recipient Reports


Karrin Vasby Anderson

The project for which I received support is a scholarly book examining the ways in which U.S political culture sexualizes not only female and male candidates but also political constituencies, policy issues, and political agency, itself. This project extends my ongoing program of research on gender and U.S. political culture and the pornification of politics.

The book project includes case studies drawn from historical and contemporary U.S. political culture, examining political advertising, viral videos, issue campaigns, news framing, and the like. The portion for which I received the ORWAC grant is a chapter entitled “Sexualizing Suffrage.” This chapter extends Catherine Palczewski’s groundbreaking research on anti-suffrage postcards by examining the ways in which other anti-suffrage communication constituted woman suffragists as oversexed, gender-inappropriate women. I found a smattering of examples in online collections, however, in order to properly research this chapter, I needed to do archival research at the Library of Congress. The ORWAC grant made that possible. In addition to the individual documents I found, I collected the full run of The Remonstrance, a quarterly publication distributed by the Massachusetts Anti-Suffrage Association.

I am grateful for ORWAC's support of this project, which will expand understanding of the ways in which citizenship is sexualized, and will enhance our field's engagement with anti-suffrage rhetoric.

Shardé M. Davis

The Organization for Research on Women and Communication (ORWAC) research grant was used to help fund my dissertation project, which was a partial test of my new theory called The Strong Black Woman Collective (published in Women’s Studies in Communication). The Strong Black Woman Collective (SBWC) theory explicates how Black women use their communication during group-level interactions with other Black women to collectively manage their marginal position in U.S. society. It posits that Black women re-appropriate the “strong Black woman” dominant cultural image and employ certain communication behaviors to affirm “strength” in each other. By exhibiting these behaviors, Black women delineate a safe space to promote solidarity and pride within the group and confront oppressive forces collectively.

The SBWC theory is developing and the propositions needed to be corroborated with data from a real-world communication context. To this end, my dissertation quantitatively and qualitatively tested the theory by observing how Black women friend groups engaged in supportive discussions about racial discrimination.  Data was collected from May 2015 to January 2016 and the final sample consisted of 52 Black women friend groups (three women in each group) ranging in age from 18-89 years.  All data were collected in the home of one participant so that the supportive conversations occurred in a naturalistic environment.  During the in-home visit, one of the three friends was randomly asked to identify a recent instance of racial microagression committed by a White woman friend. The participant shared this information with her two friends and the group engaged in a video and audio-taped supportive conversation. These data, along with data from the pre- and post-discussion surveys and a short focus group, were used to test a hypothesized path model.  The model was analyzed using structural equation modeling and the results revealed that many of the paths were statistically significant. The insight generated from this project revealed that strength is functional in the context of Black women’s communication spaces and has important implications for their relationships with in-group affiliates and outsiders.  I am incredibly grateful for the ORWAC grant because it allowed me to carry out this ambitious project by compensating each participant and funding my travel to in-home visits!

Jenna N. Hanchey

The ORWAC research grant I received last summer supported my dissertation fieldwork in Tanzania by covering some of the travel costs. I spent two months at a Western-run nongovernmental aid organization in a village area observing and participating in the political dynamics surrounding international aid work. By interviewing the Tanzanian staff of the organization, working with volunteer groups and their translators, leading reflection times with visiting U.S. American high schoolers, and participating in a variety of the organization's activities and meetings, I began to see how relationships form in international aid among subjects, organizations, villages, nations, and areas of land in ways that affect and are affected by colonialism, sexism, and capitalism.

Currently, I am transcribing the 120+ hours of audio I recorded and analyzing it in conjunction with 100 single-spaced pages of fieldnotes and various organizational documents. Drawing from theories of subjectivity, methods of rhetorical fieldwork, and critiques of power dynamics, I focus each analysis chapter on a particular intersection of subjectivity and power: volunteers, translators, land, and researcher. After I complete the dissertation this fall, I plan to continue this project by revising the dissertation manuscript into a book, and revising my findings into documents the organization can use in future operations. I want to thank ORWAC for its generous support of this project!

Bethany Johnson and Margaret M. Quinlan

"Practitioner-Patient Communication: Women’s Experiences with Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility"

Over the course of the 2015-2016 funding season, Dr. Margaret M. Quinlan and myself pursued our directives with determination and achieved our expressed goals. 

We trained two graduate research assistants and completed the full transcription and coding of 25 interviews for more than 30 codes examining communication with nurses and out-of-office communication utilizing particular forms of technology, including laptops and Smartphones. We also put together a database for all interviews, searching for metaphor use as it pertains to doctor-patient communication at REI practices. We are now working with our assistants to search transcripts and complete coding for an article focus on doctor-patient communication and power hierarchies, including the historical trajectory of doctor-patient communications in women’s healthcare and the impact of that trajectory on present-day communication in REI practices. Finally, our research highlighted a series of myths prevalent in recent television shows and films, and one research assistant help us set up a database to study it. The research has resulted in six manuscripts in press or under review. 

Carly S. Woods

“The Problem with Purple Penguins: Gender Trouble at a Site of ‘Ordinary Democracy’”

Emma Green recently argued that to live in the United States in 2016 is to live in moment of “profound gender anxiety” (The Atlantic, 5-31-2016). Indeed, this year has seen a slate of state-based efforts to reassert sex and gender binaries amid changing cultural attitudes toward LGBT individuals. For example, Mississippi legislators took steps to codify definitions of man and woman as “an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth” (House Bill No. 1523) while North Carolina and other states have pursued bathroom bills that require individuals to use public facilities that correspond with their recorded sex at birth rather than their gender identity. Feminist and critical communication scholars have a crucial role to play in making sense of public argument as legislators, religious leaders, educators, and activists hash out conflicting gender ideologies in public spaces. Thanks to ORWAC’s support, I was able to critically examine a microcosm of this shifting national conversation: a case study of local school board deliberation about gender inclusivity.

In Fall 2014, the Lincoln Public School District (LPS), a school district serving over 35,000 students in Nebraska, was thrust into the spotlight. A controversy ignited when a faculty diversity liaison at Irving Middle School distributed a set of handouts about the gender spectrum to other educators in an attempt to counter the bullying of gender non- conforming students. One handout’s recommendation that teachers use non-gendered terms (such as “purple penguins”) in order to avoid gendered groupings in the classroom (“boys over here, girls over there”) became a flashpoint for controversy. Some school district staff and parents deemed this attempt at “gender inclusive training” an unwarranted use of school resources to enforce a politically correct, feminist, or gay agenda. Media took note as LPS deliberated about the role of 21st century public education, bullying, parental involvement, and gender ideology. The pinnacle was an October 14, 2014 school board meeting, when over two hundred concerned community members appeared, eager to testify on both sides of the controversy. Public commentary on the issue is ongoing in the community.

Attitudes about sex, gender, and sexuality are shaped not only by the communication of powerful public figures, but also by the intersectional belongings of everyday citizens. Therefore, this project seizes the opportunity to better understand local discourses generated out of a controversy centered on conflicting gender ideologies. With the help of the ORWAC Research Development Grant, I was able to hire an excellent research assistant (special thanks to Jennifer Rome!) to help with speech transcriptions and data management of public argument texts surrounding the case study. Using a blend of qualitative and rhetorical methods, I undertook a close analysis of media accounts, school board testimony, and related public communication on both sides of the controversy. Space does not allow for a detailed description of my findings, but in sum, I traced how the speakers crafted analogical arguments in their accounts of discrimination on the basis of race, class, physical ability, and religious identity. In bringing feminist rhetoric and communication theory to bear in an applied context, my hope is that this research will also be of practical use to the community members and decision-makers involved in thinking about the long-term implications of this and similar controversies in public education. As detailed in my proposal, this project will help advance my research agenda as a scholar interested in how deliberation and debate are used to negotiate issues of identity, power, and social difference. The remainder of the grant funds will be used to present my findings at a national conference in November 2016 (I organized a panel submission on activism and school board deliberation). Shortly thereafter, I plan to revise the manuscript for journal publication. Although I could not have anticipated all of the ways that the national conversation about sex, gender, and sexuality would develop when I submitted my ORWAC research development grant application in Spring 2015, I believe that better understanding communication about gender inclusivity is vital as we navigate this moment of “profound gender anxiety.” I am thankful for the opportunity to do this work.

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