This paper was presented at MLA in 1992.
The topics chosen by my students seem to be influenced or divided by gender.
One semester I had students working for a real client on the possibility of setting up a wedding video service in the city in which the university was located. One of my students, a female, proposed looking into the amount of personal credibility a videographer needs when starting a business and the manner in which the credibility is established. None of the videographers she interviewed, all men, thought that credibility was an issue. None of them had ever been asked for references or questioned about their past experience.
This student was surprised by this finding, since in her work she had often had to justify her competency. She did not investigate whether the videographers received all their clients through personal referrals, a circumstance which would have provided credibility for them. Even if most of their clients were referrals the fact that the videographers did not expect them all to be is shown by the advertizing they did.
In teaching technical writing I have had many women deal with the question of superior-subordinate relationships, but no men. The two highest quality papers dealt with two different aspects of these relationships.
One dealt with the question of ability and equality. Joyce argued in her paper that though individuals have many different skills, our society rewards some subordinates with pay equal to or greater than their abilities, while others are paid less than their competence warrants. The jobs she discussed as examples are dominated by men in both the superior and subordinate positions, but her career as a secretary clearly influenced the recommendations she made at the end of her paper.
Another paper on the same topic focused on the role of the female subordinate in corporate America. Judy discussed inequities within the system, reasons for them, potential problems when they are removed–such as executives traveling together and the attitudes of their spouses to this long distance mixed group situation, and indications that these inequities are being slowly reduced.
Topics covered in the major papers have included sexual harassment, gender differences in leadership, and the problem of balancing a family and a full-time job. Yet my students seem to choose topics that fit the stereotypes, or cultural expectations, of their respective sexes.
Only my female students have written about superior-subordinate relationships. Perhaps this is because my female students are more aware of their position of subordinates as they enter the workplace. Perhaps it is because my male students feel challenged by the idea that they should be underlings (Tannen).
My student who wrote on personal credibility was amazed that the videographers did not consider the relevance of credibility. She had, probably because women tend to be more concerned about relationships that are developed in all spheres of their lives (Gilligan). Only my female students cover topics on gender-related issues. I suppose this is because they see the implications of it for their lives.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982.
Tannen, Deborah. You Just Donâ€™t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation. New York: Ballantine, 1990.
To be continued…