Because I will be writing weekly here at Lawsonry, I thought I’d take the time to introduce myself. My name is Kerry, and I currently teach composition to college freshman and sophomores. I like writing about feminist issues and how they affect my classroom. Although I don’t center my courses on feminism and gender studies, I’ve found that these issues often make their way into class discussion.
Baby steps: Introducing feminism to newcomers
I’m a fairly new teacher, and when I started I thought that it would be really important to keep my personal views out of the classroom. But after some time, I saw that sharing my thoughts on feminist issues offered the students a new perspective and opened the door for interesting discussion. It’s not always perfect – there are certain topics that almost always produce depressing reactions (like slut shaming), and there are days when I can’t believe that I’m blowing their minds (like the day I introduced gender-neutral pronouns). For the most part, though, I’m constantly amazed at how much my students want to learn.
Recently, I showed my students an article that spread like wildfire on the Internet: Lisa Khoury’s “Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?” Like many people, I was pretty angry about this article and the way Khoury addressed women. However, after my anger subsided, I saw this as a learning opportunity for my students. Because I teach argument, I thought it would be a perfect way for my students to break down an unsuccessful argument and re-construct it. We used the Toulmin Model to analyze Khoury’s argument, and it was one of the best classes to date in both of my sections.
One of the main parts of the Toulmin Model is warrant, or the underlying beliefs or values an author assumes the audience holds. This part of Khoury’s argument is particularly problematic, and my students saw that right away. I asked them what Khoury assumed the audience felt about women, and my students quickly listed the problems: “She assumes that all women want to impress men” and “She thinks that all women like to shop or wear high heels.” I urged them to push this analysis a bit further by asking them what Khoury thought about women with regards to sexual preference and turned their attention to the lines, “Your body literally has the ability to turn heads. Guys drool over us.” They looked at me, perplexed. Finally, one of my students responded hesitantly, “That all girls like guys?” After a moment, another asked, “Yeah, and what about gay guys? I mean, they’re not going to be drooling over a woman in high heels!”
Almost every teacher will say that the most satisfying moments of the job are the “light bulb” moments, the moments when a student truly gets it and one sees the student’s face light up in recognition. At that moment, a sea of twenty two light bulbs lit up at once. They got it. They were able to see the Toulmin Model in action, and they were beginning to understand the issue of erasure. A student noted that she rarely saw homosexual couples in advertising. Students then began to discuss popular commercials and the ways in which homosexuals were erased in advertising.
When I began teaching, I wondered about the place of feminist issues in my classroom. Now, it seems like a no-brainer. These issues are impossible to separate from class discussion because they’re impossible to separate from my students’ lives. I enjoy guiding my students in useful discussions and am happy that they will leave my classroom a little more informed on these issues.