Discussing Gender Perspectives
During History Department meeting on November 10, 2011, we discussed Peggy McIntosh's Gender Perspectives on Educating for Global Citizenship.
I had been looking forward to this meeting since I found out what we would be discussing. I really enjoyed McIntosh's article. She writes: "Insofar as the public world has been assigned to men, as men's definitions of what citizenship is about have prevailed in its definitions. Within patriarchy, male definitions of reality trump female experience. Behind the scenes of what is presented to us as 'history,' women make and mend the fabric of society." (Educating Citizens for Global Awareness, ed. Nel Noddings, 23) The idea that women "make and mend the fabric of society" resonates very deeply in me, and from the first day of teaching, I have been trying to encourage my female students to step forward from "behind the scenes" of history. I wanted to hear my colleagues' thoughts about their roles in educating future female leaders.
Before we began our discussion, I showed a short video clip from a discussion we had had in one of my classes. Ruth Macaulay, my mentor and the Head of the History Department, filmed the discussion, and when I suggested we use the clip to begin our department meeting, she supported my idea.
Here is the video.
Here are some of the questions I was pondering:
- How can we empower girls to rise above gender stereotyping if they are frequently guided by gender stereotypes themselves?
- Does the environment of an all-girls school create stronger women who are not afraid of their identities, or does it shelter their perceptions of the heterogeneous world around them?
- How can educators address misconceptions like the one in the video? Should they be addressed?
When we began our conversation, I thought everyone was slightly uncomfortable. There were two male faculty members in the group, and there were three women, including me. A female teacher noted that had my student's stereotype been addressed towards a woman, we would have been offended; as things were, we just laughed. A male teacher said that stereotypes were much worse at an all-boys school he had attended.
Then we began discussing McIntosh's article. Everyone concluded that it was difficult to follow. The second male teacher said that he felt the author was reinforcing the stereotypes she was supposed to defy. He also found it frustrating not to have a clear definition of "global citizenship." Everyone found the article's political agenda to be excessively polarized.
Apart from the above observations I made, here are the lessons I learned:
- Speaking about diversity is difficult, especially in a somewhat homogenous environment. One needs to be exceptionally well-prepared and articulate about the topic. The arguments need to be clear, straight-forward, and supported with evidence. I didn't have any of these requirements.
- I think it is important to talk about controversial subjects on faculty level if one wants to talk about them with students. To hear various perspectives, to be challenged by different arguments, and to critique and defend your own ideas are all important experiences for a teacher of social studies.
- It was an enriching professional opportunity to have an intellectually stimulating conversation with people who shared my skill. As I sat in the room, fascinated by different ideas, I kept thinking how different we all were and what incredibly diverse perspective we brought into the same subject.