Thursday, November 28, 2013

Women Constructing Identities: The Discursive Construction of “Stressed-out” in Women’s Conversations

Tamera A. West, Fielding's School of Human & Organizational Development

Stress is a common topic of casual conversation among women. Current research regarding the effect of stress on women in America focuses primarily on what stresses women, how stress affects them physically, and the role perception plays in the overall physiological stress reaction. Only recently has stress been studied as a social construct often perpetuated by the media. What has not been considered is that stress might also be an identity women construct during conversation as they draw from available societal discourses about stress and work with these discourses to negotiate their identities. This study explores how women discuss the concept of stress, in particular how they discursively construct themselves as being stressed-out. With critical discursive psychology as the theoretical frame, discourse analysis methodology was used to analyze the transcripts from 15 interviews with 30 women in dyads. Women were recruited via email and participated in 30-minute to 1-hour interviews, discussing the stress in their lives as well as their ideas on women, stress, and society. Three dominant interpretative repertoires emerged during conversations: (a) stressed-out as a woman’s plight, (b) stressed-out as a reality of living in the real world, and (c) stressed-out as a method of social assessment. Drawing upon these repertoires, two subject positions were most often negotiated by the majority of women. First, all of the women constructed themselves as “responsible,” using multiple strategies including detailed descriptions of their daily tasks. Second, most presented themselves to each other as “I’m like you,” most often when partners described themselves in similar stressful situations, thereby being “alike.” These findings support the idea that because these repertoires are so powerful, it is risky for women to make positive self-care choices. These risks include being viewed by other women as not responsible and being judged by the conversational group. Further study is needed about this stress discourse, particularly in the popular media, if progress is to be made in developing more effective stress management advice for women.

Key words: stress, women, identity, critical discursive psychology

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