We're at that point in the semester when backpacks and stress are becoming increasingly heavy. In an attempt to stave off boredom and complacency, I have been ramping up the variety of our classroom activities. You can't have a student-centered classroom if your students aren't feeling motivated and inspired! This week, my class was discussing work. There are a lot of complex and interconnected issues here, so instead of merely summarizing these ideas in class discussion, I decided to engage my students in feminist media analysis. Particularly, I wanted to highlight those issues not emphasized in the main course text, but that I identified as integrally important to our overall understanding of the topic. I selected a variety of video clips which illustrated: The social context of the gendered wage gap, the intersections of western female empowerment and the "visible invisible" domestic labor economy, and the ways in which labor related discrimination (particularly focusing on Queer/LGBTQ+ workers) is often marginalized in labor discourse and activism.
We began with the wage gap. I showed students the following clips, and then asked them to 1) Think: How do you respond personally to the ideas in this video? Who is included/excluded here? What hidden meanings can we expose by applying an intersectional feminist analysis? How can this conversation be reframed utilizing a global perspective? 2) Pair: Discuss you reactions with another classmate or small group. What did they notice that you did not? 3) Share: As a class, let's talk about our reactions to these clips. What did we learn? What surprised us? Inspired us? Confused us?
Gendered Wage Gap:
Students noted that while legal reforms have been made, social understandings of gendered labor stall real progress. Students also noted that while the Lily Ledbetter clip zoomed in frequently on women of color in the audience, the speech did not address the impact of race, class, or gender expression on wage discrepancies.
The class discussed how the conception of female empowerment as increased workforce participation and equal wages for women seldom recognizes the ways in which the ability of many western women to participate equally in the labor force relies on a system which simultaneously exploits and oppresses female domestic laborers. We critiqued the ways in which the tangible and emotional aspect of domestic labor is externalized and removed from many conversations about gender and labor.
Queer/LGBTQ+ Labor Rights:
The class discussed the ways in which gender and sexuality can determine our economic choices and opportunities. While the blame is often located in the worker, we must look to the ways they are cut out of the conversation surrounding labor rights and activism.
This week my Introduction to Women's Studies class was discussing reproductive justice and healthcare. To get students thinking about the ways in which reproductive justice can be more inclusive, I decided to try a hands-on activity. I distributed a plethora of various reproductive health brochures, some of which were more inclusive than others. I had students look over the pamphlets in groups, and try to answer some overarching questions:
The overarching consensus was that many of these pamphlets assumed the reader was a cisgendered heterosexual, and this sparked a heated discussion about the potential implications.
In my Women's and Gender Studies class this week, the students are learning about systems of privilege and inequality. Intersectionality is a central concept of feminism- and I wanted to ensure that my students had time to think critically about what a theoretical concept like intersectionality would look like practically. I decided that I wanted to try an active learning activity. Luckily, I found an activity from AVERT Family Violence: Collaborative Responses in the Family Law System that I could adapt to fit my learning goals. The end result was a fun yet meaningful class activity!
5. When students started to run into the "American Dream" Wall, we stopped. I had the students go down the line and read their flash card identities, starting with the most privileged first. We then headed back into the classroom to discuss our reactions to the exercise.
I asked the class, "Did this exercise help you to visualize the reality of intersectionality?"
The answer was...yes! Of course, they could have been humoring me.
Many of the students agreed that the exercise helped them to think beyond the initial privileges that are generally taken for granted and envision a bigger picture. This activity launched us into a great class discussion about privilege, horizontal hostility, the mythical norm, internalized misogny, and the five faces of oppression (particularly cultures of silence). Students shared a lot of very personal experiences, and I wonder if their comfort with sharing was (at least partially) due to starting the class with an activity that required reflecting on personal experiences.
Verdict: I can't wait to devise more of these activities! The students really seemed to enjoy it, and the discussion that followed had almost 100% participation. Hopefully, I can make a habit of starting class with an active learning activity!