Feminist pedagogy is a way of thinking about teaching and learning, rather than a prescriptive method. As such, it is used in different ways and for differing purposes within and across disciplines and learning environments. Definitions of feminist pedagogy vary widely, but there is common agreement on these three key tenets:
- Resisting hierarchy: In the learning environment, the teacher figure and students work against the creation of a hierarchy of authority between teacher and student; the students also deliver ‘content’ and influence the design of the class.
- Using experience as a resource: As well as using traditional sources of information, such as academic journals and books, the students’ and teachers’ own experiences are used as ‘learning materials’. The purpose of using experience as a resource is twofold: firstly, experiences which have not been documented in academic work are brought into discussion, and secondly the class participants experience transformative learning…
- Transformative learning: Feminist pedagogy aims for the class participants (students and teachers) not just to acquire new knowledge, but for their thinking to shift in new directions. This may involve the realisation that personal interpretations of experience or of social phenomena can be re-read and validated in new, critical ways.
Those who are familiar with Critical Pedagogy, the work of Paulo Freire, or theories of Transformative Learning, may be asking: what is different about Feminist Pedagogy? It is in defining the specific nature of feminist pedagogy that we encounter a variety of positions regarding the ‘feminist’ of ‘feminist pedagogy’. Who enacts feminist pedagogy? Feminist academics? Activists? Teachers with an interest in feminism? Teachers of Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, other subjects? Women? All women? Men? Some specific men? Donna Haraway (1991) explains that feminist pedagogy developed out of the exercises of experience-sharing in women’s community groups during the women’s liberation movement. But this is just one story of feminist pedagogy, a story that is firmly situated in a particular narrative…
How this resource page exemplifies feminist pedagogy
One of the biggest challenges to introducing or summarising feminist pedagogy is the challenge of resisting a single, dominant, institutionalised narrative. How to define feminist pedagogy without walling off the possibility of feminist pedagogies? It would be inappropriate to produce a resource page on feminist pedagogy without enacting the principles of this pedagogy in designing the page.
Rather than reduce feminist pedagogy to a single, fixed list of characteristics, with a canon of authoritative references to follow up, I have tried to portray feminist pedagogy as fragmented, as originating from and belonging to different people and places, as a continually developing phenomenon that invites teachers and students to contribute to its evolution. I work against hierarchical relations by presenting canonical texts alongside recent, experimental works. Moreover, by presenting numerous aspects of feminist pedagogy here, I resist the imposition of my singular interpretation of feminist pedagogy on you.
The sections covered are the development of feminist pedagogy; BlackQueerFeminist pedagogy; men/masculinities; e-learning; subject-specific references for Dance, Economics, Geography, Psychology, Religious Studies, Research Methods and Science; and country perspectives from Austria, Ethiopia and Japan.
In the ‘useful links’ section, I give the website addresses of the major Women’s Studies organisations in the UK, USA and Europe, on which international events, groups, and publications can be located.
The development of (and critiques of) feminist pedagogy
It is impossible to separate the development of theories of feminist pedagogy from the critiques of these theories because feminist scholars have deliberately built reflexivity into the tenets of feminist scholarship: a scholarship that does not critique its own mechanisms cannot be counted as feminist. As I show in the following sections, critical angles have importantly included the question of men in relation to feminist pedagogy, as well as the challenges to white Western feminism by black, postcolonialist and queer feminisms.
Challenges to feminist pedagogy have included queries of the very tenets listed above:
- Resisting hierarchy: Where the teacher is paid and employed to assess students by the institution, how can the students gain equality with the teacher in the classroom?
- Using experience as a resource: Who is able to speak out in the classroom? Which aspects of experience are further thrust into silence by the dominant voices of the classroom? How can students and teachers both talk of their ‘private’ experiences and engage in a professional assessor-assessed relationship? What is the line between ‘therapy’ and ‘academic discussion’? Who decides?
- Transformative learning: What changes to ways of thinking can occur in an institutionalised learning environment? What if the ‘transformation’ is a negative or distressing realisation? Is the learning setting adapted to deal with high levels of emotion? Is there a risk of ‘transformation’ occurring as a reinforcement of a dominant feminist narrative?
It is important to note that these critiques have not heralded the end of feminist pedagogy, but can rather be said to be its achievements. Through the asking of these questions, the narratives of feminist pedagogy have been taken up and developed, inherited and re-questioned.
I list below some key texts on the development of feminist pedagogy. Each book of collected essays contains critical discussion of feminist pedagogy.
Bowles, G. and Klein, R. D. (1983). Theories of women’s studies. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Bowles, G. (1984). Strategies for women’s studies in the 80s. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Aaron, J. and Walby, S. (1991). Out of the margins : women’s studies in the nineties. London: Falmer Press.
Hinds, H., Phoenix, A. and Stacey, J. (1992). Working out : new directions for women’s studies. London: Falmer.
Rao, A. (1991). Women’s studies international: Nairobi and beyond. New York: Feminist Press.
Macdonald, A. A. and Sánchez-Casal, S. (2002). Twenty-first-century feminist classrooms: pedagogies of identity and difference. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Montgomery, F. and Collette, C. (1997). Into the melting pot: teaching women’s studies in the new millennium. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Although feminist pedagogy is centred on cooperation, inclusion, equality, it is these very foundations that can – and have – led to exclusion and inequalities in the feminist classroom. It is common sense that in a group situation, if the dominant narratives of that group are not identified, members of the group who do not share those narratives will be marginalised. The interpretation of the ‘feminist’ of feminist pedagogy can lead to the validation of some experiences, some interpretations. Critiques of feminist pedagogy have outlined the exclusive nature of the so-called inclusive feminist classroom where experience is assumed to be white and heterosexual. I offer two recent articles to follow up this debate, as well as a bibliographical link:
Black American Feminisms: Education Bibliography
Kishimoto, K. and Mwangi, M. (2009) Critiquing the Rhetoric of “Safety” in Feminist Pedagogy: Women of Color Offering an Account of Ourselves, Feminist Teacher, 19:2, 87-102.
Lewis, M. M. (2011) Body of Knowledge: Black Queer Feminist Pedagogy, Praxis, and Embodied Text, Journal of Lesbian Studies, 15:1, 49-57.
A perennial question that bubbles over into the popular press every so often is that of men in relation to feminism. Does the ‘feminist’ of feminist pedagogy include men as students and/or teachers in the feminist classroom? If you believe that feminism is about women fighting oppression by men, then a man cannot be a feminist. If you believe that men too can fight against the oppression of women by men, then you may be torn between letting men in and keeping them away from the safe, women-only spaces. If you think that both ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are constructions, and that there is no real opposition, then you may consider that anyone could study and teach in this way who is interested in exploring the concept of ‘gender’. If you are teaching or studying within a discipline, you may feel that it is politically or theoretically important for the discipline to include a ‘feminist’ component. Follow up on this debate in the below papers:
Flood, M. (2011) Men as Students and Teachers of Feminist Scholarship, Men and Masculinities 14:2, 135-154.
James, P. (1999) Masculinities under Reconstruction: Classroom pedagogy and cultural change, Gender and Education, 11:4, 395-412.
One of the major developments in learning worldwide is the expansion of distance learning over the internet. There are special challenges posed to feminist pedagogy by this learning mode, as well as interesting potential benefits. How can hierarchies be challenged when the teacher sets up the session and watches for the students’ responses? How can students share their experiences in a formal written document with unknown peers? How can transformative learning occur when the students are removed from each other and the communications often lack spontaneity or immediacy? The online environment can flatten out equalities of voice where there is a divide between confidence in quickfire speaking versus written and edited writing. Students, who are increasingly adapted to social networking, may become more and more able to share their experiences in an online setting. The range of people who can access distance learning courses may open up the learning environment to more diverse experiences, and furthermore there is scope in the online environment to play with gender norms in portraying the self.
Kirkup, G. (2005). ‘Developing practices for online feminist pedagogy’. In R. Braidotti, A. v. Baren, ATHENA (Project) and Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht (Eds), The making of European women’s studies: a work in progress report on curriculum development and related issues in gender education and research (pp. 252). Utrecht: ATHENA Advanced Thematic Network in Activities in Women’s Studies in Europe.
Kirkup, G., Schmitz, S., Kotkamp, E., Rommes, E. and Hiltunen, A.-M. (2010). ‘Towards a Feminist Manifesto for E-Learning: Principles to Inform Practices’. In S. Booth, S. Goodman and G. Kirkup (Eds), Gender issues in learning and working with information technology : social constructs and cultural contexts. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
Feminist pedagogy can be employed across a range of educational settings. I have included here a selection of recent articles focusing on feminist pedagogy within specific disciplines.
Shue, L. L. and Beck, C. S. (2001) Stepping out of bounds: Performing feminist pedagogy within a dance education community, Communication Education, 50:2, 125-143
Aerni, A. L., Bartlett, R. L., Lewis, M., Mcgoldrick, K. M., Shackelford, J. (1999) Toward A Feminist Pedagogy, In Economics, Feminist Economics, 5:1, 29-44.
Dowler, L. (2002) The Uncomfortable Classroom: Incorporating Feminist Pedagogy and Political Practice into World Regional Geography, Journal of Geography, 101:2, 68-72.
Kahn, J. S. and Ferguson, K. (2009) Men as Allies in Feminist Pedagogy in the Undergraduate Psychology Curriculum, Women & Therapy, 33:1-2, 121-139.
McKinlay, J. E. (2000) Match or Mismatch? Attempting a Feminist Pedagogy for a Course on Biblical Criticisms, Teaching Theology and Religion, 3:3, 88-95.
Webb, L. M., Walker, K. L., Bollis, T. S. (2004) Feminist pedagogy in the teaching of research methods, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 7:5, 415-428.
Capobianco, B. M. (2007) Science Teachers’ Attempts at Integrating Feminist Pedagogy through Collaborative Action Research, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44:1, 1–32.
I finally include three articles about feminist pedagogy in non-Anglophone countries. There is so much literature on feminist pedagogy from the USA that it is difficult not to construct the dominant narrative of feminist pedagogy from the publications of an academic culture. I resisted this narrative by actively searching for articles that demonstrate the international variety and commonalities of these discussions.
Franz, B. (2012) Immigrant Youth, hip-hop, and Feminist Pedagogy: Outlines of an Alternative Integration Policy in Vienna, Austria, International Studies Perspectives, 13, 270–288.
White, A. M. (2012) Unpacking Black Feminist Pedagogy in Ethiopia, Feminist Teacher, 21:3, 195-211.
Fujimura-Fanselow, K. (1996) Women’s Studies and Feminist Pedagogy: Critical challenges to Japanese educational values and practices, Gender and Education, 8:3, 337-352.
Feminism and Women’s Studies Association (UK and Ireland)
National Women’s Studies Association (USA)
Women’s International Studies Europe (WISE)
General Further Reading
Crabtree, R. D. and Sapp, D. A. (2003) Theoretical, Political, and Pedagogical Challenges in the Feminist Classroom: Our Struggles to Walk the Walk, College Teaching, 51:4, 131-140.
Magolda, P. (2002) Pushing boundaries: An ethnographic study of life in and beyond a feminist classroom, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 15:5, 513-544.
Sinacore, A. L., Healy, P., Justin, M. (2002) “A Qualitative Analysis of the Experiences of Feminist Psychology Educators: The Classroom”, Feminism & Psychology 12:3, 339-362.
Tolan, F. and Ferrebe, A. (2012). Teaching gender. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Page Author: Emily F Henderson
Updated: 15th January 2013