Feminist Pedagogy is Bigger on the Inside: Intersectionality and Social Justice as Foundational
-Portions of this blog borrowed from “Intersectional Pedagogy: Complicating Identity and Social Justice” (in print August 2016)
As a Doctor Who fan, I frequently integrate my academic thinking with Time Lord philosophy. One of the most famous lines from the show consistently follows when any new traveler enters the TARDIS, which is the doctor’s time and space travel machine disguised as a United Kingdom blue phone booth. Although the typical size of a phone booth on the outside, the TARDIS is “bigger on the inside” with a massive control room, expansive sections, a swimming pool, and much to explore.
When I think about feminist pedagogy, and many other forms of critical pedagogy (e.g., critical race, queer, liberatory), I view them much like Doctor Who’s TARDIS. Feminist pedagogy is simply bigger on the inside, with intersectionality and social justice as co-conspirators that we easily forget and neglect if we are not vigilant. As feminist scholars, we must challenge ourselves to theorize and practice intersectionality to achieve feminist pedagogy.
Perhaps we typically think about these three pedagogical philosophies of (feminist, intersectionality, social justice) as overlapping like a Venn diagram. However, perhaps the overlap is stronger than we imagine. Even more controversial, what if these three frameworks are all part of the same circle?
Without intersectional theory, which also includes a social justice focus, we simply are not fulfilling the promise of feminist pedagogy. In other words, intersectionality and social justice are basic requirements of feminist pedagogy. Therefore, it is time to put our energy into transforming feminist pedagogy with intersectional theory as foundationally present at all points and turns, rather than as an optional “add-on” package. Claiming feminist pedagogy without intersectionality and social justice also sends a clear values message to those at the margins.
Rather than trying to create a course from a feminist pedagogical standpoint and then fix the gaps with patches of “others” (which is an act of being “othered” for people with those add-on identities), now is the time to completely reframe what it means to claim feminist pedagogy. I realize some feminist teachers already do this, but psychology has a long way to go before we meet this goal. Our collective curriculum requires intersectionality from the ground up rather than trying to force it in after the fact. Make no mistake that I am advocating for a values shift… or at least a behavioral shift to reflect our stated values.
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about a student who raised an objection to the whiteness of the textbook. When she spoke up, she made salient the values statement we sent by choosing that text. By expressing her own marginalization due to the course readings, she made a distinct impression on me as an educator who feels professionally and ethically responsible for making sure students from a broad range of backgrounds feel represented in the course materials and get the message that their identities are worthy of academic study.
In other words, intersectional theory translated into pedagogical practice is my professional and ethical responsibility. If we deny intersectionality and social justice as part of our teaching, then we risk making a values statement that gender analysis is of value, but other types of analyses do not deserve our time. We must make the time or else cease claiming that intersectionality is valued and central to our work. What will you do in your next course to infuse intersectionality?
In my next post, I will explore instructor social identity and its impact on application of intersectional pedagogy in the classroom.