Welcome back, Academic Feminists, to the second in our series of interviews with students about their college theses or final projects. Today’s column features the work of Peter Rydzewski. A recent graduate of The College at Brockport, SUNY, Peter will be attending a PhD Program in Sociology at the University of Maryland beginning in the fall. He is broadly interested in studying patterns of inequality that are negotiated between the workplace and home, primarily those rooted in discussions of gender and sexuality.
1. What is your thesis about?
My undergraduate thesis explores contradictory forms inequality placed on gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals that hold positions in workplaces defined as “gay- and trans-friendly.” I frame this as a “paradox of comfort” by which expectations of attire and task allocation in the work setting are structured on notions of a “proper” look and “appropriate” work duties. For instance, a gay man may be subtlety urged to embrace a clean look rooted in stereotypes of a “gay” aesthetic, whereas a trans man – perhaps as a result of sex confirmation surgery – could be selected for new “manly” tasks in the workplace that were not present before the transition, such as carrying heavy boxes and other manual labor duties.
One main finding from my research is that gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals experience these emotional constraints differently. Gay and lesbian workers are expected to be “visible” in terms of behavior and style, whereas trans workers are likely to experience “invisibility.” The “paradox” appears from a simple contradiction: when workplace rules of expected appearance and position are followed, the individual is alienated from their true self. When these same rules are not followed, the worker will face constant pressure to follow the overarching stereotypes. Indeed, either choice reduces workplace self-comfort.
2. What got you interested in this subject?
As with all of my current interests, I was fascinated with all of the information being presented to me in my sociology courses. My focus on the workplace, however, stems from a simple reality of being around other college students: we were all furthering our education in hopes of finding work, but never gave much thought to the inequality we could face when we finally reached that goal.
3. What is the one thing you are most proud of?
The many lessons learned when writing a thesis are invaluable. I’m most proud of having the experience of working on a project from start to finish, developing a sense how to be critical about already-published research.
4. What was the most difficult?
The most difficult part of writing a thesis – or any larger work – is keeping all of your thoughts organized. When more writing is involved, it’s sometimes difficult to keep a “flow.”
5. What is the one piece of advice you’d offer to students who will be working on final papers/projects next year?
I would offer this simple tip that has been implanted into my writing process by other scholars and writers: be concise! Even though you may be writing a longer piece, well-developed thoughts are much more interesting than repeated concepts. Remember: quality before quantity.
Are you a feminist student? Would you like to be interviewed for the Academic Feminist? Send an email with the subject “Feministing Student Series” to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include in the body of the email your name, your school, your year of graduation, your major, and a one-paragraph description of your paper. Please attach your paper as a word or PDF file. Anyone who is a current college student or has graduated within the last year is eligible.