For my literature review project, I have begun to explore feminist pedagogy in composition studies. Explore is really the most appropriate term, as I feel like the focus of my review is taking shape as I gather and review resources.
The guiding question I am using for my research is “what is feminist writing?” with a secondary sub-question of “how can this writing be fostered in a composition classroom?” To explore the idea of feminist writing, I am looking not at writing that deals with feminist social issues, but rather at what compositionists say about women’s writing and gendered perspectives on writing. Thus far this includes ideas about how and why women write; how their writing is received, or how they expect it to be received, and how that impacts their motivation and process; and how and why women’s writing differs from men’s—both in reality and in perception—and what can be learned from those differences.
I feel at this point I may need to defend against a common objection to this line of study and inquiry. Some feel that looking at writing from a gendered perspective is inherently sexist itself and would insist that women’s writing should be treated and considered exactly the same as men’s writing. However, it is a fact that in our society women themselves are, on the whole, treated and considered quite differently from men. To ignore the significant social differences would not level the playing field, but would rather allow existing systems of privilege and oppression to go unacknowledged and unchecked. Thus, studying writing with an eye towards the impact of gender is an appropriate step towards feminist goals of equal opportunity and respect.
Clearly, feminist pedagogy is deeply intertwined with feminist ideals and ethics. Those feminist ideals, though their most basic precepts have remained the same, have shifted in focus and tone throughout the history of the feminist movement. To further explore and to accommodate this, my literature review will look at questions about feminist writing chronologically, using the three commonly referred to waves of feminism as an organizational guide.
The first of these waves is loosely defined as the mid-19th century through the early 20th century, and is most associated with the women’s suffrage movement. While there is little written explicitly about women and composition studies at that time, there is a significant body of work on women’s writing, literacy, and education. From this work, I hope to extrapolate some general scholarly view on what would later be considered feminist writing, though those terms were not in use at that time.
The second wave focuses on the women’s liberation and civil rights movements of the 1960s and early 70s. Composition studies at that time began moving toward new ideas about expressivism and process theory, ideas which seemed to be taken up eagerly by feminist academics as they sought a new pedagogy to accommodate expanding career and higher education goals for women.
The third wave of feminism is usually considered to begin in the early 1990s and is a period with a great wealth of writing on the topic of feminist pedagogy. Women at this time had gained a more significant place in academia, and as a result more compositionists were doing a great deal of work to assess the progress that had been made in feminist pedagogy and to determine what steps were needed to keep moving forward.
As I proceed with my research and refine my list of resources, I may also include a postmodern period in my feminist chronology. Some consider the third wave of feminism to extend into the present, but many refer to the current feminist moment as postmodern feminism. Postmodern feminism is typically associated with a broader perspective on what feminism is and who it should address. In composition studies, this is reflected in concerns such as how to consider male perspectives in a feminist composition classroom, examinations of the specific challenges that face female writers of color, and how feminist pedagogical concepts can accommodate non-binary gender and other queer identities.
While this topic does in many ways seem daunting, I believe that by focusing on specific movements within feminist history and choosing a small sampling of resources from each period that illuminate the key concerns and conversations of the time, the end result will demonstrate clear correlations between the progression of feminism and how that progress impacts and is reflected by the work done by and about women in composition studies. This will give a fuller, more historically accurate picture of what feminist writing is and how it can be, should be, and has been handled in the composition classroom. Below is a list of resources I am currently looking at as I begin my exploration of this topic; it is a list I expect to expand and to change as my research progresses.
Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-hop Feminist Pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Print.
Crabtree, Robbin, David Alan. Sapp, and Adela C. Licona. Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2009. Print.
Donawerth, Jane. Rhetorical Theory by Women before 1900: An Anthology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Print.
Foss, Karen A., Sonja K. Foss, and Cindy L. Griffin. Feminist Rhetorical Theories. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Pub., 2006. Print.
Gabriel, Susan L., and Isaiah Smithson. Gender in the Classroom: Power and Pedagogy. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1990. Print.
Greer, Jane. Girls and Literacy in America: Historical Perspectives to the Present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Print.
Hooks, Bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.
Jarratt, Susan Carole Funderburgh., and Lynn Worsham. Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1998. Print.
Kirsch, Gesa. Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. Print.
Lunsford, Andrea A. Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1995. Print.
Ritchie, Joy S., and Kate Ronald. Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2001. Print.
Sheridan-Rabideau, Mary P. Girls, Feminism, and Grassroots Literacies: Activism in the GirlZone. Albany: State University of New York, 2008. Print