The purpose of this page is to provide knowledge, spark interest, and provoke action on identity positions, politics, sexuality, transgender issues, masculinity, queer theories, and globalization. While these topics may appear disparate, each can be understood and explored within a larger feminist and pedagological theories discourse. Furthermore, while dominant discourse may often present each of these topics as stable and binary (e.g. one has a sexuality one’s whole life and it is either gay or straight), these concepts are actually interlocking, intersecting, and shifting. While recognizing that flexibility and fluidity, for political reason, sometimes we need to examine each concept individually, or at least focus on one while temporarily moving the others to the margins. We hope that you will read this blog with a post-structuralist and queer lens. Our ideas should be taken as pieces of a larger conversation; they are not absolute and should be challenged and reworked and seen as constantly in process.
Identity Positions, Transgender Issues, Sexuality, Queer Theory, Masculinity, Globalization…Why these matter….
Socially constructed expectations of roles, identity, and sexuality have created multiple norms in which society operates and educates. There are performance standards in identity, roles, and sexuality and when these performance standards are challenged, the individual or group operating outside of the expected become known as ‘other’. The question now becomes why is there ‘other’ and what occurs in the space in which this is explored?
All issues surrounding this topic are imperative to integrate into feminist pedagogies. Feminist theory has begun questioning “why, as a society, we focus on dichotomies (black and white, female and male, queer and straight, etc.) while ignoring the continuum of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, class, culture, language, and so on” (Villaverde, 2008, p 1)? When investigating identity positions, transgender, sexuality, queer theory, and masculinity socially constructed norms are questioned and this idea of continuum becomes more relevant and possible.
Categorizing individuals into a predictable performance outcome hinders individuals and groups of people in multiple facets. For one, those who do not ‘fit the mold’, of perceived ‘normal performance’ are outcasted from society and it prevents people from viewing the world through a lens other than the constructed norm. It fosters the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. However in this system the ‘others’ are becoming more prevalent, and it is time to deconstruct the walls separating and categorizing.
There is a critical need for queering these socially constructed norms. The result of viewing the functioning of the world through other lenses than the privileged is “a shifting [in] discipline focuses on questioning normative practices, whether these are based on sexuality, gender, roles, identities, or behaviors” (Villaverde, 2008, p. 77).
Engagement in this change of focus flips the world on its axis. The purpose of this engagement is to see individuals not from the vantage point of how the social world has constructed each of them but rather for who the person is on multiple continuums. The goal of queer theory is to “destabilize the accepted binaries of gender, identity, and sexuality…” and in essence to “debunk categories, structures, and institutionalizations” (Villaverde, 2008, p. 77). There is not ‘box’ to fit into, rather it is a fluid motion on varying continuums and individuals can adjust their own positioning based on their personal construction, not societies.
Heterosexism. What if we were all assumed to be homosexual instead of heterosexual? How would schools look? What would the engagement at social establishments include?
Kathleen Quinlivan and Shane Town’s bluntly state in their article, “Queer Pedagogy, Educational Practice, and Lesbian and Gay Youth” that “heteronormativitiy is like the air we breathe” (p. 510). It is everywhere in the world, including in schools. By its absence in conversation and curriculum, homosexuality is silenced in the school setting. When discussed in health classes sexuality is taught through the lenses of heterosexuality and its focus is reproduction. This reinforces the “minority and abnormal status of homosexuality within the curriculum” (p. 515). With this where do our youth find information about the continuum of sexuality? Silencing homosexuality and amplifying heterosexuality perpetuates the categorizing and exclusion of sexuality.
Masculinity and Gender Roles
Socially constructed masculinity seen through movies impact children’s viewpoints from a young age. What are these movie clips teaching about masculinity?
How were these viewpoints developed? The depiction of set dichotomies and no continuum present.
In The RoutledgeFalmer Reading in Gender Education (2006) Judith Butler’s article “Performative Acts and Gender Constitutions” (2003) lays out the gender binaries that exist. These binaries, and social construction of gender, result in an act of “obedience to an historically delimited possibilities” of how gender is expected to perform (p. 63). As a result a prescription on how to act, based on physical gender, is decided and males and females respond to this prescriptive standard. Children are exposed to these binaries at an early age and respond based on socially constructed norms.
A transgender child comes back from spring break and the local news tells the story. A continuum of gender is exposed and the stance of the community includes the words difference and diversity, not inclusiveness. Are the systems in place at the school to protect the transgendered child or the other children?
What do we do?
As feminist theorists, we have to shift our thinking and challenge the binaries that exist. Classrooms are an already created space in which this can begin to take place. Feminist classrooms support the investigation of social norms. To do so effectively the teacher performs a different role than authoritarian of the space therefore both teacher and student act as learners and educators (Macdonald & Sanchez, 2002, p. 7). In such a classroom there is a creation of communities of meaning which are “a complex of factors including social location, cultural identity, epistemic standpoint, and political convictions” (Macdonald & Sanchez, 2002, p. 11). When communities of meaning are created “identity markers” do not exist, but “shared experiences, ways of understanding, and political choices” become the methodology in which groups function (Macdonald & Sanchez, 2002, p. 11). Operating classroom spaces in a way that exploration of ideas from experiences rather than socially constructed norms, is a start to being inclusive and real about society.
What’s at stake if we continue to foster this spiraling social exclusion? Without knowledge of continuums that exist there is grave potential for continuous exclusion, derogatory remarks, and violence.
Butler, J. (2006). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. In M. Arnot, & M. Mac an Ghaill (Eds.), The routledgefalmer reader in gender and education (pp. 61-71). New York: Routledge.
DOHPittsburgh (2009, November 3). That’s so Gay- Heterosexism [Video clip]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUKu8jxGIfU
GoldenHSCsac (2008, October 24). Gender Roles- Interviews with Kids [Video clip]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWc1e3Nbc2g&feature=related
Macdonald, A., A. and Sanchez-Casal, S. (2002). Twenty-first century feminist classrooms: pedagogies of identity and difference. NY: Palgrave.
MarzuqVision (2008, February 12). 8 Year Old Boy Returning To School As A Girl [Video clip]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go2HHwEeums&feature=related
Quinlivan, K. & Town, S. (1999). Queer pedagogy, educational practice and lesbian and gay youth. Qualitative Studies in Education, 12(5), 509-524.
Sanjaynewton (2007, April 12). Sexim, Strength a nd Dominance: Masculinity in Disney Films [Video clip]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CWMCt35oFY
Villaverde, L., E. (2008). Feminist theories and education. NY: Peter Lang Publishing.
– A. J.
Theory to Practice in Higher Education Institutions
I approached the Feminist Theories and Education class from a different viewpoint than many of my fellow classmates. As I have noted before, I am not a teacher, and the limited experience I’ve had with teaching has been adult learners and/or within the realm of Higher Education. My Master’s Degree is in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education, therefore I have related most, if not all, of the subject matter covered in this class to a higher education setting. While fellow students have expounded upon their classroom experiences and their interactions with students and parents, I have pondered how these theories and the information these theories supply could be applied to the realm of student affairs.
As a Student Affairs Professional I will be working with a diverse group of students, most who are on the cusp of adulthood and independence. These young adults have come to college not only to get an education and to further their life goals, but also to find, challenge, change and/or solidify their identities. Their identities up to this point have been influenced and molded by the individuals who surrounded the students as they grew up, parents, family and friends. In the light of newly found freedom and knowledge, these college students now have the opportunity to truly identify themselves. One of the roles of a Student Affairs Professional is to aid/assist students in this transitional period.
For me, this is where I see the feminist theories, subtopics and pedagogical enactments coming into play. In order to truly relate to our young adult students, we must first examine where they have come from, where they are and where they want to go. No subtopic better exemplifies this transitional phase than the subtopic of identity positions, transgender, queer theory, masculinity and globalization. In the last couple decades, the number of college students who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) has grown, and these students are demanding, rightfully so, to be acknowledged and to be accepted in the college community. Therefore Student Affairs Professionals must ask themselves and their offices/departments; first, how do we address this group of students, second, how do we accommodate/accomplish the demands of this group of students, and third, how do we implement/enact these changes/actions.
First and foremost, we must carefully think through our method of addressing GLBT students. To do this we have to discard socially constructed binaries that dictate male/female, gay/straight, etc. and we must use identity and sexual identity development theories to understand our students. As with any group of students, one cannot make rash generalizations regarding the needs and desires of a group. The consideration must be made that each student is in a particular stage of development and his/her needs may differ significantly from other students. Therefore it is wise when addressing GLBT students to have a working knowledge of the differing needs/issues throughout the GLBT campus community.
Building on that thought, we turn to the second question, how can Student Affairs Professionals accommodate/accomplish the demands of GLBT students? Again, it is necessary to have knowledge regarding the issues facing the GLBT campus community. Whether there are issues of campus safety, situations in residence halls, exclusion from campus activities, or discrimination in classes, Student Affairs Professionals need to be abreast of what issues/problems GLBT students are facing on campus. With this knowledge they can then make efforts and arrangements to rectify oppressive or discriminatory practices. At this point, it is a simple matter of arming oneself with information and not being afraid to be an advocate for a GLBT student or students. By working with other student affairs departments such as Campus Police, Housing & Residence Life and Campus Recreation/Activities and working through student organizations such as Student Government, a Student Affairs Professional can begin the process of rectifying oppressive or discriminatory practices.
For the most part, Student Affairs Professionals, unlike faculty members, do not occupy teaching positions in classrooms, therefore an enactment for them is not as simple as students reading particular works of literature, or discussing personal experiences in small groups. Student Affairs Professionals must think outside of the classroom and even go so far as to have campus wide enactments. For example, Student Affairs Professionals may plan information sessions, guest speakers and activities that could range in scale from residence halls to campus events. Possible events could be: Campus Police giving a presentation to PRIDE (GLBT student group) on self defense and safety precautions, Housing and Residence Life holding monthly meetings in each residence hall regarding minority students, Campus Recreation/Activities planning GLBT themed Activities and Student Government advocating for and passing any campus legislation that seeks to protect and promote the rights of GLBT students.
The Student Affairs Professional is able to accomplish these exchanges, interactions and enactments by viewing situations through the lens of feminist theories which “expos[e] gender inequity, politics, and rights, [and] help us to rethink interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships of power” (Villaverde, 2008, p.52). Also the use of queer studies and queer theory, help Student Affairs Professionals better understand the students and the students’ issues for which they are advocating. Queer studies and queer theory “focus on questioning normative practices, whether these are based on sexuality, gender, roles, identities, or behaviors” (Villaverde, 2008, p. 77). Where these two theories intersect, is the exact point at which Student Affairs Professionals need to take advantage of the opportunity to act and enact on behalf of GLBT students. This intersectionality provides a chance to review the positions of power and privilege throughout the college campus. Who wields power on a college campus, and what privilege(s) does/did this person or this group of persons draws from in order to gain and/or hold that power? Is the oppression and discrimination coming from the power-holders intentional or inadvertent? Who or what does it take to challenge power-holders and change the binary way(s) of thinking and conducting business? These are questions that are not easily answered, but one thing is certain, as college students struggle to define themselves and their futures, Student Affairs Professionals must take responsibility to investigate and eliminate any/all obstacles that may hinder these students from accomplishing their goals.
Villaverde, L.E. (2008). Feminist theories and education. NY: Peter Lang Publishing
Critical Synthesis – T.H.
Why is it necessary to implement this subtopic into feminist pedagogies?
In “Feminist Reflections on the Pedagogical Relevance of Identity,” Susan Sánchez-Casal and Amie A. MacDonald (2002) assert that in the feminist classroom, educators must “organize teaching practices and democratize and enhance the production of liberatory knowledge by engaging in the realist view that identities are politically and epistemically significant, while also being variable, nonessential and radically historical” (p. 1). Feminist classrooms implement the idea prevalent in some feminist theories that the personal is political. A dominant image of feminist classrooms is a passive space in which students share their experiences, unchallenged and without analysis. Everyone feels safe and warm. However, some feminist theorist and educators argue that the act of politicizing the personal is an uncomfortable and contested process. “Feminist education,” writes bell hooks (1989), “is and should be a place where there is a sense of struggle, where there is a visible acknowledgement of the union of theory and practice” (p. 51). Sound pedagogies that actively challenge hegemonic frameworks must provide students with the tools to abolish the disconnection of the classroom and “real life.” Their real lives and experiences are the catalysts for the creation of new knowledge (Sánchez-Casal and MacDonald 2002, p. 5).
Each of our themes – collectively and individually – expands feminist pedagogies in crucial and exciting ways. The theories are grounded in the negotiation of identities and positioning of all the individuals in the learning space (students and teachers). Queer theories consciously aim “to destabilize the accepted binaries of gender, identity, and sexuality and the assumption that the self is singular in identification or that it neatly follows a hierarchy of social factors” (Villaverde 2008, p. 77). The educational space becomes heated because it is dependent on the assertion and claiming of contested and constructed identities. However the creation and acknowledgement of these identities are rooted in history and social factors that cannot be ignored. Sexuality may be historically and socially constructed, yet homophobia and heteronormativity exist, and students and teachers, regardless of their sexuality, must confront that reality. As Nancy Sorkin Rabinowtiz (2002) argues, the feminist classroom must simultaneously allow space to recognize the fluidity of identities and provide greater access and visibility to groups that have been invisible in curriculum (p. 183).
A powerful example of feminist pedagogy enriched by these themes is Marlon Riggs’s final documentary, Black Is… Black Ain’t. In this work, Riggs explored the complexities of Black identity. He employs Sandoval’s concept of differential consciousness (Villaverde 2008, p. 4) to masterfully negotiate a discussion that dispels Black essentialism and yet explores the historical and social implications of living in the United States as a Black person. The result is an engaging and thought-provoking piece that acknowledges and embraces multiple manifestations of Blackness while challenging racism, sexism and homophobia.
What does this look like in pedagogical contexts? How is it lived?
hooks (1989) suggests that “students who want to learn hunger for a space where they can be challenged intellectually.” They are inhibited by “a crisis of meaning, unsure about what has value in life,” and they search for “a dialectical context where there is serious and rigorous exchange” (p. 51). Queer pedagogies encourage students to question those practices that normalize heterosexuality and pathologize other manifestations and explorations of sexuality (Quinlivan and Town 1999, 510). Pedagogies that explore the intersections of identity positions create spaces for students who have been silenced by dominant discourses to find their voice and develop their own theories with the goal of dismantling dominant structures and frameworks. With the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008, there was initial backlash by White gays and lesbians of the Black voters who had turned out in record numbers because of the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. Dan Savage, syndicated gay columnist, had a particularly vitriolic response that marginalized Blacks who identified as gay and lesbian and blamed African Americans as the primary cause of the passage of the law. Almost immediately antiracist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic blogs challenged Savage’s racist and essentializing views and responded with statistical evidence that disproved his thesis. For weeks the online debate was fierce and provocative, and although I have never seen a formal apology or retraction from Savage, he did appear later on the Colbert Report whistling a different tune.
Once scholars and teachers challenge the binaries and hierarchical structure established by dominant discourses, their analysis can strive to create a democratized space that can evoke real political change. For example, Mexican artist Dulce Pinzón’s piece The Real Story of Superheroes problematizes the dominant debate about immigration reform in post-9/11 United States. Pinzón critiques the concept of hero, and highlights the global implication of immigration in the US. She created the project “to pay homage to these brave and determined men and women that somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper.” Similar analysis, although not explicitly stated, helped counter recent racist and xenophobic uproar over a mural painted outside of a Arizona elementary school depicting children of color as the focus of the piece.
In “Lesbianism, 2000,” Cheryl Clarke (2002) revisited an article she had written twenty years earlier in This Bridge Called My Back entitled “Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance.” In the newer version, Clarke reaffirms her belief that her identity is a political act. She also acknowledges the theoretical developments over the two decades that challenge essentialism. Regardless, Clarke writes, “Lesbianism has emerged at this time in my life as more of a strategy and less of a hard-and-fixed-identity-politics-that-I-am-going-to-be-no-matter-how-it-gets-deconstructed. One never knows how one may have to ‘live as a lesbian’ trafficking in conservative-family-maniacal U.S. capitalist hegemony, do one?” (p. 234). All of the themes on this page can be viewed and used in this light. The implementation of any theory must be change – change in dominant structures and the elimination of injustices. The young women in the following clip may or may not recognize the boundaries implicit in the label “lesbian,” yet their experiences and actions have undoubtedly altered the homophobic structures in their schools and communities.
Clarke, C. (2002). Lesbianism, 2000. In G. E. Anzaldua, & A. Keating (Eds.), This bridge we call home: Radical visions for transformation (pp. 232-239). New York: Routledge.
hooks, b. (1989). Toward a revolutionary feminist pedagogy. In Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking black (pp. 49-54). Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Pinzon, D. (n.d.). Superheroes. Retrieved June 18, 2010, from http://www.dulcepinzon.com/superheroes02.htm
Quinlivan, K., & Town, S. (1999). Queer pedagogy, educational practice and lesbian and gay youth. Qualitative studies in education , 12 (5), 509-524.
Rabinowitz, N. S. (2002). Queer Theory and Feminist Pedagogy. In A. A. MacDonald, & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-first century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 175-200). New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Sanchez-Casal, S., & MacDonald, A. A. (2002). Feminist reflections on the pedagogical relevance of identity. In A. A. Macdonald, & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-first century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 1-28). New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Villaverde, L. E. (2008). Feminist theories and education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
— T. H.
This past school year, I developed a wonderful friendship with one of my team members, Joy (names changed). Joy is a Black woman who grew up in the South. She is married and has two elementary-school-aged daughters. Her parents, who both died last year, would have been considered in W.E.B Du Bois’ Talented Tenth. They were both highly educated; they each belonged to a highly established Black fraternity and sorority; Joy’s father was president at a historically Black college for many years. Joy’s parents raised their children in a household very conscious of and learned in African American history, and Joy, along with a couple of her brothers, attended HBCUs. Joy and I have had many conversations about race and have debated essentialist ideology versus race-as-construction ideology. I respect Joy as a professional colleague and also as a personal friend. She is warm, thoughtful, charming, and hilarious. I will not be teaching next year, and Joy has accepted a position at another school. I have been faced with the dilemma of saying goodbye to professional colleagues, knowing that I will not be in any further contact with the vast majority (if not all) of them. When I began teaching in North Carolina, I researched how easy was to be out as gay in the public school system. I found that it was not – North Carolina public schools are nonunionized; as a state employee, I am not guaranteed domestic partner benefits; and, in recent years, teachers in the area have been fired for being gay. I therefore decided not to be out at school. In the three years at this current school, I have told only one other teacher. While valuing the relationship Joy and I have developed over the past year, I knew that a friendship outside of school would not continue if I did not tell her that I was a lesbian; I decided to come out to her before we left for the summer.
Enactment and Theoretical Reflections
In the essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” in Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde (1982) wrote “what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it abused and misunderstood” (p. 40). In some ways Lorde spoke from a privileged position. Yes, she identified as a woman and Black, yet she had a wide community that allowed her space to define herself, and “who sustained” her through her experiences with cancer, and who “shared [with her] a war against the tyrannies of silence” (p. 41). The communities to which I belong would not be able to sustain me if I lost my job or if work became so hostile that I would not want to stay there. I can easily justify staying closeted at work by saying that my home life has nothing to do with my professional life. The manifestation of my sexuality is in no way fixed and unchanging. However, my hyper-vigilant silence about it in my school reifies the dominant discourse of that, one, essentializes my lesbianism, and two, frames it as abnormal or “other.” However, the process of “coming out” also reifies those same notions. I have been “hiding” something from Joy throughout our relationship, and I felt dishonest because I was not open about this aspect of my life. Therefore, I believed that we would not be able to have an intimate relationship that would sustain my departure if I did not come out. So therefore, as I was talking to Joy, I had to first come out and then challenge the idea that the process of coming out defined my entire identity.
I have this running joke with my partner in which at random points in our lives I will turn to her and say “We are lesbians.” It is a joke because within our home that statement means practically nothing. It does not determine who feeds the dog or whether we should cook or order out. However, the statement “we are lesbians” meant a lot when introducing her to my parents, or buying a house in which we could not get a loan together, or thinking about adoption in a state that does not explicitly legalize gay adoptions, or when one of my students calls someone gay in a derogatory way, or when sitting in Joy’s car and telling her that if she wants me to return her phone calls after I stop working at the school, she needs to know and accept that I am gay. At that those points, my lesbianism becomes a phenomenon and politicized. In “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” in The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Gender and Education, Judith Butler (2006) argues that although gender is performance, “it is primarily political interest which creates the social phenomena of gender itself,” and therefore Butler agrees with Gayatri Spivak that “feminists need to rely on an operational essentialism, a false ontology of women as universal in order to advance a feminist political program” (p. 69). Although I only said to Joy, “I am a lesbian” what I implied was “Stop assuming I am straight, because in doing so you are making other false assumptions about my identity that do not truly reflect how I define my ‘self;’ if you cannot handle this bit of news we will not be able to have a ‘true’ friendship.”
Although I have come out to hundreds of people in my lifetime (and will probably to come out hundreds of more times) this particular case was really painful – I was genuinely afraid. If Joy rejected my friendship, I would lose one of the few friends I have in the area who is a Black woman. Although we have acknowledged our different experiences under the nomenclature of “Black woman,” we have bonded over that positioning in a way that fits Butler’s summary of strategic essentialism.
Joy’s response was interesting—her reaction surprised me because the first question she asked was whether my partner was White. It seemed as if in some way she was accepting my sexuality in part by trying to hold steady my racial identity. She said this was something she knew she “had to work on,” and then the conversation veered to interracial relationships, mostly heterosexual ones. I felt the conversation was supposed to confirm my Blackness in light of my revealed sexuality. Again, Joy and I have talked about race, the social construction of race and the different experiences of those who identify as a particular race. I have always held contrary opinions than Joy, but perhaps that was in light of a perceived heterosexuality. Did my identity change with the knowledge of my sexuality (not just the presence, because I had already been gay even if she did not know it)? Furthermore did my partner’s racial identity give me more of a pass into Joy’s conception of Blackness? I do not know how she would have assessed her test anyway – we still had different perspectives. For example, in hearing about her brother who is married to a White woman, I maintained that the issue seemed to be more with how other people were reacting to the marriage, not the act of the marriage itself, whereas Joy was trying to convince me that the act itself was the issue. She later admitted that perhaps her own attitude was no better than her sister-in-law’s father who refused to attend the wedding. We then discussed how our own individual histories affect our perceptions and actions, and how that highlights positioning and power. For instance, she told me about how at the wedding her mother, who was in late stages of dementia, cried out “Oh Lord, what is he doing? They are going to kill us all” when Joy’s brother took off his wife’s garter at the reception.
Our conversation lasted for hours. We were cleaning our rooms and finishing end-of-year closeout activities. At the end of the day, our interactions did not seem much altered by our conversations; I was still comfortable with Joy, and she seemed equally so with me. I do not know how our conversations affected Joy, but for me it was a positive experience. Throughout our discussions I tried to observe my own performative acts as woman, friend, lesbian, African American and all the combinations thereof. There was not great transformation – I was not more a lesbian because I came out to a colleague. Perhaps, however, for both Joy and myself, our conversations were, as Bronwyn Davies (2006) suggests in “Identity, Abjection and Otherness,” a process in which we found “the gaps and tensions in existing dominant discourses,” and “[subjected] them to critique… thus [transforming] the codes themselves by making them more visible and open to scrutiny” (p. 81). Such an act mirrors Lorde’s concept of transforming silence into language and action.
Butler, J. (2006). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. In M. Arnot, & M. Mac an Ghaill (Eds.), The routledgefalmer reader in gender and education (pp. 61-71). New York: Routledge.
Davies, B. (2006). Identity, abjection and otherness: Creating the self, creating difference. In M. Arnot, & M. Mac an Ghaill (Eds.), The routledgefalmer reader in gender and education (pp. 72-90). New York: Routledge.
Lorde, A. (1984). The transformation of silence into language and action. In Sister outsider: Essays and speeches (pp. 40-44). Berkeley: Crossing Press.
— T. H.
I visited a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) school to conduct an informal evaluation on the level of implementation. As part of this evaluation I walk around the school interacting with students and adults. I ask a standard set of questions to students and adults in order to provide feedback on their implementation of PBIS. As I walked the hallway of one elementary school I witnessed two third grade students, a male and female, arrive at a door at the same time. The female student opened the door, walked out and the male student followed. A nearby female teacher walking behind the students approached the two individual students. She asked the male student why he did not open the door for the female student. He shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t know”. The female teacher instructed the two students to go back to the same door and practice having the male student open the door for the female student and allow her to proceed first.
Included in The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Gender and Education (2006) is an essay written by Judith Butler entitled “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An essay in phenomenology an feminist theory”. It through this work I was able to make the connection of performance and social construction of gender performance in an elementary school setting.
In this article Butler challenges readers to “consider gender…as…an ‘act’, as it were, which is both intentional and performative…” (p. 63). In this particular case, the male and female students were asked to perform their gender in the routine of opening of the door.
This continued performance becomes has potential to become habitual routines as result of “obedience to…sustained and repeated corporeal project”, or the continuous act (p. 63). When “the body suffers a certain cultural construction…that structure[s] the way the body is culturally perceived” it continues to act and be viewed in that same manner (p. 65). In this case the male student practiced seeing a female and opening the door. In the same manner the female student practiced waiting for the male student to open the door for her to walk through.
In viewing the scenario I asked the teacher if a male holding the door for a female was a taught expectation of the school. She responded that it was not, but it was important for the boy to show respect to the girl. I asked her how holding a door was showing respect for another person. She stopped and said, “huh, I guess it is being kind to the person”.
I realize that the teacher’s viewpoint of the male and female student is through the lens of socially constructed gender and performance of gender. In this notion the performance of gender is a result of social norms that male and female are “intended” to perform. Tantalizing with the notion that holding a door is an act of kindness rather than respect, disconnects gender with the act of holding a door.
This one particular encounter has me questioning the types of behavioral expectations schools set for the students to follow. I am confident that posted and taught expectations do not include socially constructed gender roles. However, my attention is now focused on the informal interactions between individuals. What are the unspoken socially constructed norms being practiced?
In future PBIS trainings, as well as working with teams, the teaching of gender performance will be infused. Introducing teams to gender as a socially constructed normative has potential for decentralizing gender binaries through performance in schools.
Butler, J. (2006). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. In M. Arnot, & M. Mac an Ghaill (Eds.), The routledgefalmer reader in gender and education (pp. 61-71). New York: Routledge.
– A. J.
For this pedagogical enactment, I read Chapter 10 in The Routledge Falmer Reader in Gender and Education. This chapter, titled “Lads and Laughter, Humour and the Production of Heterosexual Hierarchies”, was written by Mary Jane Kehily and Anoop Nayak.
The brief and simplistic synopsis of this chapter is that over a period of two years, the authors evaluated a group of students, between the ages of 15 and 16, in a working class secondary school in the West Midlands of the United Kingdom. The authors observed that adolescent males use various types of humor to situate/validate their own heterosexual masculinity and to question/downplay/invalidate the heterosexual masculinity of other males. Also, the use of humor by these adolescent males is used to intimidate and harass their female classmates.
For me, this chapter was easy to understand and internalize because I have been an adolescent male and I have been the recipient/subject of jokes, and ridicule by other adolescent males. There is a feeling of shame and worthlessness when you cannot live up to the macho image of your male classmates. These feelings are exponentially increased when the joking and ridicule expands beyond one or two super-macho guys; other individuals, other groups perceive the signs of weakness (shyness, non-masculine, effeminate, etc.) and add to the deluge of criticism. Put simply, this is nothing more than bullying. The epidemic of bullying seems to be reaching an all time high in our society and with the accessibility of the internet, bullies are now able to reach a larger audience than ever before. Because of bullying there have been and are tremendous/dangerous results for those being bullied. We have seen/heard recently where some students have taken their own lives because of being bullied. We have also heard reports of students being pushed to the point of taking firearms to school to protect themselves or to eliminate those doing the bullying. For these reasons, bullies deserve no tolerance in school, nor in society.
As a pedagogical enactment, I would have to argue that this problem/situation, while it manifests in classrooms and schoolyards, actually extends beyond teacher/professor control. I would posit that the problem/situation of certain adolescent males using humor (bullying) to validate their own heterosexual masculinity while in turn invalidating the masculinity of weaker males and harassing females is a family/community/society task. By this I mean that teachers alone cannot correct a problem such as this, they can contribute to the correction of the problem, but the mentality that is feeding the problem extends far beyond the teacher’s realm of control. When adolescent males are seeing this ultra macho behavior being celebrated on television, and in movies, music, video games, and magazines, it is only natural that they will endeavor to copy this type of behavior because it is heralded by society as normal, correct, and preferential. A man is supposed to be a man, and this masculine identity is established through various rites of passage. My argument is that if we expect these adolescent males/young men to act differently, to drop the excessive masculinity that they wrap themselves in, then we as a society need to stop upholding/feeding this mentality and image of the macho man. Just as women for years have argued against beauty pageants, fashion magazines and Barbie dolls as being damaging/detrimental to the self-image of girls/women, so too should we contest the masculine images the media puts forth as normal, correct and preferential for boys/men.
Kehily, M.J. and Nayak, A. (2006). Lads and laughter: humor and the production of heterosexual hierarchies. In M. Arnot and M. Mac an Ghaill (Eds.), The routledge falmer reader in gender and education (pp.131-146). NY: Routledge Press.
The school year is over and teachers and students left for their summer vacation last week. Now it is my time to reflect on what occurred this past school year. At the beginning of the school year, I was totally opposed to the idea of co-teaching in a mainstream classroom. I have to confess that I felt like another student since I had never been in a regular classroom or seen other students (whites and African-Americans) interact in a regular classroom setting. So being in a classroom and feeling first like a student of color was a tremendous eye opener and life experience. During the first semester, I was basically observing two Civics and Economics teach a totally teacher-centered class. Since this subject has a state test, students were taught using a banking system where their cognitive and critical thinking skills were ignored. As a critical thinker, I realized that boys, especially students of color, had the most difficult time in that class. Most of them presented behavioral and low performance problems which the teacher attributed to their minimum attention span.
What the system and teachers ignore deals with the fact that our Eurocentric curriculum is less appealing to boys, especially students of color. Some of them claim learning the same topics from elementary school all the way through high school. I still remember one African American girl stating, “We always learn about slavery and segregation from elementary school through high school.” But what is it that even when students of color feel that they have been learning the same curriculum from elementary school to high school, they still represent the biggest academic gap and lowest performance group? Lynn Raphael Reed (1999), in her article Troubling Boys and Disturbing Discourses on Masculinity and Schooling: A Feminist Exploration of Current Debates and Interventions Concerning Boys in School, argues that low scores of socially defined students require more investigation and that they do not represent underachievement per se (p. 35). I agree with Reed’s position. I remember that the second class that I had to co-teach where there were five African American boys and six Latino boys. Most of these boys had behavioral problems as well as low academic scores. They were constantly either sent to the office for misbehavior or fell asleep in class. When they came back from their suspension time, they were even worse. They did not get any type of intervention or counseling that could help them understand what their responsibilities and expectations from school are and the teacher never took his time to find a different way to teach them. By the end the semester, three African American students dropped out of school, one was sent to another class for misbehavior issues, one stayed in the class for he was diagnosed ADD. Out of all the African American boys only one passed the class and with the highest score. However, this student almost never paid attention in class and never liked to take notes from the board. Later on, I discovered that he liked to read a lot and also had a very supportive mother. On the other hand, most Latino boys passed the class; three had to re-take the exam. Finally, one did not pass the class. I am so sure that passing a multiple choice exam does not mean that students become lifelong learners. Reed (1999) suggests claims that, “Ethnicity differences in achievement are assimilated into a universal discourse of raising standards” (p. 35). Even though Reed’s article discusses issues related to Australian students, I found a lot of commonalities in the American school systems. Students of color lack of positive role models at home and in school. They need to see and hear successful stories of people who look like them. They also need to realize that education is good and that resistance to education is not the answer. But most importantly, students of color need to see themselves and their cultures embedded in the school curriculum. While using a feminist pedagogy approach, Reed (1999) argues that teachers need to engage their students in critical learning dialogues where students, especially boys and girls of color, can find the safe spaces where they can see themselves, analyze their responsibilities, interact with others, and envision other ways to be (p. 45). She suggests that having critical literacy allows people to understand how cultures and discourses shape the body, desire and how deeply it affects personal knowledge (Reed, 1999, p. 46). Finally, it is important to understand that a school curriculum that denies the presence of students with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and life experiences is a school at-risk. My responsibility as a teacher will be to negotiate through open dialogues with mainstream classroom teachers on some other avenues to produce knowledge in our students of color, especially boys.
Reed, L. R. (1999). Troubling boys and disturbing discourses on masculinity and schooling: A
feminist exploration of current debates and interventions concerning boys in school. Gender and Education, 11, 1. In Arnot, M. and Mack and Ghaill, M. (2006). The Routledge Falmer Reader in Gender and Education. N.Y. Routhteledge Press. (pp. 33-48).
CRITICAL SYNTHESIS-QUEER THEORIES AS PART OF FEMINIST PEDAGOGY
In order to address the importance of including queer theories within feminist pedagogy, I would like to share part of my experience as a high school teacher and how relevant this issue in our schools and communities. Four years ago I was called to the main office at school to interpret for a Latino family. On my way, I thought it was Latino boy who had gotten into trouble or something similar. When I entered the conference room, I realized it was a Latina girl, her parents, and the school counselor. Soon, I realized that these parents had a problem with their daughter, so they needed somebody from the school to help them fix it. First, the girl’s mother started talking to the counselor about the problem. Her only daughter (I will refer to her as Laura) used to have a best friend (I will refer to her as Clara) who they came to love deeply as one of their own. Clara used to go to Laura’s house to hang out or to play soccer. Sometimes Clara would even spend her weekends at Laura’s house. Everything seemed to be a normal sisterhood between the two girls. However, one day Clara was caught by the police trafficking drugs from Mexico. Unfortunately, Clara’s parents used her as a mule to smuggle drugs illegally into the country. Clara ended up in jail for a couple of years, but it did not stop Laura from visiting Clara every other week. One day, while Laura’s mother was cleaning her daughter’s room she found some letters that Clara had written to Laura while she was in jail. During the conference at school, her mother showed us those letters that talked about how much in love Clara was with Laura. It was clear that Clara and Laura were having a very close relationship beyond a “normal” sisterhood. Laura’s parents confronted and interrogated her about this bizarre situation. Laura tried to be very honest and confessed to her parents her feelings for Clara. Laura tried to explain to her parents that she had been having same sex attractions since she was very little. She wanted her parents to understand that she was a lesbian, but her parents did not accept Laura’s sexual orientation. On the contrary, Laura’s parents thought that is was Clara’s influence that led their daughter to start behaving that way. As a result, her parents wanted the school to help them solve their daughter’s problem. I realized that coming from a Latino culture it was even more difficult for parents to address this problem while raising an only child (Laura) in the United States.
At the time I witnessed Laura and Clara’s affair, I was not aware of the word “queer” as a theory. I was socially constructed that a person could either be normal or deviant, straight or gay. It was during my doctorate studies that I heard one of my professors using the expression, “I am queer.” I did not know what to do or how to analyze her confession about her sexual orientation. In “Queer theory and feminist pedagogy,” in Twenty-First century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference, Nancy Sorkin Robinowitz (2002) argues that “Queer may sound pejorative to those who are not aware or its new meaning or for those who are aware but don’t accept that usage and cringe at the echoes of shame it sets off” (p.178). In my case, it was the first time I heard the word “queer” in academia having a theoretical framework. Later on, I decided to purchase a book called “Queer Latino Testimonio, Keith Haring, and Juanito Xtravaganza” by Arnaldo Cruz-Malave. Even though this was a new topic, I found myself engaged in queer theories. As one of my summer 2010 courses, I decided to take Feminist Theories and Education with Professor Leila V. Villaverde. As part of the many topics to be addressed in the course there was one called Queer Theory. After Dr. Villaverde’s introduction about the course and our opportunity to address any of the sub-topics within feminist theory, I decided to dig into queer theory.
In her book Feminist Theories and Education, Villaverde (2008) states that queer studies question normative practices such as sexuality, gender roles, identities, or behaviors (p.77). In other words, queer theory analyzes how discourse forces are constructed and what is behind the prejudices and misconceptions. Societies are constructed based on heterocentric molds. For example, a child who decides to wear his mother’s shoes is probably gay or a girl who decides to wear boxers is considered a dyke. Since sexuality is socially constructed, being labeled straight is even worse in traditional communities like Laura’s where even reproduction is controlled. Rabinowitz (2002) states that a queer perspective includes many different kinds of sexualities, problematizes the subject of sexuality and reveals structures of heteronormativity (p.183). Including queer theory into feminist pedagogy allows students to discuss binaries of gender, identity, sexuality, and the assumptions of a singular self. It encourages students to realize that identities are not fixed; cannot be categorized or labeled since they consist of many components that do not allow them to be characterized as a static identity. Villaverde (2002) argues that “Queer studies offer new possibilities for theorizing the ontology of being and carving out spaces for hybridity, elasticity, and mestizaje while simultaneously pushing for a rethinking of gender and sexual norms” (p.78). None of my students, Clara and Laura had “unnatural” behaviors, behaviors that are usually socially constructed; however, they both developed their own sexual identities. Clara’s parents would probably never think that their child was a lesbian if they had never found those letters probably. Maybe Clara would never find her agency to open up to her parents and confess her sexual preference. Unfortunately, Clara’s parents thought that Clara’s queerness would be “fixed” after a couple of sessions with a family counselor.
Queer studies as part of the feminist pedagogy opens the learning spaces for the teacher and a student to theorize and expand normative and deviant identities since it is grounded in gender and sexuality. After having a brief introduction to queer studies, some questions have aroused my thinking. Is sexual orientation natural or socially constructed? Do you need to be called self- queer to teach queer theories? How important is it to include queer experiences in a classroom to theorize queerness and open new spaces for the Other to voice himself/herself? How can school teachers and counselors address queerness in schools without being labeled or criticized by others who call themselves “normal”? How can society understand that a person’s identities are not always static and singular? Using a queer theory stand point, how can people understand that there are multiple sexualities and not only two? Queer studies encourage interrogation about human identities and behaviors. Like Laura and Clara, many other students in my school are still fighting for being accepted as they truly feel not how they look in front of others. Many students hide their sexual orientations because of their fears of being rejected or bullied. Unfortunately, our school system does not address the issue of homosexuality does not exist in our curriculum or some co-workers do not feel that they need to address this topic in class. As a graduate student, I feel the need to address issues of sexuality into the program, especially feminist pedagogy where people can share their personal experiences and concerns and then theorize and develop an action plan to provoke social change.
Rabinowitz, N.S. (2002). Queer theory and feminist pedagogy. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-
Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference. (pp. 174-200). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Villaverde, L. (2008). Feminist theories and education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.