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Home arrow Sociology arrow Being an Early Career Feminist Academic: Global Perspectives, Experiences and Challenges

Navigating the Margins

Given that feminist backlash as well as (unconscious) gender bias within the academy exists and persists, feminist professors must learn to navigate this terrain without simultaneously and unwittingly perpetuating this backlash and bias. One of the things being an early career feminist has led me to do is reevaluate the label of ‘feminist’: what it means to me and how my feminism translates into my own pedagogical approach. It is important to remember that just like feminism, feminist pedagogy is not a singular discourse. There are multiple feminist pedagogies. Despite ideological differences, all feminisms and feminist pedagogies challenge the normative and encourage feminist scholars to reflect on the contradictions of our own practices and theory. My thoughts on this can be organised as follows:

No, I Don’t Hate Men...

When I first started teaching, I will admit that I used these words to position myself and my lecture content. However, to me this statement is fraught with much ambivalence. On the one hand, I understand why several of my female colleagues feel the need to make this assertion at the outset of any talk on feminism. In a patriarchal society, any discussion of sexism, gender inequality, or gendered violence is seen as an assault on men, as highlighted earlier. Furthermore, given that we are taught that gender-neutral language is objective, any explicit mention of men (as opposed to the general ‘people’) is also interpreted in similar ways. On the other hand, by commencing with this statement we are just reiterating and perpetuating sentiment that there exist at least ‘some’ feminists that are ‘male-bashing’ (Markowitz 2005). In order to alleviate these tensions within my classroom, I follow Naffine (1997: 2), who questions why the discipline of criminology believes itself to ‘be free from the effects of gender when in its proper form’. That is, why do we speak about criminality and victimization in gender-neutral terms, reserving discussions of gender, in general, and women, in particular, to specialized courses? I ask students why they think there are courses with titles like ‘Women in the Criminal Justice System’ but no courses similarly entitled, ‘Men in the Criminal Justice System.’ Who do they think they are learning about in courses where sex or gender is not specified? I articulate the importance of bringing gender into criminological analysis to understand what masculinity and femininity have to do with crime, criminality, and victimization. I point out that doing so is not ‘hating men’ but, rather, that rendering gender constructions and expectations invisible is what is problematic.

My students and I frequently joke about my ‘Olga-isms’—those statements that I have repeated often enough that my students know me by them. One such Olga-ism is the question, ‘What are we not saying, when we are saying what we are saying?’ This is perhaps somewhat convoluted, but the point that I am underscoring here is that language is not neutral, that certain ‘common sense’ lines of thought only work because they rest on unnamed and invisible assumptions. In the context of what I teach, I provide the example of the frequently asked question, ‘What was she wearing?’ when discussing victims of sexual assault. Students agree that this is something they often initially ask; however, I challenge them to think about what this question is actually implying. What are the narratives that make this a viable question to ask? At its base, this question only works if we hold particular assumptions about the nature of men and their (in)ability for sexual self-control. By engaging in such thought exercises, I am able to bring gender into the classroom in a critical way, without perpetuating fallacies about what feminists are like.

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