Q&A with UTP Author Michelle Wyndham-West

Making Gender aims to understand how gender and risk have been incorporated into women’s decision-making around the HPV vaccine. Read the full Q&A interview with the author, Michelle Wyndham-West, here:


Tell us about when the idea for writing this book first came to fruition. Is there a story behind it? How did this topic get fleshed out?

I first decided to research HPV vaccine decision-making back in 2007 when the vaccine was introduced to Canada and made available in some schools at this stage. My children were at a school offering the vaccine and due to the controversies surrounding it at the time of its introduction, parents weren’t sure about how to respond. Thus, my starting point was parents, but then the research branched out to university students as they also demonstrated a need to work through their vaccine decision-making, particularly because HPV infection is prevalent among university students.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

Navigating the politics and controversies surrounding the vaccine was very challenging. I tried my upmost utmost to appear objective and never revealed, for example, that I paid to have my sons vaccinated since boys were not covered under the policy at that time. I did not want to influence potential participation and responses. I found that participants really wanted to know my opinion on the vaccine, but I had to keep this to myself for fear of influencing data collected.

Tell us about the research process for this book. Was there something in your research that surprised you?

I conducted 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, and I added female university students to my participant pool after repeated requests. I did not initially know that the HPV vaccine was being promoted in university-based health clinics and that the vaccine was frequently recommended to female university students. Additionally, the university students were experiencing HPV infections so really needed someone to share their diagnoses, treatments, and feelings with.

What was your experience working with the editor/editors of this book?

My editor was wonderful and very supportive of the book and its approach, contents, and contribution to social science scholarship from the very start of the process. I am very fortunate to be publishing this book with the University of Toronto Press.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Making Gender?

I hope that readers will learn more about individual and collective vaccine decision-making processes and health decision-making in general. These are complex decisions that not only involve potential risks and benefits but individual or collective senses of self, identities, and current and future incarnations of who one believes one is and wishes to be in the future.

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