When women are prevented from expressing anger at injustice, transgression, or violence, they are forced to submit without expressing resistance. Further, women’s silence is interpreted as willing agreement to their subordination.
-Megan Boler, Feeling Power, Loc 420
I do not feel that my responsibility as a social justice educator is to pamper those who have experienced a life of privilege, nor to validate desires to cling to privilege and not to recognize injustice. However, education is not effective if it is combative and alienating. The story I tell in this essay reveals to me that compassion and offering hope are important complements to a pedagogy of discomfort.
-Megan Boler, Teaching for Hope: The Ethics of Shattering World Views. Here
I’m thinking a lot this week about critical dialogue in class, and about what Boler calls a pedagogy of discomfort, and about Ellsworth‘s quoting the wonderful Valerie Walkerdine about the limits of rational discourse:
According to Valerie Walkerdine, schools have participated in producing “self-regulating” individuals by developing in students capacities for rational argument. Rational argument has operating in ways that set up as its opposite an irrational Other, which has been understood historically as the province of women and other exotic Others. In schools, rational deliberation, reflection, and consideration of all viewpoints has become a vehicle for regulating conflict and the power to speak, for transforming “conflict” into rational argument by the universalized capacities for language and reason. (p. 301)
Reading hooks, I agree with (and often enact) what she says about the importance of faculty leading with
confessional narratives to academic discussions so as to show how experience can illuminate and enhance our understanding of academic material. But most professors must practice being vulnerable in the classroom, being wholly present in mind, body, and spirit. (p. 21)
So: Can I convey anger as a woman faculty member, as part of being wholly present? Or must I self-regulate, staying within the bounds of rational argument? I’m not of course talking about anger at students, but anger over the patriarchy and sexism that still shapes so much of education. (Does that make me seem angry, to use bold face there? Uh Oh).
Two framing stories:
#1. I’ve been grappling with how to say what I want to say this week. And while I was procrastinating to avoid writing this post, some of my academic friends on Facebook started discussing a new movie debuting at Sundance about sexual abuse on campus. Here’s just some of what I read:
I share [what happened to me] with my students every semester, bc I want sexual assault to be visible. And every semester, I have at least 3 women who either come forward in class or reveal to me in private. It’s horrible.
Every time I teach about violence against women, I have women coming forward sharing their experience with sexual and physical violence. Yet, many still want to deny how serious the issues are…
My last semester doing gender and gender violence, I told all the males in the room they wouldn’t be allowed to speak. The females shared their stories and it got very emotional for everyone, but then there were still “deniers”. One or two women kept saying they “felt sorry” for the guys who were unable to speak.
I have no idea how to have a measured dialogue around (and more importantly, within) the sexual assault and objectification that many of our women students experience in campus cultures, because I think that it is something that should anger all of us.
#2. I teach a great deal about deep inequalities in U.S. schools, about how current reform policies are dehumanizing education for teachers and low-income children, about how we’re the only developed nation that expects young inexperienced kindergarten teachers, rather than a social safety net, to be the first line in the project of equalizing opportunity.
Two years ago, we were ending my class with pecha kucha presentations on “who we’re becoming as teachers” at the end of their first term of their internships in schools. I assure them that this is a “closed door, no posting to any website” sharing and a chance for honest reflection. I’ve worked with these same students over several courses. I saw many inspirational images about soaring, learning, and helping.
Then a young woman stood up and her first image was was a full screen photo of her hand with middle-finger raised and she said “I’m angry. I’m angry about what we’re doing to kids and how people far from my classroom think that they know anything about what I need to do in the interest of justice and equality”.
There was almost no response. I tried to generate conversation about anger and got nervous laughter. I emailed her right after class to thank for for being honest and ask her if /how she wanted me to bring this up again, to ask if she’d gotten any pushback that I could support her in addressing. She said she’d gotten emails from several people privately thanking her, but she didn’t want to talk about it in class anymore.
I actually feel a great deal of anger about what’s happening to poor kids in schools now and how teachers are blamed for their inability to make very bad policy work. I worry that more teachers won’t talk about their anger.
I’m actually a pretty funny teacher, and some days, it’s a sharp humor.
So, in no particular order, things I’m thinking about today that make me wonder about the place of anger — and women, teaching, caring in its many forms, and critical feminist pedagogies:
- Rusul Alrubail wrote about how the work of solidarity with the oppressed is, in the end, about an act of defiance. That’s not rational dialogue about different intellectual positions, but defiance.
- At an academic conference in the fall, in every session, a white male stood first during Q and A and as has been often satired, gave his own talk — followed by other men who did much of the same thing, and nearly everyone at this conference would self-define as a critical pedagogue.
- I read and tweeted about bias against women faculty in course evaluations, and in reviews of scholarly work. These things have very *real* consequences for one’s career, to say nothing about one’s sense of doing good and valued work with one’s life.
- And then there are decades of Salary gaps . On my campus, the new, young, mostly male Computing faculty and Finance faculty now make as much if not more than senior women in Education. I’m really not interested in dialogue about this. I want it fixed. Yesterday.
- And I post this next part hesitantly but Rusul beautifully nudges all of us out of our silence: In our positive, supportive, enthusiastic conversations in #moocmooc, it’s hard to go to an ugly place, and yet it is hard to have reasoned dialogue about what has happened to our feminist “read” for the week on sexism and legos . Anita Sarkiseesian has had to put up with way too much (also here and here) for speaking out against the misogyny in the tech and gaming world.*
And I feel a very healthy dose of anger that anyone is still dealing with this after decades of teaching about gender, and that free-range misogyny is part of whatever hopes we might have for an open, connected, networked version of learning as an alternative to all that is limiting about the institutionalized version.
So, with Megan Boler, I work hard at a pedagogy of discomfort. I will not temper my anger over much of this, but I will be as clear as possible that it’s about patriarchy, not about the ways that patriarchy is being channeled in any given course. I work very hard to make sure that men — and the women who perpetuate patriarchy — in my classes don’t feel personally attacked, but neither am I willing to invest enormous amounts of effort in ensuring that they don’t feel discomfort.
I believe that discomfort is potentially a very educative place.
And I work to teach about sexism in public schools and universities and beyond, with a great deal of compassionate impatience.
Because as bell hooks so straightforwardly writes, these issues are not “just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world” where women are being harmed in tangible ways every day.
And have been now for decades and decades and decades. And decades.
And I am authentically angry about this.
*Just today, Anita posted ( and be warned. It’s very ugly) only one week of the hateful tweets she has gotten, and again my response wasn’t completely rational. This made me sit back away from the computer screen, cringing.