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)
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.
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 Trial–focus: 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
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.
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.