For my final project, I chose to do a photovoice project focusing on being a gender minority in the field or workplace. I thought that this would be a very interesting way to learn about people’s perspectives, especially because I am in a field that is mostly female so being a gender minority during my work is likely something I will not experience. As I began getting responses from participants, I quickly realized that this would not be a “traditional” photovoice. Some of my participants did not go out and take a picture; rather, they found pictures they already had that represented their thoughts (one participant chose to use a picture she found on the internet). One of my participants writes a blog about what it is like for him to be in a gender minority in his field, so he sent me links to the blog posts that he found relevant. While these weren’t necessarily the responses that I was expecting, they were all very interesting answers that I wanted to use. So, instead of asking them to send something different, I decided to use exactly what I was given. These responses are all very authentic and I feel like I learned a lot about each person. I will post each respondents picture and their description along with a short bit about them and what they do. Anything in quotes is exactly what the respondents told me with nothing changed.
“This photo is of me hiking alone one morning in a foreign port. Normally I wouldn’t hike alone when I am home but when I am working my options for hiking partners is limited. Not only because I only know 80 people in a port, or because I am one of 18 officers. Mostly because I am one of 4 FEMALE junior officers (JO). As a Female JO, I have to be more careful who from the crew I hang out with in port call than my male peers. While that might seem like a small thing, it’s a larger reflection of being a minority, it demonstrates that I have to be more careful with my personal life, my image at work and have to work harder to gain the trust of all of my supervisors. Sometimes it feels like a boys club, but it’s moments like this one, summiting a mountain by myself or pulling of a great ship handling maneuver I remember that I can do anything I want to even if there are other people that aren’t sure I can. What you can’t see in this picture is the 3 other female junior officers I live with onboard, that I went and showed this picture to as soon as I got down from the mountain. They are some of my best friends and it’s because of what we do that we have such a good bond. We pick each other up, serve as a sounding board and have a great time when we are together.” –Taylor Peace is a member of the United States Coast Guard. She graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 2016 and has been traveling on Coast Guard ships ever since.
“This picture was taken on the very first day I officially reported in to the Academy, actually only a couple of hours in. The Coast Guard Academy has the highest percentage of females among the service Academies, about one third. This is true out in the operational fleet as well. While this picture is only a snippet of my class, it means a lot to all of us. Because the Academy is so small, we are a family of about 1000 brothers and sisters. Gender and race aren’t an issue, it’s about what you are worth. When it’s two in the morning and you have a full 19 hour day ahead of you the next day, you don’t care what any person looks like or what their gender is, all you care about is that everyone makes it through in one piece.”- Maddie Colwell is currently in her second year at the United States Coast Guard Academy. In the picture above, she is the in the second row from the bottom, the person farthest to the right (on the end of the row).
“I never considered myself an oddity as a male spouse until I exited from the service. I soon realized that only 15% of the force was female and a large portion of those male spouses who I had identified with would still active on active duty. My identity as a soldier had made me easily accepted in the family programs. Many of the spouses considered me just another member of the Army and I could fit easy into the military norms. Once I left the service and became the stay-at-home-provider that standing changed.
As we continued to PCS we fell into our old routines of signing into the new duty station as a family. Keeping a sense of humor about things we would laugh when soldiers and new leadership would welcome me into the unit instead of my wife. I would smile and quickly point to my ever-patient bride and say they needed to in-process her, or others would assume I was in a sister unit on post. We soon felt like we were pushing into uncharted territory of military social norms.
Before my humor could wear thin, my lovely wife gifted me a book. The Daddy Shift, How Stay-At-Home Dads, Bread Winning Mom’s and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family. Author Jeremy Smith understood my odd place among the predominately female spouse network. I could still be good natured about my status as a “Yeti”—in that everyone knows male military spouses exist, but hardly anyone has ever seen one—but I could also speak intelligently on how our family was not so odd but a blend of traditional and modern family dynamics. Even now when I take the kids to the commissary or out shopping they still get the comments of “ahhh… you’re spending the day with Daddy, how fun.” I have to remind myself that the cashiers or the extraverted passerby mean no harm, there just aren’t many stay-at-home male spouses for them to run into. Yet to those in our spousal community I am seen as a unique asset. Joining Family Readiness Groups now is still humorous in the beginning—because lets face it, I’m still a Yeti—but now my alternative approach to problem solving and a different perspective is welcomed with open arms.”
“My life as a male military spouse went into uncharted territory when I departed from service to take on the role of a stay at home parent with our daughters. Looking back on things it was a comical transition. We attended several closed door discussions where both my wife and I were counseled (separately of course) on the proper path our growing family should take. In the opinion of my leadership at the time I should stay in and my wife should get out. After the disbelief (of having such a discussion) we decided to stay true to our course.
Our next assignment was a challenging one. As new parents we soon began to see the reaction to our decision to take on less traditional roles. I encountered many inquisitive gazes and I answered tons of questions about “how I enjoyed spending time with my daughter” and countless follow-ups as to when my wife was going to take back over and care for our children. I didn’t try to alter their views, but instead because very good with delivering a simple smile and a passed them a well wish or two… I have had my share of exclusions from play dates because of perceptions. Along with the unsteady looks at the playground when I would be there with my daughter. My status as a male spouse has excluded me from several events, but it has also allowed me to speak openly when my fellow spouses feel compelled to flowery describe a problem. After all you can’t blame a guy if he just comes right out and states the problem; right? Just kidding guys, they can blame you.”- Eric Gardner is a stay-at-home Dad to two daughters. Previously, he was a member of the United States Army, of which his wife is still a member. These quotes come from the blog that he writes about being a military spouse and stay-at-home Dad. In the picture above, the shirts say “Watch D.O.G.S. dads of great students.”
“I found these at an art show. This woman who used to print circuit boards started making her own jewelry and decided to use components to make jewelry instead. I thought it was pretty cool, but I noticed that her booth wasn’t getting that much attention because not that many women seemed interested (maybe they didn’t understand) and men (generally) don’t show too much interest in jewelry. Anyways, it made me think about my work in engineering. You’re always riding this weird balance in a male dominated field, in trying to blend in with your coworkers but still embrace the uniqueness of being a woman in this field.”- Mikaela Shannon is currently a digital signal processing engineer at Bose. She graduated from the University of Miami in 2017 with a degree in music engineering.
“This represents medicine to me: women are part of it, but always seem to be in the background, never the leaders, in the forefront, in strategic planning positions. We are overtly or covertly expected (encouraged?) to be “in the background”– and to take our places there quietly and without complaint. The exceptions are in the “softer” specialties of peds, family medicine, derm (particularly cosmetic, not serious, derm, so like Botox and fillers), and mental health/counseling (psychiatry). Never leaders in any of the surgery sub-specialties, research, cardiology, etc.” –Dr. Barbra Mackie Franklin is an allergist in Northern Virginia. She has been practicing allergy for 16 years.
“Shared spaces, even functional items such as classroom calendars, will inevitably be made cute”- James Allen is a 9th and 11th grade English teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.
” ‘See, but people are always going to think you’re a *****.’ Sitting on the floor in my band office I took some sage advice from my marching band staff my senior year. ‘You’re in a position of authority, and as wrong as it is, because you’re a woman, people will always think you’re being bossy instead of standing your ground.’ I served as Band Captain of my high school band program for the 2014-2015 school year, I was there to make a difference. Hearing the staff tell me during a leadership meeting that I would never be seen as more than the stereotypes of my gender was disheartening, to say the least. And even though that staff was composed of my biggest supporters, who all backed me up when I had a band that wouldn’t listen to the “bossy” band captain, I still never got over how much it stung to know that my male counterparts would never be seen as more than “authoritative.” But three years later, I am stronger than ever, and I have nothing but my band experiences to thank for it…Being a woman in band is the absolute reverse of being a “rooster in a henhouse,” but it is one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had. If you take anything away from this article, may it be these words: Accept and give encouragement, believe in yourself, and never overestimate the power of a strong support system.”- Caterina Papadopulous is a sophomore at the University of Miami. She is studying music education but enjoys being a member of both the marching band and concert band at the school. This excerpt is from a piece she wrote for a newsletter. Even though marching band is not technically her “field” I still found it extremely relevant to my project.
As you can hopefully see from the responses above, I tried to use a variety of fields for this project. I thought that by having many different kinds of responses, it would keep the project interesting and I would be able to learn a lot. However, I do have two responses from people in very similar fields. Maddie and Taylor are both women involved with the Coast Guard. Going into this project, I expected their responses to be similar. I was proved wrong, however, when I received their responses. Maddie views being a gender minority as not being a big deal; she mentioned how she and her classmates are a family and that gender doesn’t matter. Taylor, however, mentioned how she has to watch her actions simply because she is a female. This goes to show that you cannot take one person’s opinion as fact; two people in similar jobs can have very different feelings towards being in a gender minority.
I also find it very interesting the different directions that my participants took this project. When I talked to them and asked them if they would participate, I told them that my question was very much up to their own interpretation and they could answer in whatever way felt right to them. I hoped that this would get me very authentic responses because I put so few boundaries on what I was looking for. This worked out exactly how I wanted it to. I had some people that felt that something they had already written best explained their feelings, and I was sent links to blogs and newsletters. I had others that found pictures that had stuck with them and they thought of when I asked them to participate. I believe that there was only one picture that was actually taken for the purpose of participating in my project. This may not be exactly what someone thinks of when they think of a photovoice project, but I loved all of the responses I received.
I realized early into my project that I would get different kinds of responses from my participants. I asked for a brief description of what the picture they sent meant to them and why it represented their feelings about being a gender minority in their field. Some people sent very long stories, while others sent one or two brief sentences. I didn’t want to ask someone for more or less of a response than what they gave because I felt like that would be altering their story, which is something that I did not want to do. I wanted to have as little influence on the responses I received as possible, with the only exception being that I needed responses before a certain date.
The biggest thing that I learned from this project is that everyone has their own thoughts about what it is like to be a gender minority in their field. No one feels the same way about their situation as someone else, even if one would guess that their feelings would be similar. There is no right or wrong way to feel when you are in the gender minority, and feelings can change from time to time too. I went into this project with assumptions about what kind of responses I would get and from whom; most of these assumptions turned out to be wrong.
With me being a female and on the path of becoming a social worker, I will not experience being a gender minority in my field. This is what made me think about the topic for my project. I want to learn about something that I will not experience from people who experience it every day. I wish that I could have found people from more fields to participate because it would have expanded my project even more. However, I am very happy with how this project turned out and I wouldn’t change what I chose to focus on or how I chose to approach it. I hope that others can learn from this project and get some different perspectives. I also hope that anyone reading this who is a gender minority in their field thinks about how their experiences are the same or different from those who participated in my project. I would love to read any comments about anyone’s experiences.
Thank you all so much for viewing my final project. I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone throughout this semester and am looking forward to reading all of your projects!