This Week in Pedagogy: What is Intersectional Feminism? {for beginners}

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Image of a fractal.

Lesson Plan: What is Intersectional Feminist Theory?

A project for Dr. Veronica Watson’s seminar Exploring Feminist Activism in the Age of #BlackLivesMatter, this lesson was written as part of a 3 day plan for undergraduate composition but can be modified for a high school classroom. This is a basic introduction.

Rationale: “Intersectionality” has become a buzzword in the feminist community. Without understanding the full scope of intersectional feminism, many white feminists end up merely tokenizing Black women, “including” them, without focusing on concerns that would truly make an equitable world for women and femmes of color.

As students will rely on Kimberle Crenshaw for a portion of the definition and ways to apply intersectional theory, I will lean on her articulation of the impetus to undergo the project of intersectionality:

But to say that a category such as race or gender is socially constructed is not to say that category has no significance in our world. On the contrary, a large and continuing project for subordinated people–and indeed, one of the projects for which postmodern theories have been very helpful–is thinking about the way power has clustered around certain categories and is exercised against others. This project attempts to unveil the processes of subordination and the various ways those processes are experienced by people who are subordinated and people who are privileged by them. (1296-1297)

This 3-day lesson will provide about 25 English Composition II (freshmen in literature-based partner course to English Composition I) students with:

  • A definition of intersectionality
  • The scope of intersectional praxis
  • An opportunity to experiment with intersectional analysis

At the end of this lesson, students will begin to understand the complex feminisms that make up the feminist movement. They will also be able to deploy an intersectional analysis in order to analyze literature and culture.

Assigned Readings (In-class handouts to take home):

Patricia Hill Collins, “Toward An Afrocentric Feminist Epistemology” from Black Feminist Thought (1991)

Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” from Stanford Law Review (1991)

Day One

Students will arrive to class having read the two articles assigned in the previous session (ideally over the course of a weekend). I will have a presentation prepared on the tenents of each article to review what students should have gleaned from each article, allowing a few minutes for students to share insights and ask questions.

My presentation will cover the key concepts of each reading:

-Highlighting differences (immigrant status, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class)

-”Multiple Levels of Domination”(highlighted by Collins):

“People experience and resist oppression on three levels: the level of personal biography; the group or community level of the cultural context created by race, class, and gender; and the systemic level of social institutions” (227).

-Understanding socialized tropes (threatening black male sexuality, “cult of true [white] womanhood,” hypersexualized and “sassy” black woman, lazy poor person, conflation of immigrant intelligence with ability to speak English, only two genders, heteronormative reinforcement, pervasive ableist discourse)

-There are multiple forms of oppression certain people can face based on the different categories

-Walk through of the 2 Live Crew case (as cited in Crenshaw)

-Discuss women’s shelter failures for women of color (as discussed in Crenshaw)

-”Matrix of Domination” (as defined by Collins, pg. 229)

Final question for students, framed with quote by Collins:

“Although most individuals have little difficulty identifying their own victimization within some major system of oppression–whether it be by race, social class, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or gender–they typically fail to see how their thoughts and actions uphold someone else’s subordination. Thus white feminists routinely point with confidence at their own oppression as women but resist seeing how much their white skin privileges them” (229).

Student activity: Write down on a fresh sheet of paper what your privileges are. Just by being in this classroom, you are being introduced to the world of educational privilege. What other privileges, earned and unearned, do you possess? For instance: I have educational privilege, my body is abled, I am white, I am cis-gender.

Evaluation Methods: I will not collect these papers, they are merely for student self-reflexivity, but I will be sure the students are completing them by walking around the room to observe student participation. I will also informally evaluate students’ participation and eye their annotations within the assigned texts to determine whether they have read the material.

 

Day Two

Having learned principles of intersectional feminist theory, students will be asked to think about current events through an intersectional lens. I will model an intersectional analysis of two news stories. The first story I will be prepared to do mostly on my own, citing Collins and Crenshaw, so students will become comfortable in their learning environment.

To get us started I will use the O.J. Simpson Murder trial. My reasoning for this is there has been quite a bit of critical prose written since the trial, specifically Birth of a Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case edited by Toni Morrison (and featuring an essay by Crenshaw); a major network show, The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (which the students may have watched in their free time, it’s fairly popular); and the 8 hour long docuseries O.J.: Made in America by Ezra Edleman.

For the second selected story, the murder of Korryn Gaines, I will ask for more class participation, leaning on students to do the analysis along with me. Students will join me in a computer lab, or, if access is restricted, I will have students use laptops or phones to view articles on the Korryn Gaines murder. This discussion has the potential to bring out discriminatory attitudes related to race, ableism, gender, authority, policing, social class, and the carceral state.

Toward the end of the class session, I will tell students to break up into groups because they will have an intersectional analysis of a new story assignment. After they have split up, I will pass out their group assignments.

Evaluation Method: Student participation in discussion.

Homework/Group Project: As this will be a class of about 20 students, I will have students break up into groups of 4 and will assign them a story that has potential for intersectional analysis. However, I want students to focus on only ONE oppressive category. When the groups present, I will ask the entire class to assist the group in completing the analysis of the event and making it intersectional.

Here are the options:

Marissa Alexander Trialfocus: gender

Bill Cosby Rape Trial-focus: race

Dakota Access Pipeline Protests-focus: colonialism

Nabra Hassanen Murder-focus: immigrant status

Michael Brown Murder-focus: social class

Marsha P. Johnson Murder-focus: gender and sexuality

 

Day Three

This will be a day of group presentations. Students will come prepared with their intersectional feminist analysis of a news story and will have approx. 15 minutes to present.

Evaluation Methods: I will be checking group projects for the following considerations informally (which I will articulate to students prior to their compilation of the project) just so this is a more directed activity. 

What type of oppressions can we locate within the story (Biographical? Cultural context? Systemic/social institutions? All?)

How did the story unfold? (pertinent background information)

Are there any critical writings on the subject in the academic style? (where?)

The peer-observers will also be accountable for each presentation:

Each group is only required to locate one form of oppression in the story: what are the other kinds?

I will be checking for participation from the whole class.

To close: I will cite Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist: “Can’t we all admit we are privileged in some way?”And ask students to understand their privileges. If we all take our specific privileges seriously we will likely be critical of the ways we participate in the oppression of others.

Works Cited

Alexander, Scott and Larry Karaszewski, developers. The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. FX, 2016.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Hyman, 1990.

Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991), pp. 1241-1299.

Edelman, Ezra, director. O.J. Simpson: Made in America. ESPN Films, 2016.

Morrison, Toni, editor. Birth of a Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case. Pantheon, 1997.

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Playing ‘Exquisite Corpse’ By Myself

Writing I did for TERSE. Journal this month on identity in the style of the surrealist game “Exquisite Corpse.”

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    “And it kills me, the word sorry. As if something like music

should be forgiven. He nuzzles into the wood like a lover,

  inhales, and at the first slow stroke, the crescendo

     seeps through our skin like warm water, we

who have nothing but destinations, who dream of light

   but descend into the mouths of tunnels, searching.”

from Ocean Vuong’s “Song on the Subway”

“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of a greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”

Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980

“Well let’s think for a moment. What type of orange are you?” Our professor asks us.

On a Thursday night we discuss how to teach metaphor in our Poetry and Pedagogy class. We are reading Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions

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This Week in Pedagogy: How to Become a Writer

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Week Six

This week’s reading emphasized finding your voice in creative and academic contexts. Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer” was our inroad to perspective–she became famous for her use of second person point of view. I always enjoy reflections from people on this writing perspective; it can be enlightening for students to shift into second person. I used this piece by Moore as a model when I wrote “How to Be an Adjunct” for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

When discussing perspective I thought “That’s Me Trying” on William Shatner’s spoken word album Has Been illustrated genuine self-reflexivity in writing; are we honest about how we see ourselves? In the case of Shatner, he looks at his ability to father with severity: he knows he hasn’t been a “good” father. It haunts him.

I shared with my class that I read “That’s Me Trying” at a poetry event once and many people were moved to tears. Not because of anything I “did”–it was a straight reading, nothing fancy. The content is that of the unlikable protagonist. Not many admit to being a “dead beat dad” yet we know there are fathers who leave their families, sometimes to the detriment of their children.

When I read the piece I also introduced it as one close to me: one of the only good memories I have of spending time with my father is that we watched Star Trek together. So for William Shatner to create this song, essentially the anthem of the absent dad, seemed felicitous.

When I introduced the poem at the reading I remember saying that it’s easy to be angry at the people who wound us, much more difficult to enter the situation from a point of empathy. Listening to “That’s Me Trying” is an example of someone’s writerly voice and life experiences opening up a path to empathetic communication. The audience at the poetry reading was moved maybe because they were able to heal their anger in some way, just as I did when I forgave my father.

 

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For Thursday’s warm-up we examined an art object, Picasso’s 1937 “The Weeping Woman.” Students pointed out the commentary on anxiety during the Spanish Civil War and remarked how the sharp edges contained violent undertones and how the colors were reminicent of a corpse.

Overall, this week was a reflection on developing authorial voice and the impact it can have on readers.

More than a Grab Bag Candy Game: Citing Social Capital

In my column for TERSE. this month I discuss privilege, failure, and the myth of meritocracy.

Candy on human canvas: from “Wosit All About” by James Ostrer

“Did I tell you my mother, she never did stop dancing?”

“Yes. You told me. And mine, she never got well.”

Roberta lifted her hands from the tabletop and covered her face with her palms.

When she took them away she really was crying. ‘Oh shit, Twyla. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell happened to Maggie?”

from “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

In my English Composition II course this spring a student gave an exceptional presentation on Queer Theory citing J. Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal. They discussed precarity relating to queer people, something I wanted to prod when we got to Q&A. A problematic moment arose, for me, when my student, to support Halberstam’s thesis about Lady Gaga being the beacon of queer fluidity and new conceptions of the individual, said “Lady Gaga…

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The Phantoms of Culpability

Here is my column this month on TERSE. Journal. I discuss the coming culture of transparency, eeriness of photographic memories, making mistakes, and being wrong.

“The sensation of the eerie occurs when there is something present where there should be nothing, or there is nothing present when there should be something….In the case of the failure of absence, the question concerns the particular nature of the agent at work. We know that Stonehenge has been erected, so the questions of whether there was an agent behind its construction or not does not arise; what we have to reckon with are the traces of a departed agent whose purposes are unknown.” Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie

 

Your DropBox is closing in 30 days unless you take action.

 

“The internet does not have room for my 300 pictures,” I joked to everyone and no one on the internet as I shared a screen shot of DropBox’s threatening automatic e-mail to Twitter.

Last year the laptop I used for 4 years died during the…

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Processing Karma

I’ve been posting more frequently at TERSE. Journal, the new publication I’m working on. Check out my writing on memory, karma, and ancestry. You may appreciate the other writers too–I know I do.

The author 10 years in the past.

Processual learning, in classrooms and in life, emphasizes the intricate and unfolding manner of transformation. Karmic lessons are not always fully carried out in this life; we may only know one piece of a lesson we are supposed to learn now. That lesson needn’t exist in a linear frame. When you look up at the stars to notice how they are ordered, you won’t see a straight line or set of instructions, but we know we are made of the materials of stars. We are scattered, dynamic people.

In my post “Transfiguration,” I discussed cultural memory because, as I delve deeper into secular spirituality, I wonder: “Who was I in previous lives?” Some maintain we stay within our family lineage, believing we are one of our ancestors.

Maybe you were your great great grandfather or grandmother, a great aunt.

I once…

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This Week in Pedagogy: Moving Beyond Pain

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Week Five

This week students learned to read against the grain as we analyzed bell hooks’ “Moving Beyond Pain” for our main reading.

It was a week packed with new vocabulary, explorations of misogyny and misogynoir, and Lemonade.

“Don’t you all find it clever hooks used the word ‘BEYond’ in her article about Beyoncé? Get it?” I love wordplay and risk being corny.

bell-hooks

Since we are moving along in our course about research (and argument), I had students give me the lecture about who our featured writer is this week. Students did their research and explained why hooks selected her name and writes it in lowercase letters, how prolific a career hooks has had so far, and hooks’ career arc spanning over 40 years.

Our reading was hooks’ analysis of Beyoncé’s most recent album, Lemonade, so we also looked at one of her pioneering music videos from the album: “Formation.”

Students weighed in during our class: was hooks too hard on Beyoncé? Do people, not just hooks, put undue pressure on Beyoncé, one person (though a remarkable one), to do all the work of social change? There were mixed responses, and I was overall pleased at how critical students were. We had numerous microdiscussions within the lecture, and one of the most lively was the representation of women in popular media.

Visual Art: Lorna Simpson, “Waterbearer”

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For our first warm-up, students analyzed Lorna Simpson’s 1986 piece, “Waterbearer,” which got them thinking about Afrocentrism and Afrofuturism, some of the themes in Beyoncé’s work. Holding the past while existing in the present, bearing weight, and the pain of being silenced or purposely misunderstood were brought up in our discussion.

Song: Erykah Badu, “Bag Lady”

We also examined Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady,” a piece filled with symbolism, in small groups. Students were eager to analyze the lyrics in Badu’s piece, I find this group enjoys the socio-spiritual aspects of art. I encouraged them to also see the socio-political aspects of Badu as well. One of my students pointed out Badu has influenced a lot of other artists and led them towards new stylistic choices modeled after her body of work.

When it came to discussing women, one of the questions, especially concerning women of color was: “Can they ever do anything ‘right’ in the eyes of the public?” How broad, but when you consider the large role of misogyny and misogynoir, it’s helpful to wonder broadly.

LVVL Episode 30

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding Micah White’s new book: The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution. White is one of the founding provocateurs behind Occupy Wall Street. On this 30th episode of Lehigh Valley Vanguard LIVE ON AIR (!!!) Lauren, Wes and I discuss White’s intention for writing the book: innovation to our existing forms of protest and strengthening communities.

This Week in Pedagogy: Looking for Trouble

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Week Four

This week my students had a thesis statement due for their first written assignment. As a primer for their argumentative experiments we read Catherine Savini’s “Looking For Trouble: Finding Your Way Into a Writing Assignment.”

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Savini offers many example prompts in her texts, and one of them (though slightly modified) became my students’ first assignment in our course:

Identify and examine a human rights topic about which you would like to know more. You should use internet, library, and other sources to gather information on this topic; this is not a full-scale research paper, so you need to find a small number of adequately comprehensive sources. Your essay should (1) identify the issue; (2) describe its scope and frequency in geographic, regime-type, temporal, socio-demographic, or other terms, as appropriate; (3) identify the sense in which it is a human rights violation (of what article of what covenant, or with respect to what norm); (4) tell us what you have been able to learn about its causes, and (5) identify political, social, cultural, economic or other factors that appear to contribute to its increase or decrease. You should critically assess biases or shortcomings in the information sources you used to research your topic.

In order to answer their prompt, students are required to present a clear, original thesis, 6 sources (2 book, 3 journal, 1 article). I encouraged them to visit the Human Rights Watch website for ideas: https://www.hrw.org/topics.

This prompt was good for discussion and promoted thoughtfulness among students: how many policies are created in support of human rights versus the support of non-human entities: the economy, corporations.

With Savini we were also able to discuss leadership competencies. Savini brings out that leaders need to practice integrative thinking: holding multiple thoughts at once in order to discover solutions. For instance, a college will have certain lines of thought carried over from family, friends, former teachers. Their job, as integrative thinkers, is to examine those long-held ideas, look at the new ideas, and discover the answers for themselves based on their own research. Leaders do this and act accordingly, but it is a way of thinking that is learned. I remember grappling with this set of practices when I was a college student. This is why college is a valuable experience.

Song: Bjork, “Human Behavior”

Students examined Bjork’s “Human Behavior” and picked out: the elements of fairy tale storytelling (Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks), ecocriticism, Biblical references (to Jonah and the Whale), and imaginative style. They also cited a lot of lyrics in the song finding significance there.

Song: Earth, Wind & Fire, “That’s the Way of the World”

Earth, Wind & Fire was comparatively a relaxed analysis, compared to Bjork, in some ways. Some of the students pointed out the deep message of the song was obscured by accompanying music that lulled many of them into submission. We also looked at the glyphs on the single’s cover art: eye of Horos, an ankh, Saturn, a manora, Jupiter, a crucifix, a caduceus, and the star of David. As I learn more about my Jewish ancestry I had fun explaining the “evil eye” and why people wear symbols of protection in Jewish lore.

Savini asks students to “locate a problem” to get interested in an assignment. She listed the problems students face every day and showed them, whether they realize it or not, they are always negotiating problems.

She suggests these steps:

1. Noticing;

2. Articulating a problem and its details;

3. Posing fruitful questions;

4. Identifying what is at stake. (56)

These are skills students will use every day in any personal problem or career–certainly for the rest of their college career.

Savini also suggests:

1. Juxtapose texts from the same genre or on the same topic and identify tensions or contradictions in terms of their ideas and/ or definitions of key concepts.

2. Identify conflict between your own experiences and the theories or arguments offered by the text.

3. Identify troubling assumptions that underlie the central arguments/ideas of a text.

4. Note a gap or something relevant the text overlooks.

Though this was a longer read for a Composition II class, Savini will be invaluable to students moving forward. I’ve learned from her as well: always a good sign when selecting a text. One of my favorite parts about Savini’s text was her strategy of asking students: “What’s your problem?!” As in: why does your project matter?

I can’t wait to read the final drafts of my students for this assignment: they’ve picked nuanced arguments they care about. In terms of subject matter, it’s great to see them all concerned with what it means to be human, who is allowed to be more human than others, and how human beings interact within society, nature, and limitations.

This Week in Pedagogy: The World of Wrestling

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Week Three

This week in English Composition II we focused on evaluating source material and elements of argument.

When students are made to consider how they digest media, whether for school or for life, they must consider spectacle. To sift through this concept I thought we’d better read Roland Barthes “The World of Wrestling.” Barthes’ piece was also paired with two supplementary readings: “The Spectacle of Excess: Roland Barthes, Wrestling, and the Eucharist” and “On ‘The World of Wrestling’ by Roland Barthes (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Blog About Professional Wrestling).”

Song: Animal Collective, “What Would I Want? Sky”

In our song this week, students pointed out the dissonance in the song and how it’s similar to the myriad of messages they receive every day. This song also shows a dichotomy between thought and pragmatism (which Barthes discusses in his piece).

Audio Object: John Cena Prank Call (Good to get the students laughing. Life is hard.)

This piece, in addition to being silly, is an example of inundation of consumer culture. It’s important students know how to determine the stakes behind what they are absorbing and the constant bombardment they may not notice. There is a difference between passive observation of information and critical consideration. I learned about this clip from a former student when he insisted I listen to it. Barthes can be a heavy reading, so it was nice to break it up with some laughs. It fit nicely into our discussion.

For our activities we did an argument essay checklist. Students brought in four articles about the same topic. They broke into groups to figure out if the pieces fit our criteria.

Reading: Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling”

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In Barthes, from a composition standpoint, we focused on: pointed vocabulary, taking pains to create prose, making sharp references, defining “the spectacle,” myth in society, and students used their theory cheat sheet to determine what school Barthes was working from. We determined he was a sturcturalist/post-structuralist and a predecessor to affect and queer theory.

Right now it’s hard for students and teachers alike to tackle all the daily events bombarding us. In wrestling people find comfort in the clear struggle between “good guys” and “bad guys.” Barthes says:

In the ring, and even in the depths of their voluntary ignominy, wrestlers remain gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible.

Our jobs are harder. We have to figure it out for ourselves.