How far will we go? Fieldwork and sexual harassment
Tanja Kubes (TU Munich)
Paper short abstract:
How can we handle sexual harassment, when it is an integral part of our field's reality and the only way to collect field data? Drawing from my fieldwork among car show hostesses, my talk discusses the fragile balance between immersion in the field and the need for distancing self-protection.
Paper long abstract:
How can we handle sexual harassment, when it is an integral part of our field counterparts' everyday reality and when letting people harass you is the only way to collect field data? How much harassment can we allow before losing our authenticity as scholars and feminists? Where should we draw the line between tedious field inconvenience and an attack on our integrity? Some years ago, I did an ethnographic study on car show hostesses. Since hostess contracts usually contain a clause forbidding any disclosure of job details, established interview techniques were of little use for my research. Instead, I decided to work as a hostess myself - in fact, to become a hostess for a limited time. According to the job description, my task was to stand next to a car in a nice (viz.: sexy) outfit, to smile, to let visitors (mostly men) take my photograph and to answer simple questions. In reality, however, many visitors treated my colleagues and me as an easy target for salacious talk and sexual innuendo. That put me in a tight spot: should I go along with the profanities "for the sake of science"? Or should I react the way my normal self would react? During my fieldwork, I mostly opted for the former - and by that helped to perpetuate a system that objectifies women and treats them as commodities and prey. My talk discusses the fragile balance between total immersion in the field and the need for distancing self-protection.