8 Feminist Inquiries

Rebecca Yoshizawa

“Feminism” may describe theory, analysis, critique, practice, praxis, approach, identity, community, movements, and more. Here, let’s talk about feminist research. Designing feminist modes of research first requires critique of the “masculinist” ways research is typically done. Dominant gender ideology presents sex and gender as dualisms, but many other important constructs are also dualistic. In the chart below, notice that masculinity is associated with “rationality” and “objectivity,” words that also describe science and research in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). We have seen that men have historically been overrepresented among scientists and researchers in most scientific disciplines; women, racialized people, people from the global south, and other marginalized people are underrepresented. But does it matter who does research?

Dominant Gender Ideology
Sex Male Female
Gender Masculine Feminine
Identity and Social Role Man/boy Woman/girl
Other Dualisms[1] Mind Body
Rational Emotional
Subject Object

Feminists have cogently identified that objectivity is not truly possible, and in fact, the claim that findings and studies can be “objective” belies the reality that all research has hidden biases. Sometimes, the biases of research are obvious. For instance, much research does not take gender and sex into consideration. Biomedical research on cardiovascular disease is a frequently discussed case regarding how symptomologies and treatments have historically been designed for and tested on men, then applied to women, without attending to the differences that sex might make. We’ve seen correctives to these biases in different research fora in recent years. For example, “gender-based analysis” is a concept operationalized by the Canadian government, which describes a commitment to examining how gender influences or impacts how people experience policies, programs, and laws.[2]

Other times, the biases are more hidden. For example, research that is “on” a subject population often does not benefit that population. Creating distance between the researcher and the research population may have the appearance of “objectivity;” however, research that is extractive of information from a population and used to benefit careers can be colonial and misappropriating. Many communities, such as Indigenous ones, have been over-burdened by requests for research and seen little benefit from participating – or worse, they have experienced harm.

"Image has the words 'Research Agenda' under lined, and below that a bullet list which reads: 'Research with, not on,' 'critique dominant gender ideology,' and 'figure out who I am.' The first two bullets have a red checkmark beside them, and the last has three red dots beside it."

A feminist approach to research requires that biases be identified, interrogated, and transformed in research, rather than hidden. In feminist research, objectivity is often replaced with the concept of reflexivity, a research practice that asks:

Who am I in this research? and how does who I am, where I come from, and where I am going influence the knowledge I make out of this research?

Similarly, some feminist approaches emphasize research “with” populations, instead of on them, rejecting the idea that distance from participants is the best way to create reliable research. Feminist research therefore often has a goal to create something with a community that can be used to improve members’ lives. “Participatory action research” describes this approach.

Gender-based analysis: research that attends to how gender influences or impacts how people experience policies, programs, and laws
Reflexivity: an approach that acknowledges and takes account of the role of the researcher in the production of knowledge
Masculinist: espousing and prioritizing values associated with the masculinity defined by dominant gender ideology
Participatory action research: research with a community with the goal to create something that benefits that community directly

  1. This is informed by Anne Fausto-Sterling's concept of "duelling dualisms" that you can find here: http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/gustafson/FILM%20165A.W11/film%20165A%5BW11%5D%20readings%20/faustodueling.pdf
  2. See https://women-gender-equality.canada.ca/en/gender-based-analysis-plus/what-gender-based-analysis-plus.html


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Gender in Canada: A Companion Workbook Copyright © 2023 by Rebecca Yoshizawa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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