On Feminist Pedagogy with Gaby Weiner
A lot is being said nowadays about the fact that if we wanted a more gender equal society, we have to start bringing up children from a very early age in a gender sensitive way. We all know that in Czech kindergartens, schools and families this has not really started to take place in any significant degree. Until recently, I did not know that there existed a stream and a tool which could accompany and help us on our way to achieving the above goal. It is called feminist pedagogy. A gender expert and academic, Gaby Weiner, shared with us feminist pedagogy’s main thoughts and aims. And since Weiner works in Great Britain, she also informed us about the gender situation in the British education system.
What is feminist pedagogy and what are its goals?
I’ve always been interested in this and have written a couple of articles. I carried out a review of the debates recently, and found the work of Webb, Allen and Walker (2002) particularly useful. They identify in their overview of the field, six general “principles” that are usually present in conceptualizations of feminist pedagogy:
1. Reformation of the professor-student relationship, i.e. blurring of roles;
2. Empowerment, i.e. enabling at least some power to be shared;
3. Building community, i.e. collaborative learning through relationships and dialogue;
4. Privileging the individual voice, i.e. extending the right to have a voice;
5. Respect for diversity of personal experience, i.e. affirmation of personal experience as central component of learning;
6. Challenging traditional views, i.e. revealing the social and political origins of theory, research, and teaching.
I have tried many times to teach according to these principles but have often failed miserably. I concluded in a 2006 article that we should conceive of feminist pedagogy as an aspiration and imaginary and develop dispositions which bring us closer to that imaginary. To do this, first, we need to be explicit about the form of feminism we aspire to. We need to be aware of whose voice “our” feminism speaks, the ideological baggage that we have accrued, and then consider how this may be represented in our teaching. Second, as teachers, we cannot give away power--we have it bodily, intellectually, and institutionally. Rather, we have to learn to use it productively in such a way as to challenge and deconstruct common-sense assumptions and uncritical judgments in our students and ourselves. Third, it is essential that we work with the situatedness of our students, which is not to say that we erase intellectual and demanding ideas. Rather, we have to do the hard work of introducing and translating difficult concepts and ideas so that they will be comprehensible and indeed interesting to them at this particular moment. Fourth, we must expect and even invite resistance, for it is only through resistance that we can see that we have succeeded in puncturing complacency and taken-for-grantedness. Fifth, if our pedagogy is to make a difference, if it is to be transgressive, it will make trouble for us. We should expect students, for example, to question assignments or confront the authorities on campus or in the staff room, or challenge professional judgments—all of which are likely to affect the way we ourselves might be viewed by our peers and employers.
(Refs. Webb, L. M., Allen, M. W. & Walker, K. L. (2002). Feminist pedagogy: identifying principles. Academic Education Quarterly. 6. 67-72. Weiner, G. (2006) Out of the Ruins: Feminist Pedagogy in Recovery, in C. Skelton, B. Francis & L. Smulyan (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Education, London: Sage Publications, 79-92)
What is the right time to start educating children in gender problematic?
My position is that it’s not a matter of educating children about gender but about not making stereotyped assumptions about how girls and boys behave and what they want. It is also about providing them with the full range of activities regardless of gender. This could start in pre-school or pre-preschool.
In terms of putting gender into the curriculum, if this means talking about the limitations of stereotyping and sexism, this could start at seven. A deeper introduction to gender relations would probably come later, as part of history or literature or sociology, say at secondary school (11 years and upwards).
Who is to undertake this responsibility (family, schools, legislation, …)?
What seems to work best is when the three work together. First you need legislation to show that gender inequality and discrimination is a serious issue which needs to be challenged. On the basis of that legislation, schools can develop programmes of study which show the dangers of narrowed stereotypes, and the advantages of widening opportunities and choice. Attempts at indoctrination should be avoided at all costs; rather debates and activities concerning gender should be exciting and creative. And parents could be included in the programmes, perhaps ‘educated’ about gender issues themselves, ideas of which they could then pass on to their children.
What, in your opinion, is the main reason behind the horizontal segregation of the European labor markets?
I think horizontal segregation is so pervasive because it is the result of a number of interlinked factors;
- the wish of (some) males to retain power;
- social capital networks such as the ‘old boy’ network in the UK which link like-minded and socially similar individuals, often from the same elite schools and backgrounds;
- domestic responsibilities of women which means that more of their time is devoted to issues in the home than their male peers; and
- limited horizons of many women as a consequence of their schooling and family socialisation
What could/should educational institutions across Europe do to change the current situation in which future career goals and decisions of young people are strongly determined by gender stereotypes?
Currently education across Europe is dominated by concern about examination results and comparative studies of different countries’ examination patterns. As a result the most prominent gender issue is about so-called failing boys. In this discourse, girls are produced as more educationally successful despite the fact that they have less earning power, are more likely to be abused, are more likely to be trafficked etc (see recent Eurydice report).
This discourse has to change. Emphasis needs to be moved away from school examinations towards the relationship between school, the labour market and social patterns and what kinds of boys, girls, men and women are produced, and how this could/should change.
What do you think about various commercial sector’s initiatives to attract people of the sex opposite than is typical in their sector (e.g. IT sector trying to attract more women)? Do you know of any such projects that are particularly successful and could be considered “best practices”?
There are very few of these initiatives in the UK right now. Although there is some discussion, for example, about why there are not more women in executive positions or as directors or chiefs of companies and the kind of bullying and ‘male’ cultures that thrive in business, there are generally few objections except from feminist organisations and very few intervention strategies. In the main, it is left to the market to decide what happens. Women seem to do much better as heads of small businesses rather than in big companies, one assumes because they are able to take control of the decision-making. However there is evidence recently of a new feminism: young feminists campaigning against male violence; feminist organisations taking government to court for discrimination; internet campaigns against companies using sweated labour; critiques of the early sexualisation of girls and so on (for information on these see: http://www.genderandeducation.com/).