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  • Constructing a Male Feminist Pedagogy:Authority, Practice, and Authenticity in the Composition Classroom
  • William Breeze (bio)

Those of us who call ourselves feminists—teachers or otherwise—know well the stereotypical mainstream representations of feminism. Feminism has been blamed for a "loosening of moral values," and for everything from sexual promiscuity to the "homosexual agenda" and high rates of divorce. These are some of the kinder epithets thrust at feminism. Pro-choice feminists are called "murderers"; lesbian feminists are denounced as "man-haters"; male feminists are considered to be emasculated and effeminate victims of the feminist movement (after all, only an "emasculated" man would embrace feminist ideas such as compassion, respect, acceptance, tolerance, and women's equality). The success of such constructions of feminism is evident in the ways our students perceive the feminist movement—if not with outright hostility, often with sound-bite versions gleaned from the mainstream media.

To teach from a feminist perspective, then, is to face the challenge of presenting an alternative and more accurate view of feminism than students typically bring to class. This reclamation of feminism is difficult for any teacher who does such work, but the male feminist faces particular challenges in the classroom, such as questions of authenticity and concerns over the appropriation of women's knowledge. The following essay is a discussion of my own work of becoming a male feminist teacher in the face of conservative views of feminism as well as skepticism from female (and male) students. Here I will examine how authority (of knowledge) and authenticity (of experience) inform and impact the feminist practice of a male writing teacher. I concentrate here on a course I regularly teach at my university: English 306J, Women and Writing. Women and Writing is a junior-level course that is one of several offered to fulfill students' composition requirement. The course is typically taken primarily by women, but there are often two or three men in the class. When I have taught Women and Writing, the course has been consistently experience-rich—a class where, more than any other, the challenges of feminist pedagogy and the complications of identity [End Page 59] have been consistently at the forefront of my teaching. I am particularly interested in discussing my work in Women and Writing because of the lack of male-authored scholarship on feminist writing pedagogy. For instance, in Gesa E. Kirsch's Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook, only one section introduction was written by a man, Lance Massey, who also co-edited the text. And in The Feminist Teacher Anthology, a collection of essays from the first ten years of Feminist Teacher, only two male authors are represented among nineteen essays. Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words, edited by Susan C. Jarratt and Lynn Worsham, contains no work by a male author. Of course, there may be editorial preferences at work in the compiling of these important volumes, such as the necessary task of presenting female scholars and ideas that have otherwise been neglected by academic publishing.

What I fear has also led to this absence of male scholars is that feminism and feminist pedagogy are still too often seen as the realm of women only, particular sites for women to work against male dominance, rather than sites for a discourse that acknowledges the connection between feminist concerns and issues of race, class, and sexual orientation. In other words, the work of feminism necessitates the participation of a diverse population in order to end the oppression feminism addresses. Though my suggestion here may seem simplistic, the participation of male feminists in scholarly and research roles opens the possibility of men embracing the ideals of feminism. Of course, a charge of appropriation of the feminist movement by men could be leveled, but I would advocate an emphasis on participation by men in feminist scholarly work rather than a privileging of male feminist scholarship. My work with feminist composition pedagogy relies on two assumptions: first, that feminism is a movement that is, through a discourse on what are generally thought of as "women's issues," actually a vital force for dealing with inhumanity and oppression for all people. Secondly, my work assumes that...