In Laura Micciche’s chapter “Feminist Pedagogies” in A Guide to Composition Pedagogy, she writes about the combined approaches that feminist teachers may take. These approaches include encouraging the use of writing as a way to engage the personal and political and teaching and mentoring as a form of “professional activism” (p. 128). These approaches got me thinking: does a teacher need to engage explicitly with discussions of feminist theory or content about women’s experiences to be enact feminist pedagogy?
In my own background as a feminist teacher, I’ve struggled with the choice to reveal my sympathies with feminism to my students. Sometimes, I’ve felt that identifying as a feminist might alienate me from my students. After all, if a student has a negative bias against feminism, might that student write me off completely if I reveal this piece of my identity?
I was attracted to Micciche’s discussion of mentoring as professional activism as an alternative to explicitly revealing my interest in feminism to students. Micciche writes that feminist teachers may assign students narrative essays, since “women’s narratives emphasize relational connections and identifications” (p. 130). Although I’m not totally comfortable with the way this statement engages in a gender binary, I am interested in this idea that narrative may empower female writers to value their experiences. In fact, this idea reminds me of how the academy tends to privilege certain forms of masculanized writing, especially that which relies on evidence and argumentation. Could I engage in feminist teaching by inviting students to share their experiences through narrative?
I’m also interested in the idea that a teacher’s mentorship of a student or even their classroom design can enact feminist pedagogy. For example, Micciche (2015) writes that sequencing small-group and large-group discussions, non-directive conferences, and process based pedagogies can help with “overcoming and suppressing gender bias” (p. 131). These student-based strategies might help to mitigate the power dynamic and empower female students.
At the end of the day, while I am encouraged that feminist pedagogy can include narrative-based writing and inclusive class-design, I feel a little bit unsettled by the gender binary that feminist pedagogy might reinforce. What do you think, readers? Can feminist pedagogy, much like queer theory, move away from being about engaging female students and instead be used as an analytic to critique the marginalized status of narrative?
Hello Krista! I enjoyed reading your opinions about feminism in the writing classrooms. In response to your question, I think feminist pedagogy can either reinforce or reduce gender binary. So much depends on how the teacher implements feminist approaches in their classrooms. In the past, I had teachers who thought they were enacting feminism in their classrooms but what they did was to polarize the female and male students. I think the problem results from not knowing what feminism truly is. Teachers need to read, read, and read to engage deeply with ideas and beliefs associated with feminism, and to create a classroom environment where all students can benefit from feminism.
A productive feminist pedagogy could/would definitely move away from focusing solely on empowering female students and towards a broader critique of texts/identity/social inequities. Narrative would certainly be one way to do this. As for the problem of whether we should explicitly NAME feminism in the classroom – I think the answer, as is often the case, is that it depends. Some teacher identities might find that they can name the pedagogy and accomplish a particular agenda that opens up students to more complex thinking about social hierarchies through this. While for others, it might serve to alienate or enforce gender binaries. As teachers, we have to become skilled at reading and knowing our students – so we can figure out the best way to enact and teach with these practices.