Creating a safe environment to talk about sexuality: Nursing educational research as the empowering strategy.
AEJNE Volume 3 - No.2 March,1998.
Creating a safe environment to talk about sexuality: Nursing educational research as the empowering strategy.
This paper specifically explores two interwoven issues which arose in the research those being, the nature and effects of female friendship and exploring one's sexuality.
Research design: empowering aspects
Embedding the research within this type of framework created opportunities to recognise oppression and develop emancipatory solutions. As Cheek & Rudge attested (1994:59), critical theory allows :
As well, an integral component of emancipation is that of transformation. We strongly believe that one cannot transform oppressive experiences and subsequently become empowered without a comprehensive understanding of the theoretical frameworks of oppression. Lather asserted that emancipatory critical social science research must empower those oppressed to change and understand their world (1991:3). Davis asserted '[E]mancipation ... is dependent on enlightenment and the ability to act freely to change oppressive social systems which in turn enables the realisation of human potential' (1993:78).
Further, another empowering aspect of this research design methodology involved a desire to give the women nurse participants their own voice. Several current feminist writers are writing of the silencing of women as a pervasive phenomena that perpetuates women's oppression (Fine 1992; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger & Tarule 1986). The process of women reclaiming their voices, whilst involving many emotional 'ups and downs', marks the beginning of empowerment for women as they acknowledge their oppression (Glass 1994:190, Davis 1993). Mason et al (1991:74), wrote of the importance of nurses realising their oppression and beginning to speak out - indeed that self esteem and belief in one's ability are vital if nursing as a profession is ever to achieve effective political action.
Critical/feminist theoretical decisions such as these promote consciousness raising and encourage women nurses to feel their own value as women and as nurses, and create an environment / climate in which it is possible to consider how our social relations are structured, our involvement within them and to consider how things could be different (England 1994:81). As Henderson stated (1995:63), dialogue that is critical and emancipatory can reveal personal distortions that support and sustain social oppression
Research Method: Source of participants
Research Method: Selection of participants
The data collection
As well, deliberations regarding the sensitive nature of the research and what process could be employed to minimise any discomfort for the women throughout the interviewing process were taken into consideration. The research process reflected honesty, respected confidentiality, and validation of each woman's stories. Any of the participants were able to withdraw without any penalty from the research should they choose to . In terms of the role of research leader, she openly acknowledged her role as participant/researcher (Walter, Davis & Glass). Taking on this role provided necessary opportunities to be part of the ontological creeds of seeing 'how things really are' and 'how things really work' (Guba, 1990:19). This further, opened the way forward to interpret the complexities of human nature and transform individuals from oppressive situations (Glass, 1994:91). As well, she continued to be reflexive regarding her own beliefs and assumptions about the research and the interview process which unfolded.
Further, by being a researcher/participant this added dimension created further opportunities for awareness of the realities of this research (Walter et al). Such a process thereby generates 'a discourse that represents the real, unmasks domination in the real, without .introducing new forms of domination' (Poster, 1989:4).
Results: Coming out and the women's journeys
Miriam: "[There's] a real freedom to be where you're at... a real acceptance you know... What really strikes me about that freedom is that it has really enabled me to take some giant strides along my own road of personal discovery. The comfort, the acceptance, the fact that I don't feel judged for just being me has provided an atmosphere or an environment that has been great in allowing me to put energy into my own stuff".
Women's friendships in a mentoring context
As indicated above Janice Raymond was one of the scholars to write about female friendship. She discussed in meticulous detail, the value of female friendship (1986) and some of her ideas are paralleled in this research. With regards to the links between feminist theory and its ontology: the personal is political, she ardently believes that one's being in the world and therefore one's political activity should focus on more than just struggles with male supremacy, rather it does also encompasses the critical features of understanding self and other women (Raymond, 1987).
According to Elisabeth Porter (1996) the expression of female friendship involves more than just emotivism. Friendship amongst women is characterised by sharing, for example shared participation in a common world, sharing of personal and political aspects of life; (as well as) shared intimacies which results in mutual support and gives women's friendship its strength. (Porter, 1996:56,64). Furthermore, she claims women's friendships typically are characterized by a 'concerned responsiveness to particular special relations' (Porter, 1996, p56). Friendship therefore, 'requires not only strong notions of relationality, but of individuality, notions which require self trust as a basis for trusting relationships between women' (Porter, 1996:56-7).
It is these aspects of female friendship written in the current discourse, which are strongly interwoven with the literature on mentoring and known as characteristics of effective mentoring (Glass et al; Glass, 1994; & Madison, 1992). Moreover, and not surprisingly it was these characteristics which featured in this particular research. According to Glass et al (1994) mentoring relationships should be natural relationships and it is, therefore, not unexpected that such relationships should develop from friendships for many women. The main characteristics of these relationships are based on honesty, a strong belief in each others' worth and the development of collaborative survival life skills.
As Miriam said:
Raymond talks of the continuum of female friendship which she calls gyn/affection (1986:15). Porter claims that the continuum gives '.. an idea of movement, of personal growth and development' (1996:66). Raymond claims it is the 'power of female friendship.. drawing forth a dynamic response. that sets free and enhances movement of all kinds. To attract is to cause a movement toward (1986:41). This is an attraction where women affect, move, stir, and arouse each other to full power (1986:229). Maddie discusses her journal entry about being attracted to women, 'one on one' with Rhiannon. She says:
Held (1987:118) talks about responsive particularlity. This concerns a supportive passionate affection for other women and it requires a sensitivity to the domain of particular others where the self is closely intertwined in relations with others and the others are not something one can universalise. This is exemplified in the words of Miriam.
Understanding dualisms: Performance and
As brought out above exploring one's sexuality was an issue which emerged for three of the participants with one of the women feeling confident to 'call it' and come out. Even so, it was clear that the three women concerned were affected and aroused by the energy in the group to the point that they were all able to speak out. There was movement in their attempts to understand self and the other women were there to support each other. An example comes from Em who was working through her process of understanding self and performance for self She reflected on her journal entry and said:
Em: "'m Okay, I want to feel good I need to talk, I'm
Okay, I'm Okay, I'm Okay.
Rhiannon showed her support by reflecting upon similar experiences, she said:
Feeling safe to speak out was clearly identified by Glass in 1994. She identified a process of becoming where women moved from silence, to de-silence to speaking out. In this research the participants became strongly aware of societal forces upon them as women, and the strong support from each other to ultimately speak out. As Luke stated:
As these participants progressed from de-silencing to reclaiming their voices, they became aware of, changes within themselves, and, that evidence of empowerment was surfacing. However, this was not a linear point of 'arrival'; it was an enduring complex process in which they began to realise, through pain and sorrow and, simultaneously, joy and pleasure, that change was possible. It was clear that they were moving towards a belief that speaking out regarding their experiences was an important point to reach. As Carmen Luke strongly asserted:
Sameness/difference was another dualism which was identified in the research. Within the sociological literature sameness/difference is recognised as a politically crucial debate integrally linked to the deconstruction of sex/ gender (see for example, the work by Wearing (1996), Gunew & Yeatman, (1993); Lloyd, (1989) & Gatens (1988). Parallels can be drawn here in this research regarding both women's perceptions of self and others, and also, sexual preference.
In regard to sameness and differences amongst women it is argued by the writers, that for second wave feminists, and post modernists, that the 'struggle' is centred on attempts to equalise power, by validating difference amongst women, and simultaneously recognising the importance of unity concerning transforming oppressive states. As Gunew and Yeatman claimed, '[the debate] concerns being able to deal with differences among women without losing the impetus that derives from being a coherent movement for social change' (1993:xiii).
Specifically, it is clear throughout this research that the data is reflective of the participants interest and deep commitment to equalising power relations amongst this group of women by recognising sameness and difference amongst women. Moreover, the commitment extends to more broadly, embracing the sociological constructs which define women, yet, we as authors of this paper, strongly acknowledge that as women are social constructs, we would agree with Lloyd (1989) that feelings as women, ourselves, are often in 'flux'.
Rhiannon reflected in the following comment, upon the notion of equalising power through the dualistic theme of sameness/difference. She said:
Em reflected upon an experience when she attempted desilencing regarding her sexuality, but again was held back by the sameness/ differentness dualism. She said:
Miriam through her coming out process also struggled with the same dualistic theme. As you will become aware she struggles with the commonalities and simultaneously feeling hers and maybe their anxiety regarding difference. Her story unfolds:
There is something I would like to share with you... and I hope it's not going to shock you all too much... [reflecting on an earlier journal entry] super day with the [women] today , another one of those magic spontaneous outings. I love the certain element of decadence and deviousness associated with them, not that there's anything that deviant about going to the movies and on the pub but it does hold something I think its got to do with doing stuff for us.
Initially she reflected on the sameness when she said:
"I love the connectedness and unity I feel with the [women]".
And in response to disclosing her journal entry regarding sexual difference, it was clear that she was concerned with the differentness component of the theme and the potential for altering the connections and the unity discussed above. She claimed:
[Today] I imagined telling the [women] that I'm lesbian, wondering about their reactions individually. I think the girls will accept it when I tell them, I don't think they will outwardly reject me, but I am worried that may be there will be subtle changes, distance stuff.
It seemed that one of her biggest concerns was touch and affection which had been common in the group may now be mis-perceived. So, a behaviour which had been common and 'the same' may now be perceived as different. She continues:
However, it was obvious by the responses of the other women that they were there to support her in any way that they could irrespective of whether they were lesbian or straight. Comments such as these were responses to this situation:
and with regards to the demonstration of female affection Shannon validates Miriam's integrity and says:
And by the following comment it is clear that the performance for self issue is also interwoven. Miriam says:
Furthermore, it is implicit in the following comment that Em is not only validating Miriam's coming out but also as the lesbians in the group were acutely aware , she was also really bringing forward her own issue of sexuality. In fact Miriam's coming out is accelerating and strengthening the same issue for her in a discrete and dialectical way. She reflects and says:
Moreover, it seems that through the support of the group and the explicit and, implicit themes of coming out and celebrating lesbianism was enough for Maddie to share part of her process too. She said:
In response to Miriam's self disclosure it is evident that Rhiannon feels comfortable to raise an issue around the sameness/differentness as well. Her concern centres on how lesbians are perceived [as different] by mainstream heterosexual society as deviant and the associated impact of minimalising one's sexuality combined with one's knowing amongst lesbians [sameness] that they are not deviant and lecherous!
and at this point it is clear that she is also feeling the need to disclose her concerns with the heterosexual women in this group too, she says:
Yet despite the difficulties and tensions around the sameness differentness Miriam's being true to self was accelerated by her inner strength and the supportive nature of the women, she completes the remainder of her story at this stage by saying:
In summary, the results clearly indicated that an environment was created to discuss and explore issues concerning female friendship and sexuality. The research method in its own right was empowering as 'it' allowed for a difficult sensitive subject to be exposed without judgment. The percussor for these disclosures were premised on the safety, support and group strength consistently shown in the process.
Moreover, it was clearly apparent that the women's journeys in this research and ultimately their mentoring of each other, was characterised by a safe path and group members attained deep levels of trust and commitment to each other and ultimately grew to love themselves.
Once nurses have reclaimed their voices and feel safe to speak out, they can effectively listen and value each other in their own right. Support of each other becomes possible through the engendering of mentoring relationships. This is a strong political survival skill necessary to improve their position in nursing not only as students but also as registered nurses. Nurses and women obviously have more power together than separately. The joining together of like-minded nurses who will assert their constructive viewpoints, will assist in altering their position(s) and ultimately contribute to advancing nursing.
Anderson, J.M., 1991, Reflexivity in Fieldwork: Toward A Feminist Epistemology, IMAGE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23, (2), Summer pp. 115-118.
Ashley, J., 1980, Power In Structured Misogyny: Implications for the Politics of Care, Advances in Nursing Science, 2, (3), pp.3-21.
Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. McV., Goldberger, N. R., and Tarule, J. M., 1986, Women's Ways of Knowing, The Development of Self, Voice and Mind, New York, Basic Books Inc Publishers.
Campbell, J.C. And Bunting, S., 1991, Voices and Paradigms: Perspectives on Critical and Feminist Theory in Nursing, Advances in Nursing Science, 13, (3), pp.1-15.
Cheek, J. and Rudge, T., 1994, ' Been there, done that? Consciousness Raising, Critical Theory and Nurses', Contemporary Nurse, 3,(2), pp. 58-63.
Crane,S., 1991, Implications of the Critical Paradigm. In G. Gray and R. Pratt, (eds.), Towards a Discipline of Nursing, Melbourne, Churchill Livingstone.
Davis, J.(K).M., 1993, Finding Voice, Being Heard and Living in the Tension: Novice Nurse Academics' Critical Engagement with a Problem Orientated Curriculum in the Academic and Practice Setting, Unpublished MSc (Hons) (Soc Ecol), Sydney, UWS-H.
Delaclour, S., 1991, The Construction of Nursing, Ideology, Discourse and Representation. In G. Gray And R. Pratt, (eds.), Towards A Discipline Of Nursing, Melbourne, Churchill Livingstone.
England, K. V. L., 1994, Getting Personal: Reflexivity, Positionality, and Feminist Research, Professional Geographer, 46 (1), pp. 80-89.
Fine, M., 1992, Passions, Politics and Power, Feminist Research Possibilities. In M. Fine, (ed.) , Disruptive Voices, The Possibilities of Feminist Research, Ann Arbor, USA, University Of Michigan Press.
Gatens, M., 1988, Towards a feminist philosophy of the body, in B. Caine, E.A. Grosz and M. de Lepervance, (eds.) Crossing Boundaries: Feminisms and the Critique of Knowledges , Sydney, Allen and Unwin.
Glass, N.E., 1994, Breaking a Social Silence, Women's Emerging and Disruptive Voices: A Feminist Critique of Post-Registration Nursing Education in Rural Australia, Unpublished PhD, Sydney, UNSW.
Glass, N.E., Siddle, J.M. & Walter, R.C., Validating Women's Connections: Making the Links Between our Understanding of Mentoring in Nursing, Journal of Nursing Education Forthcoming
Green, C., 1987, Multiple Role Women: The Real World of the Mature RN Learner, Journal of Nursing Education, September,26 , (7), pp.266-271.
Guba, E. G., 1990, The Alternative Paradigm Dialog, in E. C. Guba, (ed.),The Paradigm Dialog, California, Sage.
Gunew, S. & Yeatman, A., (eds.) 1993, Feminism and the politics of difference, San Francisco, Westview Press.
Hedin, B.A., 1987, Nursing Education and Social Constraints: An Indepth Analysis, International Journal of Nursing Studies, 24, (3), pp.261-270.
Held, V., 1987, Feminism and moral theory. In E. Kittay and D.T. Meyers (eds.), Women and Moral theory, New Jersey, Rowman & Littlefield.
Henderson, D. J., 1995, ' Consciousness raising in participatory research: Method and methodology for emancipatory nursing inquiry', Advances in Nursing Science, 17(3), pp. 58-69.
Lather, P., 1991, Getting Smart, Feminist Research And Pedagogy With/In The Postmodern, New York, Routledge.
Lloyd, G., 1989, Women as other, sex, gender and subjectivity, Australian Feminist Studies, 10, Summer, pp.13-22.
Luke, C., 1992, Women in the Academy, Gendered Discourse and Cultural Power, A Gendered Culture, Educational Management in the 90's Conference, Victoria, Victorian University of Technology, pp. 1-25.
Madison, J., 1992 Engendering a Mentoring Relationship, A Gendered Culture, Educational Management In The 90's Conference, Victoria, Victorian University of Technology, pp. 1-17.
Mason, D.J. Backer, B.A. And Georges, C.A., 1991, Toward a Feminist Model for the Political Empowerment off Nurses, IMAGE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23, (2), Summer, pp. 72-77.
Porter, E., 1996, Women and Friendships: Pedagogies of Care and Relationality. In C. Luke (ed), Feminisms and Pedagogies of Everyday Life, New York, State University of New York.
Poster, M., 1989, Critical Theory and Poststructuralism: In Search of a Context, Ithaca, Cornell Uni Press.
Raymond, J., 1986, A Passion for Friends, Towards a Philosophy of Female Affection, Great Britain, The Women's Press Ltd.
Raymond, J, 1987, Female friendship and feminist ethics, In B. Andolsen (ed.), Women's consciousness, women's conscience: A reader in feminist ethics, San Francisco, Harper and Row.
Roberts, S.J., 1983 , Oppressed Group Behaviour: Implications for Nursing, Advances In Nursing Science, 5, July pp.21-30.
Short, S.D. And Sharman, E., 1987, The Nursing Struggle in Australia, IMAGE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 19, (4), Winter, pp.197-200.
Speedy, S.C., 1991, The Contribution of Feminist Research, In G. Gray And R. Pratt, (eds.), Towards A Discipline Of Nursing, Melbourne, Churchill Livingstone.
Walter, R,. Davis, K. & Glass, N, Discovery of self: The relationship between self concept and nursing practice , Collegian (forthcoming)
Wearing, B., 1996, Gender, The pain and pleasure of difference, Melbourne, Addison Wesley Longman.
Webb, C., 1986, Postscript, In C. Webb, (ed.), Feminist Practice in Women's Health Care, Brisbane, John Wiley And Sons.
Last modified on: