At the outset of this academic year, I made a difficult decision. Would I continue on in my M.Ed. program and write a thesis, or would I elect the "course-based" route and take a couple more electives of interest together with a capstone portfolio course, which I would have to defend in the spring? This was a *really* hard decision for me, as I love the research and writing process, so much so that I even took the thesis-route advanced quantitative methods course to keep my options open. In the end I elected the course-based route for a few important reasons. First, I want this program to be "done", and not because I haven't enjoyed it, but as a mother of 2 growing boys who is working a full-time job, I have never been more cognizant that time is fleeting. Second, I have plenty of opportunities to engage in both research and writing as part of my job - I can make these opportunities for myself. Lastly, there was one course as part of the program that I really wanted to take: MDDE 651: "Gender Issues in Education". And so, this semester, alongside my capstone project, I am taking this course.
Many of my peers in the program had recommended it. "Transformative" they said. This post represents the early stages of my learning in this course. As an "integration essay", we have been encouraged to use the first person to describe our thoughts and values related to what we have studied this far. For me, this is best described as a journey toward praxis. Meaning, that the readings thus far have really opened by eyes to underlying assumptions about what constitutes knowledge, and in terms of how theory is developed and disseminated. But, it has also provided me with a lens to think about my own practice, and how I must not be complicit in the subversion of marginalized voices and that my practice must be grounded in feminist pedagogy from the outset - in course designs; when I walk in to a classroom; and when I undertake any future research endeavour. I am not sure why this has been so revelatory to me - I am, after all, a self-described feminist. In the paragraphs that follow, I will attempt to synthesize what I have learned, but also unpack and describe its impact on my (present and future) practice as an educator.
In November of 2017 I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to attend a conference called OpenCon. A joint initiative between SPARC and the Right to Research Coalition, and sponsored by the Max Planck Society, the conference brings together a cohort of early career researchers to collaborate on issues concerned with open access, data and education. I have written about the experience here. In my post-event reflection, I highlighted the important discussions brought forth by the "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion" panel that helped close the conference. It was during this session that my eyes were opened to the way that our understanding of knowledge creation privileges geography, class, race and gender identities.
It was only in this current course, however, that I really have come to understand these issues. In "Why Theory" (Bailey, Leo-Rhynie & Morris, 1996), the authors demonstrate that much of our understanding of the world, our knowledge, and thus 'our' theory, is based on the work of predominantly white, privileged men, and thus should be considered only partial knowledge.
To understand this better, it helps to visualize this problem. The first image appended above is concerned specifically with research and knowledge production in scientific fields, and does not parse out gender identities, The second image shows discrepancies in participation in tertiary education, and in this case, is specifically concerned with women's access to/participation in post-secondary education. Taken together, it is easy to recognize the problem of conceptualizing knowledge and theory production as 'equal'. The traditional androcentric, or 'male-stream' approach to knowledge building, "[w]hen applied in research, policy, and action...not only ignore women's contributions in all spheres of activity but also exclude consideration of issues particularly relevant to women", and additionally perpetuates colonial paradigms. (para. 1).
One of the inherent problems with theory and knowledge construction being predominated by men, of course, is not simply a lack of women's participation. More, it is that theory and knowledge is then only representative of a fairly homogenous perspective. While it is nice to think of the act of theorizing as one void of bias, the truth is, however, that it is riddled with bias - from the conception of a 'problem', to the research-design, data collection and analysis (Bailey, Leo-Rhynie & Morris, 1996). This becomes especially problematic if the subject of research is women, or women's experience(s), where a multiplicity of factors including the "social roles and the ways women negotiate the world also differ among women in diverse contexts (cultural, social, political, racial or ethnic, religious, etc.) and...diverse personal characteristics (age, education, sexual orientation, etc.)" (Bailey, Leo-Rhynie & Morris, 1996, para. 19) are influential. And so if knowledge production and subsequent theory don't account for this heterogeneity, then not only is the process as problematic as an androcentric "traditional" approach, but more, the resulting policies and social justice actions will likewise suffer.
Of the many feminist approaches to theory, perhaps the most inclusive, from my perspective, is a post-structuralist feminist perspective. Tisdell (1998) argues that earlier psychological models of feminism focused primarily on 'woman as individual', and largely exclude analysis of social structures, nor consider any "substantive attention to race, ethnicity, or class differences among women" (para. 5). I would argue that these models thus also dichotomize conceptions of gender. Not only do they favour the experiences of white middle-class women as suggested (Tisdell, 1998), but they also don't recognize the fluidity of gender identities. Later structural models of feminism looked outward to interrogate social structures and systems of oppression (patriarchy), but give little agency to individual autonomy (Tisdell, 1998). Post-structural feminist perspectives consider both. That is, while post-structural models are cognizant of the plurality and variation in women's experiences, in particular at the intersections of race, class, sexuality, ableism etc,, post-structural feminism also questions how cultural, historical, political and social systems influence (or not) women's realities.
The multiplicities of women's experiences are evidenced by many of the readings in the course, and in particular, with a lens on the affect this range has on educational access and performance. And some of the evidence is antithetical. While Price (2006) purports that the stereotypical view that women are hindered by technology and do not have access to the Internet to participate in online education is false, I would argue this is an ethnocentric conclusion. Vaskovics (2015) notes, that while Internet access, and indeed access to tertiary educational opportunities in developing countries is on the rise, there are many structural obstacles that disadvantage women in these countries, notwithstanding an Internet gender gap. Spronk (2001) describes women in the developing world as being "triply marginalized" (p. 21), and states that the "issues facing women are fundamentally those of access and control, which in turn give rise to issues of cost and choices" (p. 21). While Canadian statistics are encouraging, in so far as the gender gap in tertiary education is in favour of women (Statistics Canada, 2011, as cited in Vaskovics & Smith, 2015), Canadian women are often faced with pressures when assuming multiple life roles. Specifically, while as Canadian women we might be accessing and completing post-secondary education in higher numbers, it is often not without tremendous sacrifice and juggle.
'I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.' - Audre Lorde
I only need to reflect on my own experience, one privileged and grounded in a progressive household, to know the difficulties of balancing my roles of mother, partner, worker, student and CEO of my household (a job I *never* applied for I might add). With a recent emphasis on the need for intersectionality in feminism, I think I would best sum up the layers of women's experiences as requiring each of us to look for commonalities, but while still being vigilant about honouring and recognizing this multiplicity. Our work is to hold up on high our differences, and to ensure that we are amplifying marginalized voices, all the while coming together in the collective work to be done. And some of us have more work to do than others, and so for those of us in privileged positions, perhaps we have to work harder than those who fundamentally have higher proverbial mountains to climb, all the while ensuring we are not speaking for women with different experiences than our own. Sometimes our work will just be listening. We simply cannot ignore these multiplicities and we cannot make assumptions about women's experiences. We must be intersectional in our practices.
And so how do we find praxis? How do we find the intersections, not only between theory and practice, but more importantly, between all of the dimensions of women's experiences as listed? Stalker (2001), begins her publication, "Misogyny, Women, and Obstacles to Tertiary Education: A Vile Situation" with an anecdote from her own practice. During a "casual chat in the university tea room" (p. 288) she recounts a male colleague bragging that his students were so engrossed in his lecture that they all stayed behind for an additional thirty minutes just to hear him talk. Stalker (2001) speaks up and suggests that this could potentially disadvantage the women in the class who may well have to attend to their other life-roles. This narrative resonated with me deeply, as I have witnessed first hand, in particular in my role of 'worker' the (sometimes) subtle sexism and misogyny that persists, and often goes unnoticed, or at least unnamed.
Indeed my own life experiences have made me increasingly vigilant to call these instances out as I see them. Shumake's (2002) call for both a persuasive and cooperative rhetoric is timeless, in particular in the current climate of polarization we are witnessing and/or experiencing in the world. In my own practice, I have attempted to take a critical pedagogical approach, including minimizing any digital redline that privileges some learners but not others. I was struck by how Burge's (2001) "really vital" guidelines for learning technology implementation, challenge and critique, show respect, be relevant (p. 153) together with her "nearly as vital" guidelines (below), still resonate some 17 years after publication. These suggestions transcend a feminist or critical practice, and are simply, from my perspective, "good practice". Though undoubtedly they will certainly improve the learning experiences of those at the margins.
More, Tisdell (1998) offers practical advice toward recognizing the tenets of post-structural feminist pedagogy in practice. Inherent in the approach, is post-structural feminist theory which acknowledges"intersections of gender with other systems of oppression and privilege [and] are key to the construction of the self" all the while examining the interplay with macro structural systems. More, this grounding in theory encourages a questioning of a fundamental "truth", allows for fluid and shifting identities, and invites us to deconstruct rigid binaries as we explore our understanding of the world (Tisdell, 1998). It is through this theoretical grounding, that as practitioners we can facilitate multiple means of knowledge construction, while also being mindful of the implications of voice, authority, and positionality in the classroom, whether face-to-face, or online.
These ideas have certainly pervaded my self-reflective practice recently, and will continue to do so going forward. There has been much to synthesize and to contemplate in the readings thus far. The interplay between theory and practice; the nuances of personal and collective experiences; the intersections of gender, race, class, sexuality; the systems of oppression and the structural influence of patriarchy, and the interwoven nature of each and all, has certainly given me pause. I called this entry, "Finding Praxis" as it is my hope that I will take all of this "thinking" and allow it to permeate my pedagogical practice. And more, that I will continue to build on this knowledge toward ongoing inquiry in this area. I am off to a good start.
Bailey, B., Leo-Rhynie, E., & Morris, J. (1996). Why theory? In Commonwealth of Learning (Eds.), Theoretical perspectives on gender and development (pp. 1-18). Vancouver, BC: Commonwealth of Learning.
Burge, E. J. (2001). Using learning technologies: A synthesis of challenges and guidelines . In E. J. Burge, & M. Haughey (Eds.), Using learning technologies: International perspectives on practice (pp. 145-155). London: Routledge/Falmer.
Price, L. (2006). Gender differences and similarities in online courses: Challenging stereotypical views of women. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(5), 349-359.
Shumake, J. L. (2002). Reconceptualizing communication and rhetoric from a feminist perspective. Guidance & Counselling, 17(4), 99-104.
Spronk, B. (2001). Naming the learning technology issues in developing countries. In E. J. Burge, & M. Haughey (Eds.), Using learning technologies: International perspectives on practice (pp. 15-25). London: Routledge/Falmer.
Stalker, J. (2001). Misogyny, women, and obstacles to tertiary education: A vile situation. Adult Education Quarterly, 51(4), 288-305.
Thien. (2012, May 19). 18/05/12. [Cover Image]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/c1EL3u. CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Tisdell, E. J. (1998). Poststructural feminist pedagogies: The possibilities and limitations of feminist emancipatory adult learning theory and practice. Adult Education Quarterly, 48(3),139-156.
Vaskovics, C., & Smith, F. L. (2015). Women and distance education in developing countries: The challenges. International Women Online Journal of Distance Education, 4(2).
Vaskovics, C., & Smith, F. L. (2015). Canada - Inclusive distance education: Experiences of four Canadian women. International Women Online Journal of Distance Education, 4(3).
"Why" (n.d.). Retrieved from https://whoseknowledge.org/why.