GOAL 3 THE GAPING HOLES
One of the priorities in the early days of feminist sociology was drawing attention to the gaping holes in the sociological coverage of the social world where women had not been studied, and/or where topics women thought important had not been studied.
A landmark collection from the USA was Millman and Kanter (1975). This collection contained 12 chapters, on nine empirical areas. There are chapters on education, crime, urban studies, medicine, organisations, culture, work, race, and emotions, plus three discursive ones. The manifesto of the collection included six summary critiques of sociology, or more accurately, American sociology, 25 years ago, which epitomise the need for finding and then filling the gaping holes. These were:
1 Sociology often assumes a ‘single society’ with respect to men and women, in which generalisations can be made about all participants. Yet, men and women may actually inhabit different social worlds, and this possibility must be taken into account (1975: xiii).
2 In several fields of study, sex is not taken into account as a factor in behaviour, yet sex may be among the most important explanatory variables (ibid.: xiv).
3 Important areas of social inquiry have been overlooked because of the use of certain conventional field-defining models; alternative models can open new areas for examination, about both women and men (ibid.: ix).
4 Sociology has focused on public, official, visible and/or dramatic role players and definitions of the situation, yet unofficial, supportive, less dramatic, private, and invisible spheres of social life and organisation may be equally important (ibid.: x).
5 Certain methodologies (frequently quantitative) and research situations (such as having male social scientists studying worlds involving women) may systematically prevent the elicitation of certain kinds of information which may be the most important for explaining the phenomenon being studied (ibid.: xv).
6 Sociology frequently explains the status quo (and therefore helps provide rationalisations for existing power distributions) yet social science should explore social transformations and encourage a more just, humane society (ibid.: xiv).
The authors of the empirical chapters showed how these six flaws were common in ‘their’ area. One example will suffice here. A typical analytic work of spotlighting the gaping holes is summarised to show the power of the strategy. In 1975 Lyn Lofland published an analysis of the portrayal of women in American urban sociology, which she centred on the ‘thereness’ of women. She argued that in the classic urban sociology of the USA, women were present in the same way that the butler was ubiquitous in the English country house detective story of the golden age (see Delamont, 1996b; Watson, 1971). In such detective stories there are always servants who:
glide in and out of rooms, providing drinks and food. They are questioned by the police or private detective. Frequently they ‘discover’ the body. Often they behave ‘suspiciously’ enough to, at least momentarily, take centre stage… And yet, despite, or perhaps in part because of their omni-presence, they remain, by and large, merely part of the scene. They are continually perceived, but rarely perceivers. They are part of the furniture of the setting through which the plot moves. Essential to the set but largely irrelevant to the action. They are simply, there. (1975: 144-5)
Lofland went on to show how urban sociology either portrayed women as ‘part of the locale or neighbourhood or area’, described like the ‘ecology or demography’ but ‘largely irrelevant to the analytic action’ (ibid.: 145) or used as ‘fuzzy, shadowy, background figures’ to frame male action. She suggested that this was partly because male researchers had difficulty in hanging around to gather data in places where women spent time, and called for ‘finely-textured, close-grained and lovingly empirical’ portrayals of women in urban society. Since she wrote, the feminist movement in sociology has produced many empirical studies of women and their lives of exactly the kind she recommended. For example, Gimlin (1996) is an ethnographic account of a hairdressing salon, a setting Lofland specifically mentioned as neglected by urban sociology.
While the past 25 years have seen many of the gaps in the coverage of women’s social world filled by empirical research, and the theoretical and methodological literatures permeated by analyses of gender, Lofland’s original comments can still be applied to the historical narratives of our own discipline. In the same spirit, I demonstrated the absence of women from the sociology of science (Delamont, 1987a). Because that paper was researched a decade after the original ‘gaping hole’ critiques, the paper contrasted sociology of science with other empirical areas which had changed to accommodate feminist critics by the mid-1980s. My critique drew on a content analysis of four journals in the field, and over a dozen well-regarded monographs and edited collections. The neglect of gender in the four journals was exemplified by
their failure to review seminal books by Margaret Rossiter (1982) and Evelyn Fox Keller (1983, 1985). Hilary Rose (1983) had earlier set an agenda for a feminist sociology of science. She divided feminist work on science into five areas: (1) naming exclusionary practices; (2) recovering lost women; (3) re-evaluating scientific work about women; (4) critiquing the epistemological bases of taken-for-granted features of western science; and (5) analysing feminist science fiction. Rose did not emphasise conducting fine-grained observational work on scientists doing science to explore how far an activity where most practitioners are men is actually constructed in a particular way. Rose’s five areas for feminist work were all remedial strategies, necessary before feminist STIS could be built.
My own major sub-field, education, had been criticised from the early 1970s onwards. Sociologists of education paid little attention to gender until the 1970s. During the growth in the sociological study of education from 1945 onwards, many studies were conducted on male – only samples, and the sexual division of labour in industrialised societies was taken for granted, not treated as a topic for investigation or for theoretically informed debate. This is demonstrated (with a content analysis of major journals) for the UK by Acker (1981, 1994) who reviewed educational research in Britain from the 1950s to the 1970s. She found that gender issues were frequently ignored, and that female experiences and the outcomes of education for women were regularly left unresearched. Many highly respected studies were based on male – only samples. The 1972 social mobility study of England and Wales (Halsey et al., 1980) for example, was based on a sample of 10,000 men. Lightfoot (1975) reached a similar conclusion about American research. A content analysis of sociology of education conducted in 1988 revealed that little had changed 20 years after the beginnings of feminist sociology. I showed (Delamont, 1989b, Appendix 1: 272-3) that, of 29 published ethnographies of adolescents in UK schools, seven were of boys only, ten of girls only, and 12 of both sexes, but that the studies of girls only were much less likely to have been published in book form (only four of the ten) than those of boys only (seven of seven).
An examination of 33 textbooks and readers in sociology of education found that only eight had a section or chapter on women and girls, and only 12 indexed women or girls. Only three of the 15 textbooks indexed ‘feminism’ or ‘sexism’. The omission of gender as a topic and feminism as a perspective is particularly striking when one considers what the authors and editors did find room for. Morrish (1972) found space to cover cybernetics, but not gender. The third edition of the textbook by Havighurst and Neugarten (1967) devoted more space to feral children (reared as or by wild animals) than to gender divisions in the USA. Cordasco (1970) gave more space to Inuit education than to gender.
In the ‘gaping hole’ phase one of the commonly pursued, and invaluable, tasks was the compilation of bibliographies, especially annotated bibliographies, of the work that was available. When research and theoretical material were rare, and badly publicised, such bibliographies not only drew attention to the scholarship that had been done, they also gave legitimacy to the new area. If an official body, such as a learned society, published a bibliography, it gave legitimacy to the area. In 1977 the British Sociological Association produced Sociology without Sexism: A Sourcebook. This was a 77-page, typed, annotated bibliography of ‘introductory materials on sexual divisions in the various sub-fields of sociology’ (1977: i). The section on Crime and Social Control was six pages long, and included, for example, the special number of Issues in Criminology (vol. 8, no. 2, 1973) on women, crime and criminology, and Carol Smart’s (1976) book. The sections are not attributed to compilers, but I compiled the education section. In sociology of education Walker and Barton (1983) included a bibliography of work on gender and education in the USA, the UK and Europe, Australia and New Zealand which took up 40 pages out of 213 in an edited collection. Rosenberg and Bergstrom (1975) and Een and Rosenberg-Dishman (1978) were multidisciplinary bibliographies which included a lot of sociological material. Chaff (1977) produced a large bibliography on women in medicine which ran to 1,102 entries. The explosion in research is shown by a comparison of Rosenberg and Bergstrom (1975) and Een and Rosenberg-Dishman (1978) with Watson (1990a, 1990b). There were 3,600 items in the 1975 volume, with a further 2,400 in the second. By 1990 Watson’s Bibliography had 7,364 entries on 1,703 pages in two volumes, while being much more selective and academic.
An immediate solution to the absence/gap problem was editing special issues of journals. Many groups of feminists persuaded the editors and boards of academic journals to have a special issue on women, gender or feminism. I have already mentioned such a number of Issues in Criminology (vol. 8, no. 2, 1973). In the same spirit, Huber (1973) was a reprint of vol. 78, no. 4 of the American Journal of Sociology. This was one of the first ‘special issues’ of a mainstream journal to focus on women. Abbott (1999) states that it was part of ‘an exciting time’ in the history of the AJS, when the managing editor, Florence Levinsohn, tried to make the journal more controversial and exciting. The special issue was ‘immensely successful’, but Levinsohn was sacked in 1974, and AJS has never been as exhilarating again.
Contemporary feminist sociologists have also focused on how the discipline is itself gendered. It is not sufficient that research is done on both sexes without stereotyped biases, it also has to be published, read, cited and be accepted as part of the canon for the discipline to rid itself of sexism.