IAC Faculty Show Varied, Compelling Methods for Studying Women's Issues

Natalie Khazaal, Mary Frank Fox, Kirk Bowman, Lisa Yaszek, and Olga Shemyakina have devoted considerable resources to the study of women's issues.

Posted March 22, 2021

In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts surveyed faculty from across the College on how their research and scholarship examines questions and issues affecting women around the world. The variety of topics and research strategies shows how the College’s emphasis on interdisciplinarity produces novel and compelling ways of examining common topics.

Natalie Khazaal, assistant professor, School of Modern Languages

One of the main interests for Khazaal is how media in the Arab world reflects broader changes in attitudes. That was the theme of her most recent book, which examined how cultural shifts spurred by war manifested on television screens in Lebanon.

One of the themes in my book Pretty Liar: Television, Language, and Gender in Wartime Lebanon (Syracuse UP, 2018) is the effect of war on women’s liberation. I got the idea for the book after seeing a wartime Lebanese TV sitcom from the 1980s that presented women as powerful, confident career women, which seriously contradicted established prewar models of Lebanese cosmopolitan patriarchy.

In the beginning, I was happy to be working on sitcoms, expecting to avoid any feelings of grief and shock that come part and parcel with research on war. But human societies are complicated and one cannot study one aspect without also studying other relevant aspects. So I ended up seeing how war can have uneven effects on women in patriarchal societies such as Lebanon. On one hand, the exodus of skilled male industrial labor due to the deteriorating security conditions thwarted women’s hopes of getting these vacant jobs when imported male labor was hired instead of Lebanese women. On the other, war liberated social attitudes and loosened familial and male control over women’s lives, affording the latter the opportunity to engage in public, social, and volunteer work, in addition to intellectual employment such as journalism. I write about how women’s rise in journalism and literary writing in turn affected Lebanese television’s perceptions of women and of their value as employees. We see how the new role model of the career woman outcompeted those of the peripheral woman and the glorified militiaman.

There’s a great deal of nostalgia over the 1975 Civil War in Lebanese society, and my book reminds us how when men start killing each other, women shouldn’t twiddle their thumbs, but strike at the heart of patriarchy.

Mary Frank Fox, ADVANCE Professor, School of Public Policy

Fox is a leading researcher in how gender becomes a dimension and potential barrier in the scientific profession. Fox has found that the topic can be a complex one, as gender can interact with other determinants of status, such as rank and designated role, to produce outcomes.

I pursued this analysis of gender, science, and academic rank for two fundamental reasons, one long-term and one more current. First, in my long-term study of scientific careers, gender has been a strategic site for analysis, and academic rank, specifically, is a key dimension (Fox, 2006). Academic rank is consequential. It confers advantages of lead roles on teams, integration into research communities, and capacities for organizational decision making. Crucially, women are less likely than men to hold high rank, particularly rank of full professor. The relationship between gender and rank is persistent (over time) and pervasive (across academic settings).

Second, my interest piqued with recent research on “being prolific in academic science” (Fox and Nikivincze, 2020). We find here a telling constellation of hierarchical advantages that predict being highly prolific (in publication productivity over a prior three-year period): rank (especially full professor), span of collaboration (across home department, other units in the university, and in other universities), and favorable work climate. Striking is that once we take rank into account, gender does not predict being prolific; rank is a conduit (mediator) in the relationship between gender and being prolific. Notably, among the women who have high rank in research universities, their odds of being highly prolific are not significantly lower than those of men.

This, in turn, prompted continuing questions on “gender, science, and academic rank”: What are the quantitative and qualitative approaches that have occurred in two focal problem areas related to gender, science, and rank: collaborative patterns and evaluative practices? The approaches identified encompass analyses of large and small groups and comparative cases, with surveys, bibliometrics, experiments, and interviews. My inquiry is on a breadth of approaches that reflect a search for explanation and the broader implications.

The paper points to complexities of gender disparities in collaboration. A misconception is that women are less likely to collaborate. Scientific research is largely collaborative, and women and men are as likely to collaborate (coauthor their papers). However, gender disparities appear in the social organization of collaboration, such as team organization and patterns of collaboration, and these disparities operate in ways that can disadvantage women. Second, evaluative practices are consequential in the clarity of criteria for promotion, equitable standards of assessment, and policies and practices, openly conveyed. Hierarchies of gender and rank pervade institutions, departments, laboratories and teams, and social relations within them.  Promising explanations will be multi-level.  This means complex analyses of institutions and departments (including priorities, decision-making) and individual perceptions, experiences, roles, and performance.

Kirk Bowman, Jon R. Wilcox Term Professor of Global Development and Identity, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs

Bowman regularly puts his teaching and study of international development into practice. He has directly involved students in global philanthropy through the non-governmental organization (NGO) Rise Up and Care, and Bowman has also used the arts to shine light on the stories of underrepresented communities.

In the course of my work studying the practice of global philanthropy, I have become active with two groups of women activists in Brazil. One is a group of traditional midwives in northeastern Brazil, who were the subjects of my award-winning film "Women of Earth." This film follows two young Brazilian women in their quest to learn from this group of midwives, who are at once powerful healers and community leaders. Additionally, I have worked with Jongo de Serrinha, a group of women dedicated to jongo, a traditional dance performed in the Afro-Brazilian community. This group was the subject of another film, "Jongo Fever," which I co-produced. I incorporated these stories and others into the forthcoming book Reimagining Global Philanthropy, which was co-authored with Jon Wilcox.

I am constantly awed and moved by the compassion and strength shown by the members of these communities. A goal of our projects is to contribute resources to women's health initiatives and indigenous rights in these areas, and I hope that by showing the stories and experiences of these women, we are expanding horizons and opening people's eyes to new perspectives. 

Lisa Yaszek, Regents Professor, School of Literature, Media, and Communication

Yaszek is one of the country's leaders in the critical study of science fiction. She has also used the genre as a lens through which to examine feminism and the women's rights movement in the United States, as she did with the anthology The Future is Female and its upcoming sequel.

One of the oldest and still most profound projects in feminist scholarship is the recovery of women’s history and art in all its diversity. This project is central to my work as an editor for the Library of America (LOA), the non-profit organization founded in 1979 with National Endowment for the Humanities and Ford Foundation seed money that “publishes, preserves, and celebrates America’s greatest writing.” My first book for LOA, The Future is Female: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women (FIF, 2018), explored women’s science fiction published between the rise of the commercial genre magazines in the early twentieth century and the revival of feminism in the 1970s. This was an exciting opportunity to showcase work by the women who comprised a small but significant 15% of early science fiction community. The Future is Female (FIF)featured both early science fiction luminaries, such as Judith Merril and Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as authors who were famous in their day but then lost to literary history, such as Leslie F. Stone and Alice Eleanor Jones. Taken together, these women staked claims for themselves in the future imaginary with tales of alien queens, lady scientists, and housewife heroines that made issues of science, technology, and gender part of the modern American literary vocabulary.

FIF was also exciting because it provided an opportunity to involve students in my Sci Fi Lab in professional research! One team worked on visual design for the LOA webpage that accompanied the book, while the other did biographical research for all authors I included in the volume, with the goal of uncovering anecdotes that would bring the authors and their stories to life. My favorite story in this vein has to do with Jones, who wrote one of the most famously chilling dystopian nuclear war stories of her time—and then promptly spent the check on a fluffy red Christian Dior dress that was, as she happily noted, far beyond the pay grade of your average English professor’s wife. The Future is Female was truly a labor of love, and I’m delighted to note that it was recognized as such, earning a Publisher’s Weekly starred review and a finalist nomination from the readers of Locus, the science fiction community’s main trade magazine.

I’m currently working on the sequel to FIF, tentatively entitled, The Future is Female 2: The 1970s. This new volume will explore the increasing prominence and diversity of women who joined the science fiction community in a period marked by the revival of progressive politics in the United States and the turn to a more literary and socially engaged mode of speculative storytelling across the world. I’m particularly looking forward to showcase the diversity of women creating speculative art in this period; while earlier women working in this genre were largely straight, white, and cis-gender, the 1970s saw the debut of women writers who celebrated their identities as BIPOC and LGBTQ+ women imagining truly new and more just futures for all. I’m also delighted to assemble a new student team to help research FIF2. This semester, two students in my Sci Fi Lab received grant money from Georgia Tech’s Center for Women, Science, and Technology to support preliminary research and design for this book, and we look forward to bringing a few more team members on board this summer to help us identify feminist speculative stories, art, poetry, and fan fiction for this new volume.

And when I think about it, that is perhaps the best part of working on the FIF series with the LOA. I don’t just study how groups of women have banded together to reimage the future throughout history. Instead, I get to work with other women—and other progressive people more generally!—to carry the 1970s feminist slogan into 21st century and to show the future is indeed still female.

Olga Shemyakina, associate professor, School of Economics

Shemyakina often studies armed conflict and its effects on households and citizens in different regions. Her paper "Domestic Violence and Childhood Exposure to Armed Conflict: Attitudes and Experiences," submitted for publication with Giulia La Mattina of the University of South Florida, examines the lasting effects of violence on the formation of worldviews of women.

This is a joint project with Giulia La Mattina, who is faculty at the University of South Florida. We share a common research interest in the impacts of armed conflict on population with a particular focus on the effects of armed conflict and violence on women and girls. Both armed conflict and intimate partner violence are significant problems in the world. In our current collaboration, we are studying the impact of exposure to conflict in childhood on one’s views and attitudes towards acceptance of domestic violence and whether such exposure has a long-lasting effect.

In our research, we combined data from multiple large datasets for 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa with data on armed conflict. The results show that childhood, rather than adolescence, is the most critical period for the formation of norms surrounding domestic violence. We find that women in the conflict-impacted countries receive less education and are also more likely to get married at an earlier age. These factors are likely to be driving the increase in acceptance of domestic violence later in life. We hope that this research contributes to the broader understanding of factors contributing to violence against women so that those in power can take measures to combat them in the future.

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Denise Ward

Director of Communications

denise.ward@gatech.edu