Will boys be boys?
Is it case of Vive la difference? That was the premise of Joanna Chrzanowska's article in the last In Brief, which considered the issue of gender in the context of qualitative research.
Just for the heck of it, we threw the issue open to the floor. Well, on to the next best thing: the AQR web site. Did the article, we asked, resonate with members' experiences of running groups? Just how do men and women communicate in these types of forum?
No sooner had the last In Brief hit members' desks than Adrian Langford fired off a response. The piece, he claims, struck a lot of chords. "One has only to listen to the relative level of interaction in the kitchen, prior to women's and men's groups, to appreciate that sex makes a big difference," he says.
"I often caution clients that 'mixed group' is a misnomer. Unless you're very lucky with chemistry, it's almost inevitable that women and men will sit with each other, destroying what you're trying to create from the start, even before considering questions like assertiveness, posturing about subject matter, etc."
Fiona Kennedy, the next off the blocks, raises the point that much depends on the subject matter of the groups. "It is also affected by the extent to which it's an area where the two genders already interact in real life," she says. "I've had some great dynamics in mixed groups discussing board games!"
Maybe it's an area where it is advisable to tread carefully. That is certainly the advice from Philly Desai. He points out that though recent brain scanning work shows how men's and women's brains operate differently, it also shows that repetition of particular thought processes actually creates neurological paths in the brain.
"So it's possible that men's and women's brains are culturally programmed in the course of a lifetime to behave in certain ways," he says, "at least as much as via evolution over the long term. To ignore this is to fall into the trap of assuming a kind of biological determinism which is dangerous." The current interest in neuroscience also worries him. "It seems," he says, "to represent a search for a purely biological basis for QR which I'm convinced is misguided."
The final word to date comes from Alan Morris. He, like Philly, is wary of determinism and labelling. "As a coach, I'm aware of the judgement of people often men being emotionally inarticulate because they don't talk about what they feel," he says. "Often this isn't about repressed emotion but about difference in expression."
This was underlined by an experiential study he conducted at City University on the dynamics of big groups. It was the background and expectations of the mainly northern European moderators that caused conflict when dealing with individuals from societies or groups where display of emotion or action is the norm not their displays of emotion per se.
"it's possible that men's and women's brains are culturally programmed in the course of a lifetime to behave in certain ways"
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, July 2001
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2001