Talk review - extra credit
During the course of 2008, Jessica Fields and her team embarked upon a sociological study of incarcerated women of color and their sexual understanding, education, and history. Her study was purely participatory, took place at the San Francisco County Jail, and placed a particular emphasis on the women's experiences with HIV. Though Fields initially intended for the study to be participatory, two factors influenced the women to partake in the research: the deputies in the jail positively viewed participation and the women were compensated with $20 (which was a goodly amount in jail dollars). However, Fields and her team could only take about 74 women per workshop, so soon after establishing themselves at the jail, Fields had to turn away women. Over the course of the workshops, the average age of the women was 36 years old, 83% were mothers, and all but one were women of color.
Each of Fields' workshops followed a particular pattern (Fields referred to them as 'sessions'), and each workshop was related to the one that preceded it. The first session discussed HIV in context and addressed potential fears that the women had regarding HIV. The second session involved peer interviews and forced the women to think about their fears. The third session analyzed the interviews, and the fourth session consisted of reflection and planning. Throughout the four sessions, Fields and her team continually emphasized two main points: respect and trust.
Though both of these ideas seemed intuitive, they proved to be very difficult to enforce at times. In the jail, trust was difficult to instill in the women due to the implementation of strict and distrustful rules/rituals. For example, Fields was required to count the number of Sharpies before and after she handed them out to the women to ensure none of the women 'stole' one. Though Sharpies are neither expensive nor dangerous, the trust placed in the women was so low that they weren't trusted to return something as trivial as Sharpies. Fortunately, respect proved to be less vexing to achieve than trust. At the beginning of each workshop, Fields asked that the stories and secrets shared in the room to remain in the room, and any woman violated that rule, consequences could be taken against her; the trust was never (to the knowledge of Fields and her team) breached.
Among the many women Fields and her team interviewed, three women and their interaction with Fields stood out: Bianca, Maxine, and Alison. Fields' relationship with Bianca began normally, but soon became rather flirtatious on Bianca's side. One particular conversation with Bianca stood out to Fields, in which Bianca had just come to the workshop after meeting with her "baby-daddy". Fields' footnotes depict Bianca's advances as a "nonsexual crush" and only feature Bianca. Fields' footnotes do not include the amount of discomfort and surprising pleasure she felt from this interaction. The relationship between Bianca and Fields - though Fields evaded Bianca's advances - merely surfaces the erotic relationships some of these women have experienced. Fields' interaction with Maxine is similar to Bianca's; Maxine demonstrated a 'burpee' for Fields once, which invoked a 'troubling presence'. Maxine's demonstration, though it affirmed Fields' sexuality, was very intimate and caused significant discomfort. Alison's interaction with Fields varied greatly from Bianca's and Maxine's, but was similar in the amount of discomfort it caused. Alison (a black woman) wanted to prove she had most of her teeth, and asked Fields to look. Fields peered into Alison's mouth and was struck by how similar the situation was to that of a slave owner looking at his slave's teeth. Despite the racial and historical significance of this act, Fields felt an intimate connection with Alison, not unlike with Bianca and Maxine.
Even though Fields entered her research with an end goal in mind, she left with much more insight into relationships and intimacy than she originally intended. The interactions she shared with the women at the jail surprised her, both in the interaction itself and Fields' response to the interaction. Her research with the incarcerated women spurred her following studies of racial inequality and sex education (a continuation of her work at the jail).
Fields' talk related to concepts discussed in class such as gender inequality and race. Many of the women that Fields interviewed came from less privileged homes, which attributed to the erratic and seeming strange behaviors of the women, particularly in an erotic light. Furthermore, the women that Fields interacted with were almost all women of color; the combination of the unequal treatment as women and color may have attributed to the fact that these women were now incarcerated. In particular, Fields' interaction with Alison reflected the historical dominance of whites over blacks, thus insinuating the prevalence of race in her study. Though Fields does not explicitly investigate the influences of race and gender in her studies, they are still key aspects in her research as they often are or are related to motivations and influencers behind the actions and decisions of these women.