In a digitally complex world and society in which we live, educators must consider all forms of diversity and all forms of learning and communication. Within feminist pedagogy one must consider the implications of identity and gender as related to online environments: distance learning, social networking, second life, etc. This pedagogy implicates the need to consider how one identifies oneself in a virtual space or ‘real’ space—constructed or not. Because children are familiar with and exposed to online life on a daily basis, using it in the classroom can enhance not only course content but also interaction and understanding between students who may not have the opportunity to connect outside of that space.
Though cyberspace offers a disembodied experience, this does not mean that traditional stereotypes and gender roles do not exist. What should occur for equity to take place is to change the current patriarchal relations in cyberspace. An increase in the number of women and minorities accessing the internet is not the solution; instead all users must have agency to change the current power structure.
Also what, of ourselves, do we leave behind and what do we gain when we engage in cyber-life? What happens, for instance, to physicality and life-force? Do they travel with us into our virtual identities and the representations we create for ourselves in places like Second Life? Can we “represent” our personhood virtually in ways that carry our humanity with it? With the proliferation of video games, blogs, social networking sites and chat rooms, it becomes important for adults and for the children in their care to learn how to take advantage of these potentially useful resources in ways that retain our humanity while expanding it.
For this enactment, let me set the stage. I am the character in a play—one that seems a little surreal as I tell it. I am the main character—the protagonist—so I think.
Have you ever walked into a room in which you felt that everyone was looking right at you because you were the ‘other’ in the room? You were different? You looked different? You walked differently? No one really knew if you were different—it was just that you appeared different? I have. Recently, this happened to me twice. Once was in a gas station, and this is the one I will describe. I stopped at this particular gas station because I needed fuel. I was in an unfamiliar town and stopped at the nearest gas station. When I pulled up to the pump, I realized there were bars on the doors and windows of the station, and other customers (at least I think they were store customers) were standing in the corners of the parking lot. A few customers actually entered the store. At this instant, I felt that I crossed a border—into unfamiliar territory.
I continued to pump my gas and went inside to pay. Inside there was a wall of bullet proof glass between the patrons and the attendants. There were several customers in line purchasing beverages in small brown paper bags. Two customers to my right—fully clad in body piercing and tattoos—purchasing pay-as-you-go minutes for their cell phone. One customer arrived at the line to check out at the same time I did…I gave her the nod to go in front of me. She sheepishly stepped in front of me and shyly uttered ‘thank you’. I was proud of allowing her to step in front of me. I felt a sense of brotherly (sisterly) love….
I continued to stand in line patiently waiting my turn to pay. My mind was reeling (I was actually praying for my safety). I was, to be quite honest, a little nervous. You see, I walked into this place dressed in heals, a black dress suit, my blonde hair pulled back neatly in a pony tail.
At that moment, I became fully aware of my whiteness. Along with that whiteness came an inner conflict of who am I? Do I belong here? I was experiencing a bit of an identity crisis—and now that I reflect upon that experience—a struggle between power and privilege.
I graciously allowed ‘another’ to step up in line in front of me…I helped her. Or did I? I was the privileged character in this act—the protagonist. The one in control of the situation—or was I?
I have never given much thought to my whiteness—to power and privilege—until recently. I have always experienced life as a middle -class white, heterosexual, married, professional woman. I have never thought so much about what comes with my whiteness and my positionality.
Upon studying feminist theory, I realize that study requires change. Any study requires “active interpretation and ownership…so that knowledge is converted into strategies for praxis” (Villaverde, p.5). But what is my praxis? What is praxis? As Villaverde describes it, it is a cycle of critical reflection and action that translates into transformation.
I must no longer look through a mirrored lens with the reflection always of me. That day in the gas station—there was nothing happening there that was about me or privilege. It was just simply about people living together in a world full of diversity. I was the one that was different. But, I think I was the only one who cared. In my mind, I was acting upon the perceived privilege in my head.
Therein lies the issue. How can I be an effective educator if I don’t realize what is happening within my own self? If I don’t step aside for a moment and seek to understand others and their positionality, or lack thereof, and not just my own?
To enact upon this experience, I must continue to reflect upon my praxis and my positionality. I know that how this plays out is critical in the classroom. I must never not pay attention to others, who they are, where they are from…who I am, where I am from. “It is just as important to recognize forces to which one is not yielding as it is to recognize forces by which one is being shaped or immobilized” (Villaverde, p.10).
Someone told me recently, ‘seek to understand, before seeking to be understood’.
The day in the gas station made me feel uncomfortable. Have there been days that someone was near me and felt the same uneasiness about their own position and identity? This has changed me. The way I think about others—who they are—their identities. Not in binary terms of me and them, but of us as people.
Jill’s Blog–a call for pedagogical change in this digital world
The theory of feminist pedagogy specifically is relatively new to me; however, basic tenets of good teaching and good instruction are not so foreign. What I see within feminist pedagogy are the basics of accepting, recognizing, and acting upon diversity; seeing differences and multiple identities that surround us; creating environments or spaces within the classroom that are safe; recognizing that class dynamics are changed by the way we teach and interact with students. Relative to ‘good teaching’, I recognize that all of this aligns to respectful classrooms, differentiated instruction based on readiness levels and interest, and 21st Century skills of teaming, collaboration, and participatory learning.
But what does all of this have to do with virtual gender, technology, and globalization?
As 21st Century educators, we all are faced with functioning within a digitally enhanced world—personally and professionally. This world entails multi-dimensional implications for learning: how do we incorporate technology into learning? How does technology affect identity? Agency? Communities of meaning? Therefore, I pose two questions: How does feminist pedagogy influence the classroom? And, further, how can feminist pedagogy influence hybrid, blended, or totally online learning environments? Within these questions, I also pose concerns about identity, relationships, and community that are created/constructed via online environments: texting, social networking, virtual worlds, etc.
First of all, classrooms interacting with or without technology should recognize the multiple identities of all the learners in the classroom. Classrooms grounded in feminist pedagogy should emphasize the need for student voice, community, collaboration, empowerment, and action (Villaverde 2002). These classrooms should allow students from all backgrounds, abilities, disabilities, identities, gender, sexual orientation, etc. to have a space in which learning is a shared, participatory, experiential process and knowledge that is constructed among peers and colleagues. Knowledge is not imparted only by the teacher.
Chick and Hassel, in their article “Don’t Hate Me Because I’ Virtual: Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom”, point out that any classroom and specifically a classroom with online interactions should be and can be a collaborative, participatory environment. They argue, “Feminist pedagogy isn’t just applicable to many different disciplines; it’s also applicable to nontraditional learning environments” (p. 196). The implications for an online learning environment are great if one truly considers the basic principles of feminist pedagogy. One must create an instructional venue in which learners are engaged in the content first, the technology only enhances that framework; learners are able to interact in the online environment in such a way that the space perpetuates relationships among the learners via deliberate interactions; the learners construct knowledge among themselves (knowledge isn’t solely imparted from the teacher); and, students feel a sense of agency in which they think critically and act upon the issues at hand (Chick and Hassel, 2009).
Chick and Hassel also emphasize a critical point related to feminist pedagogy: “the more attention students pay to the specific identities of their classmates, the more they resist normalizing the identities of their classmates under invisible assumptions of whiteness, maleness, and other identities that may be challenged online” (p. 199). In thinking about gender, virtual or ‘real’ and identities of our learners, I must connect this to a statement Villaverde made in her primer, Feminist Theories and Education (2008). She states, “With the proliferation of access to a multitude of media outlets—especially as handheld devices carry greater capacity and online connections are available via wireless networks—issues can carry over to virtual spaces with less accountability” (. 91). I must question: how do I students identify with themselves and with others in real and/or virtual worlds?
Sheryl Hamilton, in her article, “Virtual Gender or Virtually Gendered? Thinking about Cyberfeminism”, poses questions related to gender and the online, virtual world. Her questions of identity and virtual gender are focused mainly on cyberfeminism and the effects of gendered identities of women. She states that “technologies are not active agents: they are always located within existing sociocultural relations” (2000). Therefore, is there a correlation between the online learning environment, students’ identities, and the ability to create agency for themselves? If we pay attention to how gender is constructed, a shifting of boundaries between “natural” and “virtual” realities/subjectivities (Villaverde, p. 91), and pedagogy in feminist classrooms, shouldn’t we consider the greater implications of what is happening with the student who is synced/connected 24/7 to a digital device? Are we manifesting the cyborg as Donna Haraway did in 1985?
I am left with thinking that there are huge implications for the 21st Century classroom. We are faced with the call for pedagogical change that places the teacher at the center of understanding feminist pedagogy to create the proper environments for students with multiple identities and backgrounds, but teachers must also understand the implications of this digital world. Teachers cannot resist the technology age. How can we as educators resist the call to learn ourselves about virtual gender, online worlds of social networking? Our children live in this world and the virtual world. They create their identities in both. We must understand both. We must act, behave, and construct knowledge in and about both. The idea of transference, by Britzman, is so relevant here. This concept that we bring our own experiences to the classroom goes both ways—student and teacher. If a teacher is not functioning in the digital world and does not bring that to the classroom, and the student is functioning in the digital world and does bring that to the classroom, haven’t we created a faultline that could rupture? How can we NOT teach at minimum in a blended environment that includes face-to-face instruction and interaction AND online instruction and learning?
This is so important to the work of educators. 1:1 environments in which every student has a laptop, a handheld device, a Smartphone, are the buzz for education in 21st Century classrooms. We must further delve into understanding the worlds that are created in the natural sense and the virtual and understand the basics of identity, learners, and instruction.
Please watch this youtube video about 21st Century teachers. This rings so true with where we are today…teachers must embrace this digital age.
Chick, N. and Hassel, H. (2009).” Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Virtual: Feminist Pedagogy in the OnlineClassroom”. Feminist Teacher, 19 (3), 195-215.
Hamilton, S. (2000). “Virtual Gender or Virtually Gendered? Thinking about Cyberfeminism”. Paper presented at the Femmes Branchees Soiree: Salon #32: Feminism in the year 2000/International Web Artists. http://www.studioxx.org/f/programming/xwords/virtual.html. Accessed June 7, 2010.
Villaverde, L. (2008). Feminist Theories and Education. New York: Peter Lang.