Blog: Subtopic- History, Construction of the Subject (woman), and Psychoanalysis
My name is Amber Heggenstaller and I am obtaining my Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies. Within this program, I’ve learned to recognize that everyone and everything is a construction of society, which leads to the oppression of others because this construction of what it means to be a man and a woman leaves little room for the acceptance of individual differences. Therefore, it is my job as a feminist and an educator to bring this awareness to individuals in order to challenge the power dynamics set for us through discourse and to accept differences that do not uphold society’s perception of what it means to be a man or woman within a patriarchal culture.
The questions that we need to be asking ourselves are: What is natural within society and who are we really if everyone and everything is a construction? How do we gain acceptance and self expression within society? How do we educate and promote awareness to children in the classroom in order to challenge the perception of women in society?
HISTORY, CONSTRUCTION OF THE SUBJECT, AND PSYCHOANALYSIS
Why it matters? Why should history, the construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis be integrated in the classroom? How does it change learning?
In and out of the classroom, children are presented with messages and texts that privilege heterosexual relationships and reinforce the stereotypical roles of women within a patriarchal culture. These representations cause children to gain a false perception of what it means to exist within society, which causes a lack of acceptance toward one another’s differences because we are trained to only accept the behavior and actions of individuals that we witness in society and within the classroom. This presents the idea to children that women are heterosexual, sexual objects, nurturers of men and children, and domestic. As children witness these types of behaviors and actions they are then “compelled in [thei]r bodies and in [thei]r minds to correspond, feature by feature, with the idea of nature that has been established for [them],” which reinforces the construction of women (Wittig 9). The problem is that this perception of women is not natural, but a construction within society. Therefore, as educators, we need to integrate history, the construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis into feminist pedagogies, so that students become aware of society’s power and control over an individual’s actions and behaviors. Students need to be presented with the knowledge of the historical formation and the construction of the subject which confines individuals to set norms within society. Students need to recognize that our identities have been created for us through history, which reinforces dominance in society and ultimately leads to the degradation and oppression of individuals.
Within the classroom, teachers have the ability to positively or negatively impact student’s lives. As Emily discussed in our presentation, teachers’ past experiences influence the way in which we interact and connect with the students. Problems arise when we choose to cater to students who resemble ourselves or who had an experience similar to our own, which keeps us from meeting the needs of every student. This is witnessed in Lafrance’s article Feminist Theory, when a teacher chooses to work with a child who struggles with academics only because he represents her own hardships as a child. When the child begins to succeed, the teacher withdraws from the student because he no longer resembles her past experiences as a child. Through the integration of psychoanalysis in the classroom, teachers would recognize that our past experiences impact the way in which we interact with students. As teachers, we need to be conscious of our past experiences, so that we are able to present knowledge in a positive manner and to recognize that our past experiences influence our relationships with our students. Britzman and Pitt argue that “ a theory of transference can help us create pedagogical practices that take as their starting point the practical and ethical reasons for everyone involved in educational work to participate in the making of insight” (Britzman 121). If we include psychoanalysis within the classroom, individuals and teachers can evaluate their experiences, so that they are able to meet the needs of every student, instead of those who remind the teachers of themselves based on past experiences. This would eliminate bias and the notion of “the other.” In order for the teacher to be successful, he or she must acquire the “mastery of one’s own identity and the mastery of the roles of teacher” which is gained through the teacher’s ability to place accountability on the student for his or her own learning (Britzman 123). The teacher must constantly reflect upon the students’ questions and provide a space for them to solve conflicts and gain awareness of power dynamics through dialogue with others. In other words, the teacher would become a facilitator and a guide, where students gain knowledge through communication and interactions with others.
Throughout history, women have been and still are expected to act as sexual objects and maternal and domestic beings in order to fulfill society’s perception of the role as women. Because society presents messages to women that they need to perform these roles in order to be accepted, some individuals perceive these roles as natural and biological, and are unaware that women’s roles are constructions within society created in order to uphold a patriarchal culture: “Woman is not each of us, but the political and ideological formation which negates women (the product of a relation of exploitation). ‘Woman’ is there to confuse us, to hide the reality ‘women’” (Wittig 15-16). In One is Not Born a Woman, Wittig argues against the notion that women’s roles are biological and natural. She claims that history has created the construction of the “woman” for us which keeps women from obtaining their own identity. She argues that child birth and heterosexuality shouldn’t be viewed as natural, because not all women want to have children and not all women are heterosexuals; therefore, society’s definition of “women” as a whole does not support the needs of each individual “woman.”
Problems arise when women do not live up to society’s definition of a woman because they become classified as “the other” where any action or behavior outside of society’s definition of a woman is unacceptable. During Kristine’s presentation, we discussed the power of society’s expectations placed on women to get married, have children, and fulfill their domestic role, and the fact that if women did not meet society’s expectations, they were seen as crazy or unstable. These stereotypical roles created throughout history are then reinforced within our culture and in the classroom today through texts and the media which causes problems for girls and women as they struggle to live up to these expectations. Girls and women become depressed, lose their sense of identity, and acquire low-self esteem.
In Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Lives of Adolescent Girls, Mary Pipher, PH.D., addresses the negative effects of Western culture on girls’ self-esteems. Pipher argues that girls “split into false selves” as they try to live up to society’s expectations placed on them (Pipher 38). Pipher describes girls’ transformations of themselves as “rigorous training for the female role” where girls are “expected to sacrifice the parts of themselves that our culture considers masculine on the alter of social acceptability and to shrink their souls down to a petite size” (Pipher 39). They are also confronted with messages to “be attractive, be a lady, be unselfish and of service, make relationships work, and be competent without complaint” (Pipher 38-39). As we discussed in class, society sets women up for failure because they will never achieve perfection as perceived in the media. The problem with society’s image of perfection is that it doesn’t exist unless women obtain plastic surgery or are airbrushed and manipulated on a computer screen as witnessed in the Dove Evolution video where the woman was “fixed” by the computer to portray society’s definition of beauty. This distorted perception of beauty then becomes a reality to girls because they are unaware of society’s manipulation and the false misrepresentations of how society wants women to look or act.
In “Working out Intimacy,” Julie McLeod argues that society’s perception of women as caregivers has led women to make choices which please others rather than the self. For example, she discusses that within society, girls learn to become caring, emotional, and dependent, which then causes them to feel guilty or selfish when they want to fulfill their own needs because they are programmed to worry about other’s feelings. For instance, a girl who was not doing well in her mathematics class was afraid to ask her male teacher for help because she thought he would become upset if he knew that she didn’t understand the material. Therefore, she chose to remain in class with the same teacher and to receive bad grades rather than to confront him or switch different math teachers. If women are conditioned to worry about everyone else’s feelings instead of their own, then when do women find time to meet their individual needs?
Through the integration of history and the construction of the subject within the classroom, students will be able to challenge the power dynamics and the stereotypical roles set for them within a patriarchal society. Students need to recognize that the roles placed on women are formations of the way society believes that “women” should act and behave. Therefore, we need to condition students to deconstruct the messages presented to us within our culture, so that students are aware of society’s influence and pressure over them, so that they can decide for themselves how they want to live their lives. In order to bring awareness to the classroom, teachers need to have conversations about society’s power over individuals and a new curriculum needs to be developed where children are encouraged to deconstruct texts for hidden messages to see beyond society’s construction of women. Students should be presented with material that expresses the acceptance of women’s multiple identities and differences which could then be transferred to one another within the classroom. The curriculum should include:
Materials about media literacy to encourage students to deconstruct stereotypical roles in magazines, TV shows, music videos, billboards, and commercials.
Activities to promote acceptance of individual differences
Books that address multiple identities in a positive way
Pose problems to students in regards to relationships which include power dynamics in regards to race, gender, and sexuality and have the students come up solutions in a positive way (critical thinking)
If we continue to ignore history and the construction of the subject within discourse, we will continue to live in a society which promotes the white, heterosexual male and views all women as white, heterosexual, domestic and maternal beings, and sexual objects for men’s pleasure. Villaverde argues that “inequity, injustice, and discrimination exist because we continue to blur and obscure what produces them: (power and who wields it). A person, group, or ideology maneuvers power, and unless we discuss how power and its owner(s) are affected by the success and failure of its operation, social conditions cannot change effectively” (Villaverde 1). Therefore, individuals will remain confined to set norms, which are misrepresentations of the way in which individuals should act and behave, unless we create an awareness to challenge the roles set for us within society.
Events that promote a detour:
Teaching students to the test, rather than having conversations about how power dynamics affects individuals with society
Teachers who do not reflect upon past experiences and their influence over student interactions and relationships and its impact on knowledge production
A narrow-mindedness of the teacher to not incorporate feminist pedagogy in the classroom
Constraints and limitations from institutions, administrators, parents, community etc.
Britzman, D. and Pitt, A. (1996). Pedagogy and transference: Casting the past of learning into the presence of teaching. Theory into Practice, 35 (2): 117-123.
LaFrance, M. (2007). Embodying the subject: Feminist Theory and Contemporary Clinical Psychoanalysis. Feminist Theory, 8: 263-278.
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1994.
Villaverde, L. (2008). Feminist theories and education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Wittig, M. (1992). One is not born a woman. In The straight mind and other essays (pp. 9-20). Boston: Beacon Press.