Notes on a Feminist Classroom, by Dr. Toni Roberts
On September 13th, Dr. Elizabeth Wells and Dr. Toni Roberts of Mount Allison led a discussion with their Maple League colleagues on the importance of committing to a feminist classroom. This discussion was part of the Maple League Teaching and Learning Committee’s monthly Brown Bag Discussion series. The series utilizes the Maple League’s teleconferencing rooms on each campus to bring Maple League community members together to discuss a topic related to teaching and learning. This event is part of the Teaching and Learning Committee’s commitment to connecting faculty and community members across all four campuses to pool educational resources and create stronger systems of mentorship and support.
“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility.” bell hooks
“The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” Plutarch
What is a feminist classroom?
A feminist classroom is one that is committed to equality, particularly focused on gender, and that explores power relations. This commitment includes an awareness of the structural (social and cultural) barriers to equality and developing a response to those barriers. Due to the intersectional complexities of gender oppression, a feminist classroom also but consider and respond to racialization, class, socioeconomic status, disability, sexuality, location, and so on. Responding to these oppressions is not simply theoretical but practical. It means addressing issues such as how students participate in the classroom and developing strategies to maximize participation, without further contributing to subjugation. It also means consulting with students about the organisation and structure of the course, producing a safe environment (particularly for women, gender non-binary or non-conforming people, etc.), considering the goals of the class, empowering learners, and to envision and possibly implement social action.
Why is a feminist classroom important for us on university campuses?
It is clear that our campuses are more diverse than ever. That said, the feminist classroom is not simply about responding to the current diversity. A feminist classroom should produce an environment and pedagogy that attracts further diversity in the effort to further democratize the classroom, our campuses and our society. Additionally, undergraduate campuses have seen a majority of women register over the last several decades, from less than 1/3 in the 1970s to 60% in recent research. This increase begs the question regarding the changing demographics and how this might affect our pedagogies. Pedagogies that are aware and respond to class, race and sex/gender diversities, disability, cis/trans context and so on can be framed as feminist. The feminist classroom empowers learners, encourages them to be good critical thinkers, fosters and develops community and interrogates power in the classroom (Anderson, 2002).
Who should embrace and encourage a feminist classroom?
To quote bell hooks, “Feminism is for everybody” and so, the feminist classroom is for everybody as well. All people committed to democratizing the classroom, to addressing sexism, racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, and so on, should embrace and be embraced by a feminist classroom. Briskin (1994) writes that “feminist pedagogy is about teaching and learning liberation”. This seems like something we can all be on board with. Feminist classrooms rock!
How did you become interested in feminism and its goals?
I was taking a feminist philosophy class during an undergrad in geology and was so inspired by it that I changed my major to Women’s Studies. I completed my degree and went on to a masters in Feminist Studies before enrolling in my Ph.D. program in Sociology (focusing on gender). It was unusual for a man to study Women’s Studies in 1992, but I knew that it was the place for me but that also men needed to get involved in the conversation and the movement to encourage widespread change.
How does feminism intersect with other social movements?
It is effectively impossible to talk about, research and teach sex/gender without including other social categories and movements. The work by Crenshaw and other womanists in the 1980s pointed to the fact that racialized women didn’t just experience sex/gender oppression, but issues of race and class were important to this experience as well. Disability, sexuality, location, age, and so on, also intersect and can’t be ignored in any thorough analysis of sex/gender.
Understanding the Gender Gap in University Participation: An Exploration of the Application Behaviour of Ontario High School Students Prepared by David Card, A. Abigail Payne, Christina Sechel
Briskin, Linda. Feminist Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning Liberation. Ottawa: Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, 1994.
About Dr. Roberts
Dr. Toni Roberts is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Mount Allison University. His research interests include gender issues (and the intersection with class, race and sexuality), masculinity, sexuality and identity, and socialization processes with particular interest in the body and the deconstruction of modern dichotomies in knowledge production. Dr. Roberts is also Co-Chair of the Maple League Teaching and Learning Committee.