Blessed Art Those Among Women? – Unanticipated Consequences for Male Researchers Engaged in Feminist Research

Tom Clonan, Dublin Institute of Technology

Global Conference on Femininity and Masculinity, 2011, Warsaw


Blessed Art Those Among Women? – Unanticipated Consequences for Male Researchers Engaged in Feminist Research

From 1996 to 2000, Captain Tom Clonan, a serving officer in the Irish military, conducted doctoral research into the status and roles assigned female personnel in the Irish Armed Forces.

As a male officer in a male-dominated organisation engaged in counter insurgency operations in Ireland and peace-enforcement operations abroad, the researcher did not fit the traditional, paradigmatic notion of a ‘feminist researcher’ as described in much of the literature on feminist research.

The researcher’s initial findings were perhaps unsurprising and broadly consistent with the hypothesized outcomes for women and minority groups within work-place settings with little or no commitment to equality.

The research revealed an organisation which actively and explicitly discriminated against female personnel in a systematic fashion. An audit of the deployment of female personnel within the armed forces revealed a ‘pristine’ gender division of labour.

Unanticipated findings also became apparent with clear evidence of military policies and standard operating procedures – as they applied to female soldiers - which were contrary to Irish and EU legislation. Many of these policies were also in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions.

Other unanticipated findings included the discovery of widespread bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape of female soldiers by male colleagues. The manner in which the researcher established these findings also flies in the face of the conventional wisdom of the literature on feminist research methodology - particularly as it applies to structural power differences between male researchers and female research participants.

As a result of conducting this feminist research, the author was ostracised by his military colleagues. The Irish military authorities used the Irish print and electronic media to refute the findings of his research and engaged in a highly publicised strategy of character assassination throughout 2001. (This ‘whistleblower reprisal’ was dealt with in an Irish state radio (RTE) documentary broadcast in September 2007)

In 2003 an independent Irish government report vindicated Dr. Clonan's findings. This paper will outline the consequences for Dr. Clonan of conducting feminist research in a sensitive and secretive setting. It will suggest ways in which feminist theory and the literature on feminist research methodology might benefit from an analysis or consideration of both the positive and negative impact that feminist research might have on male or female researchers and their subjects.