Keeping in mind the jeopardising effect of gender bias on the integrity of professional legal community, the researchers find it important “not only to document its existence but also to theorize about its source” (Reading 2. 2, p. 1). The process implies logical reasoning or research which, if being conducted from the androcentric perspective, may result in a failure on either epistemological or methodological levels (or both). Knowledge operation which happens on epistemological level of scientific enquiry may affect women in a discriminating and neglectful manner.
This is proved by the remark of an anonymous male respondent who participated in Brockman’s questionnaire for investigating gender bias in the legal community of British Columbia and Alberta. Feminist Postmodernism, by the way, believes that actions and linguistic means may reveal the implicit oppression caused to women by dominant community. Here the very tag “A Wild Feminist at her Raving Best” points that from a man’s point of view a woman researcher in her investigation of gender bias lacks epistemic authority. Her knowledge and cognitive styles are thought to be inferior and deviated from male standard.
This denigration of feminist epistemology and of feminist researchers is manifested through the words “wild” and “raving. ” Feminist epistemology is especially aware of a knower as integrated into the cognitive system where knowledge and other knowers play an important role. The central concept of a situated knower influences the very choice of research methods in feminist investigation. To begin with, Brockman was aware of standpoint theories which claim that epistemic privilege or authority (superior knowledge) is governed by a particular socially situated perspective.
Thus, to repair a formal rejection of women as participants of the enquiry in androcentric research, a feminist enquirer used a stratified random sampling method. Nowadays proportional or quota random sampling is believed to be rather fair and easy in generalising the results from the sample with its diverse subgroups back to the population and, thus, in getting the wider spectre of knowledge about the oppressed sub-communities (such as women in legal profession). To proceed, on the stage of design, the value of feminist investigation happened to be undermined by political correctness and system subordination.
Brockman recalled how some members of the subcommittee insisted on reformulating the questions designed for mail-out, self-response questionnaires. On the point of shifting the accents, Brockman mentioned that after the revision the questionnaire interrogated about “the number of times the respondents had observed or experienced sexual harassment in professional settings in the last two years” (2000, p. 6). The researcher broods over: “A wild feminist at her raving best would have asked about the consequences of sexual harassment for those who experienced it” (ibid. ).
The reference to “the number of times” implies the idea of quantitative analysis which is concentrated on numerical or calculative data. The stress on consequences seems to assess non-numerical or qualitative data in the form of concepts and attitudes. In my opinion, quantitative and qualitative designs are not mutually exclusive. For example, Brockman’s research on gender bias included some open-ended questions that asked the respondent to give text-based and qualitative responses on the theme. To represent the theme, the researcher classified the responses into categories.
Categorisation is quantitative in essence. Therefore, qualitative and quantitative designs are allowed to be combined. Another methodological point of concern besides sampling and design is the one of choosing research instruments. There is a link between epistemological and methodological levels of research here. Women and men are acknowledged to have different cognitive styles. For example, “masculine” cognitive styles are based on centralized, hierarchical control models of causation, whilst “feminine” are structured within contextual, interactive, and diffused models.
It does not mean that “masculine” models are superior to “feminine” ones or vice versa. Different cognitive styles are manifestations of diversity which is an important characteristic of knowledge. A methodological instrument of questionnaire seems to be structured according to a hierarchical model. Thus, as Brockman showed, the subcommittee could easily control it. Besides, questionnaire guided the reasoning of respondents in rigid and somehow androcentric ways. Personal interviews which were also used by the researcher seemed to be a more interactive and flexible model of interrogation.
This method did not imply some rigid control of participants’ behaviour and reasoning. Judging from the aforesaid, can we consider questionnaire to be a purely androcentric method and interview to be a purely feminist one? I say, no. On the point, Brockman et al. cited Sandra Harding, who identified three characteristics of any feminist research: “direct attention to […] problematic issues derived from women’s experiences”; “‘studying up’ when gender is called to be investigated as a social construct and as a source of social power from the perspective of those without such power” (Reading 2.
2, p. 2); and the design for women (it is important who asks questions). In her one-author article, Brockman argued that “there is no distinctive feminist method” (p. 2). I used to get confused to certain extent by those assumptions taken altogether. However, the point seems to be clearer when epistemological and methodological levels of analysis are taken not separately but in a paradigm. It really seems that we can not call any of the known methods just feminist or just androcentric. The same method of questionnaire by itself does not bear any feminism or androcentrism.
It is the perspective of a researcher that influences the choice of methods, the design and the interpretation of results. When speaking about feminist research perspective, Brockman et al. mentioned that an investigator should be in the same environment or “critical plane” as the subjects of investigation. It links to the Harding’s phrase about “people who identify and define scientific problems [and] leave their social fingerprints on the problems and their favoured solution to them.
” And here I see one more reference to the central concept of feminist epistemology that is of a situated knower and of situated knowledge. No wonder that Brockman as a researcher was not satisfied with the stressed neutrality and pseudo-objectivity of the questionnaire. Feminists believe that knowledge is influenced by the specific perspectives of the knowledge subject. The perspectives in their turn are created by social identities such as race, class, gender, etc. and by social roles.
A researcher is the same situated knower as the participants of a research. Therefore, Brockman used a stratified random sampling method, personal interviews and feminist epistemological concepts, because she was aware of her social identity as a white middle-class woman conducting a social research in the legal community. On the point, Brockman confessed that, despite the relative fairness of a sampling method, her investigation was “limited to privileged women, most of whom were white and middle class.
” I think that the narrowing of Brockman’s perspective proved that in a given period of time the legal community of British Columbia and Alberta was segregated on the basis of race, class and sexual orientation in even a more degree than on the one of gender. Is there room for white feminists in the struggle of minority women for equality? Is there room for heterosexuals in the struggle of lesbian women for equality? Do middle-class women have anything to offer in the struggles of underemployed and unemployed women?
It seems that according to standpoint theory mentioned above one particular social situation is identified as epistemically privileged (e. g. , of a white middle-class lawyer or of an Asian self-made associate). Feminist empiricism establishes standards in natural settings where situated knowledge may cause error. The central concept of empiricism is objectivity, which tolerates diversely situated knowers in critical and cooperative relationships. Postmodernism in its turn sweeps aside completely the idea of epistemic privilege, making stress on the changing nature of social identities of knowers, and consequently of their representations.
Taking the elements from each epistemological tradition, women of diverse social backgrounds are able to find a shared level of cooperation, inclusiveness and understanding.
List of References
Brockman, J. (2000). “A wild feminist at her raving best”: Reflections on studying gender bias in the legal profession. Resources for Feminist Research, 28(1/2), 61-79 Brockman, J. , Evans, D. , & Reid, K. (1982). Feminist perspectives for the study of gender bias in the legal profession. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 5(1), 37-62.