Raisa Jurva tekee väitöskirjaa osana projektia ’Affective Inequalities’ ja hän on tohtorikoulutettava Tampereen yliopistossa. Hänen väitöskirjansa työotsikko on:”Heterosexual dynamics with a difference? Affective attachments in mid- to later-life women’s narration on relationships with younger men”. Tällä hetkellä Raisa on tutkijavieraana CFS:ssa (The Center for Feminist Social Studies) Örebrossa 30.12.2016 asti. Tässä haastattelussa Raisa kertoo väitöskirjatutkimuksestaan. Haastattelijana toimi Emppu Nurminen.
Question 1: What is it in older women in a relationship with younger men that caught your interest?
Well, I guess my interest in heterosexual relationships began already while doing my Master’s thesis where I concentrated on the discourses concerning heterosexuality in health education materials. Somehow I wanted to get a better grasp of what is heterosexuality as a context for doing gender in people’s experiences.
Also, there’s a tradition of approaching the subject of heterosexuality critically in feminist and queer research, which my work draws on. I am interested in looking at a situation in which this life course narrative, which Judith Halberstam, among others, has pointed out as ‘straight time’, is ruptured. To give an example, having children is a gendered period where the lives of women and men become detached from each other, as the intensive child care usually falls on women while men might have pressures to support the family financially. I guess I was interested in heterosexual relationships that operate in different kind of context. The relationships that I am studying might question the gendered conventions in heterosexual relationships or they might not. At least, there is a new perspective on things in a situation where having children might not be possible for these women but these reproductive capabilities are still available for men.
I guess the other reason was that I wanted to work with research material which consists of womens’ narration from a longer period of time because we know that narration is also context bound. As Suvi Ronkainen, for example, has pointed out, it requires distance for us to be reflective – or we reflect differently on current events compared with events that have been present 30 years ago. Since I’m interviewing women over 50 years of age, they are not in a heterosexual relationship for the first time and are thus able to narrate their relationships, let’s say, from 30 years ago, and reflect their current relationships against the past ones. Based on the interviews it seems that it is possible to talk about some issues concerning, for example, equality only in hindsight.
Furthermore, this might be a very familiar feminist argument: I still think that women’s possibilities, sexualities and bodies get controlled in many ways in our society. I think it is still important to analyze the possibilities women have, for example for pleasure, intimacy in these kinds of relationships where there is such age difference, to see whether the gendered conventions might be done somewhat differently than in another kinds of relationships. Some researchers have pointed out that in this culture which idolizes youth and young body of a certain kind, old age might actually protect from those pressures provide new possibilities for intimate relationships. Another very basic justification is to analyze gendered power and intimate relationships at a time which also emphasizes individual choices, individual life courses and often sees emotions tied to individuals instead of being entangled with power relations which cannot be reduced to individuals.
Question 2: What kinds of kinds of discussions do you employ in your research? I would also be especially interested in the concept of heterosexual dynamics.
Heterosexual dynamics is a concept which is still in the process of forming and the more precise theoretical value itself might be one of the results of my research. In the background, there is the idea of the relationality of gender. Gender gets constructed in relations with others and here it becomes interesting to look into how genders are done together in a heterosexual relationship. The gendered conventions operate always in a specific time and place and heterosexual relationship provides a context for normalizing the conventions. Heterosexual dynamics refers to the ways in which these conventions operate.
Also when it comes to feminist studies, what might be a very basic point is very important to me, the famous slogan ‘Personal is political’ which suggests that power does not only exist in, for example money, resources and possibilities in life although they are major and important things. Those aspects of life considered private are also embedded in – but not reduced to – power relations and this dynamics is interesting to me. I think that is my basic inspiration, along with a focus on intimate relationships and trying to grasp the connection how power and emotions, or if you will, affects work in all that.
I was thinking, heterosexuality seems to be about much more than just a male-female –partnership. Could you briefly describe your approach those not familiar with this perspective?
You can approach sexuality as an orientation, for sure. But I think that some feminist research, especially Monique Wittig, Kate Millett and perhaps even Adrienne Rich, have pointed out how sexuality is a kind of sphere in which societal power relations work. I approach heterosexuality not as an orientation but as a context, which is something I want to emphasize. It is a context that seems to be quite strongly impregnated with naturalized ideas of gender and ‘normal’ course of life and temporality – even though we know about the plurality of relationships and different ways of living and feeling in heterosexual relationships and the fact that certain kinds of life courses have become available also for same-sex couples, at least in some ways. Still, I would say that it seems that heterosexual relationships, or these contexts, carry with them a special kind of history of making gender. What I am trying to say is that this naturalization of gender also makes it, in a way, invisible. This is the background, I think, of looking into how the context of heterosexuality affects the lives of people who are in relationships where there is an older woman with a younger man.
Question 3: What do you think affects will bring to the table when accessing lived experience through narratives?
I think it is a big theoretical and methodological question. In my work, I hope to also provide methodological results, not just results about the topic of my research. Perhaps the perspective of affects might enable me to more closely pinpoint the kind of sensation or feeling is activated in using different kinds of cultural storylines in one’s narration. One source of inspiration here would be Clare Hemmings who has engaged in discussions on affect from a critical perspective as well.
Hemmings has an idea that we have access to cultural storylines which we use to make sense of our experiences but not everyone uses them the same way; these storylines might be also diverse and contradictory. Hemmings has also pointed out that it is affect that both connects us to certain storylines and makes us reject other storylines. If we think of intimate relationships, we have storylines of what a good life should be, what we should feel, how we should be jealous, satisfied or happy. Looking into the affective ways people are in connection with these storylines might be productive if we want to say something about what kind of gendered conventions ‘get stuck’ and about how they change. This has major implications for striving after equality in intimate relationships.
I am interested in looking more closely, and distinguishing, which emotional investments we make in narrating our experiences. They might be shame, joy, disappointment, satisfaction – whether they are, ‘negative’ or ‘positive’, they nevertheless attach us to storylines and distance us from others. For me, the promise is that by looking closely at these I might say something about how gendered conventions are lived and experienced in the context of heterosexual relationships and how power in intimate relationships works.
Do you focus on affects of the present narration of the person recalling a past event – or do you research affects via persons narrating their past affects and experiences?
You pointed out temporality, whether it’s those affects that are now or past affects. In my analysis, I will pay attention to immediate events but at the same time I will be looking how future and past also play into that, forming different kinds of affective modes. So the answer to the question is that I focus on both. This is because in the women’s narration, past and present relationship experiences entangle with future scenarios and together they form the conditions for hopes, fears, and wishes for the future, regarding the topic of relationships. There is quite a lot of narration, in the data, about what is going to happen in the future in women’s lives and relationships. These parts are often quite affectively laden. In my analysis, I want to pinpoint the affective dimensions of these parts and connect that to the cultural storylines we have on, for example, good relationships and heterosexuality.
One more thing is that I try to look into what kind of orientations for the future do these affective attachments enable: bitterness enables certain kind of orientations and an optimistic sense of entitlement provides another kind of orientation and so on. These also suggest different possibilities for equality.