way back in April ’08, a friend asked me to post some pictures as part of a project. i never did post what the project was about or what the results until now.

Dear All,
Thank you for your interest and participation in the Photo story project. First, let me apologize for the delay in providing this explanation. I am a procrastinator. There is no other excuse.

The project was developed in a Language & Gender class held in the Spr ’08 semester at the University of Mississippi. Language is the tool we use to define the world around us. And in particular, language is the repository for history and attitudes toward class, race, and gender. In class we discussed several studies involving use of language and how it applies to gender. Gender being those presumed societal roles based on sex.

As a writer, and having lead writing workshops, I know that fiction is an ideal way to access spontaneous language that can be examined for attitudes toward gender. A study we read used a Thematic Apperception Test to prompt language. In setting up my study, I used a similar approach. I selected photos that were gender specific, but would not impose any bias. And leaving out the premise of gender in the request, I could be assured that I would be receiving unconscious representations of gender, not “politically correct” accommodations.

Despite having the results of previous studies, I determined to keep an open mind as to what I would find. And, I had a significantly smaller response group than I would have needed to publish a full-fledged study. Still, I noticed some trends.

picture use by demographic

picture use by demographic

The chart above points out that in large part, participants chose to write about the male (lying in the grass). Could that have been because his picture was first or because males are easier to write about? I could make no definite conclusions.

One result from the prior study indicated that people project violence on to women in their stories. More than half of the stories generated did so, and the other half had elements of oppressive power dynamics against women.

Most telling for me was the use of narrative voice. The voice of an omniscient narrator was most frequent, but only one female chose to use the male narrative voice, where two males chose the female narrative voice. I can say I hadn’t expected that.

gender of the narrative voice

gender of the narrative voice

Another element to look for was the gender roles created for the characters . By and large, the person added was a romantic partner; we also have mothers and fathers, a sister, a brother, a daughter, several non-gender specific friends, and an art patron ().

Of the eight stories about Photo A, half of the stories added girlfriends. All of these relationships end badly. I was able to infer, women are selfish, capricious, controlling, subject to the will of others, dismissive or easily dismissed, and brought to tears. Only one story makes direct reference to say, “Women. They are so vain.” While depictions of the woman in Photo B, as the girlfriend, is aggressive, challenging, highly sexual, anxious, dependent, patient, indecisive, and pathetic.

In some ways, the male character fares better as protagonist, by being a full and present character in the majority of stories. As the primary focus of the tale, he is presented sympathetically, i.e. we feel what he feels. He’s dumped four times which is an atypical inclusion of self-deprecation. Overall, men are presented as assholes, arrogant pricks, unable to hear sarcasm, irresponsible, and uncaring. Unlike the references to women, one man does “earn” a positive attribute; he is “a good role model.”

I was able to show the TAT is a useful means of collecting data on gender performance and interaction. Participants, for the most part, assigned roles and behaviors along rather typical lines because there is still a great reliance on the delineation of men and women. And while I would not suppose these are the personal ideological opinions of the participants themselves, I had to base my evaluations on what was present or absent from the stories.

Oh, and I got an A on the paper and in the class. Thank you.

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