What has gender got to do with it? Negotiating agency and resistance from within

As results are beginning to trickle in from ongoing research on women’s tec-driven career trajectories in peripheral regions, so are interesting insights into the driving forces and impediments that women face on their professional life journeys.

A thread from the data has to do with agency and self-inflicted resistance, which I find quite interesting. Agency in the sense that: yes, although other factors (especially socio-cultural factors) may influence one’s decision-making, to a large extent, one indeed has some autonomy to make life-changing decisions for oneself.

So, while our informants have encountered hurdles, they still made it – that is, they are women, they have higher education and most of them have ‘good’ jobs as scientists, academics, researchers or work with innovation and so on. And these work fields are traditionally male dominated. Whether inspired by their parents, job genres, technological advancements, diverse role models or just by the drive to achieve, one cannot say these women lacked agency. But, are there limits to agency when it comes to career journeys? Who or what within one’s power decides on these limits? How aware are women about the explicit but mostly implicit and subliminal impact of ‘gender discrimination’ woven within the fabrics of our modern societies? Food for thought.

I want to illustrate this with experiences from 4 informants (pseudonyms used throughout) on gender equality, agency and resistance:

Pamela says that yes, she has faced gender discrimination and several hurdles in her career, and she proceeds to give examples and agrees our project focus on «Solving the gender paradox in Nordic countries» is timely and relevant because there is need for change.

A second woman, Kari starts the interview by saying, «Well, I do not see any form of gender marginalization at my work place» which is highly technology-driven. But at the end of the systematic, structural and reflective conversation about her work place, routines, employment, etc, she comes to the realization «Wow, I didn’t know that gendered disparity exists!» The third, Torill, rejects the project point of departure that there are gendered differences in her field, academia, in Norway. She dismisses the «gender imbalance» narrative as rhetorical, senseless and unnecessary. But further delving indicates that she has for instance missed a career promotion opportunity because she ‘needs to be a mother’ and her husband took the opportunity in her stead. The final informant, Anna, blatantly rejects the existence of gendered marginalization in her technologized work arena, along with the need for any form of corrective measures. She thinks «positive discrimination», women’s networks and the like are «degrading» and bad for women. Women must claw their way to the top like anybody else – she did this. These are classic tales of perceptions of gender discrimination.

Now, while all these insights are enriching in their explanation of agency and how women perceive their individual and collective journeys and struggle, they beg a further exploration of ‘resistance’– the kind that emanates from the self. How do women’s individual discourses influence their outlook on «resistance» by the self? What are the turning points in their life’s journey that have led to this kind of «resistance»? What role does the ‘collective struggle’ play in these negotiations? Where does ‘gender’ start and stop playing a role in this «resistance from the self» or rather, what has gender got to do with it?!

Carol Azungi Dralega

Caption: the beautiful sculptures are two of several scattered around the FOSS building at the Western Norway University of Applied Social Sciences campus in Sogndal.

 

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