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COMS 360 – Coms and the Sexes

Instructor: Rebecca Clark Mane

Project #3: Gender Ethnography


The goal of this assignment is to pull together the theories/research we have learned this semester and test or apply them to what we see the “real world.” Students will spend 2-3 hours observing the way verbal, nonverbal, structural, organizational or other factors are gendered or the ways our observations challenge gendered expectations. This assign should push you to:

  • Carefully and critically observe the (gendered) culture of our everyday lives
  • Critically reflect on the ways the ideas of this course are or are not applicable to our experience
  • Make organized and supported claims about gender based on the observations you have conducted.


Like your previous assignment, this assignment has TWO parts. Both parts are due in Canvas, Dec 8 by the end of the day (Midnight).

Part 1: Ethnographic Fieldnotes:

The first portion of the assignment is to conduct 2-3 hours of observations of a specific scenario, subculture, location, etc, and look for signs of gendered behavior, For instance, you might decide to observe how gender plays out when your friends go clubbing on a weekend, watching your parents prepare a family meal, among children on a playground (be careful not to be creepy), in your workplace, in a classroom, a coffee shop, or even online communication like instagram, facebook, texting, snapchat, etc.

As you observe, take fieldnotes (typically as unobtrusively as you can). Originally, ethnographers used field notebooks in which they drew a line down the page and put straight descriptions on what they saw on the left side, and comments, reflections, analysis on the right side. (See course slides for a visual exle). Today, some ethnographers tend to use their phone or other electronic devices to write down observations and put their comments or reflections in parentheses.

However you decide to do it, you will turn in a one-page exle of your fieldnotes. (Tech Note: Copy and paste to a word doc or take a photo of your hand-written notes and embed into a word doc to keep Moodle happy).

Part 2: 3-4 page ethnographic paper

Once you have a solid set of observations, begin to organize your thoughts into coherent claims about gender at your ethnographic site. Analyze your data and make an overall claim/thesis about gender at your site. Support with three sub-points and provide “thick description” to support your claim. While your paper can have a narrative tone, do NOT just give descriptions of your observations. Say something about them – make claims and tie in course ideas.

  • Paper should have central thesis or overall claim about your ethnographic site and gender
  • Paper should have three supporting sub-points which tie –in to your overall claim
  • Paper should use thick description (narrative details painting the picture for the reader about what you observed) to support your claim
  • Paper should cite at least 2-3 key theories, ideas, exles, or research pieces from the textbook or lecture as part of your argument.
  • No bibliography is needed, but use in-text citation and page numbers for direct quotes from Wood. For exle, “According to Wood, ‘many girls learn that being outspoken and smart does not win them prizes in the quest to be seen as feminine’” (157).For ideas taken from lecture, you can just say “According to lecture, …”


Looking at my text exchanges with my female friends over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed that there a lot of pictures of our respective pets, discussions about books, movies, food, outfits, etc. We also analyze and discuss in significant amounts old romantic relationships as well as same sex friendships that are experiencing conflict or our own friendships – good or bad. And interestingly, I noticed that we are often self-aware or apologetic if we appear insecure or obsessive (like “I should be able to handle this better” or “just ignore me, I’m being stupid”) and degrade it as a feminine trait, for exle my friend recently texted: “sorry to act like such a girl, but… WHY HASN’T HE TEXTED ME BACK???”

In reality, after three hours of study, I would have many more observations than that, but those might be the three things that stand out to me the most in the end. For my paper, I would write a thesis statement that says something like: “As much as I have often thought I did not conform to traditional femininity, my texting communication behavior with my female friends is clearly aligned with the norms of feminine speech community.” The three main points I may develop are:

  • We communicate primarily for connection and to maintain relationships rather than instrumentality (And I would draw on ideas and quotes from Ch. 5, CH. 9).
  • We talk about relationships, seeing interpersonal communication as a method of understanding and reflection. (again, drawing on specific ideas from CH. 5, CH. 9)
  • We downgrade certain behaviors or attitudes as “feminine” reflecting a cultural tendency to not value femininity (Probably focus on the section from CH 7).

(I could also examine non-verbal traits of how long we waited to respond, whether our length of texts or disclosure was symmetrical — the possibilities are vast.). For each of these points, I would tie in a specific course concept and say “Wood says… “or “According to lecture.” And then I would provide very detailed evidence – describe the scene, paint a picture for the reader, give a direct quote — such as above when I gave exact quotes about how we are self-aware about “being a girl.”

NOTE: Your paper doesn’t have to prove or support traditional gender norms. You may find that your ethnographic site challenges them. That is also a cool direction to pursue!


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