- Negotiating the Geopolitics of Student Resistance in Global Feminisms Classrooms
Teaching is a performative act. And it is that aspect of our work that offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom.—hooks
In the spring of 2009, I started my feminist teaching career by designing and offering GWST 340—Global Perspectives on Gender and Women in the Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST) Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). As a teacher simultaneously otherized on multiple fronts of identity and power formations, I encountered challenging incidents of student resistance while offering the course in 2009, 2010, and 2011. This article, by focusing on the geopolitics of student resistance that I experienced in these classes, discusses my pedagogical negotiations with it. In the rest of this introduction, I describe the scarce literature on student resistance to feminist pedagogies and situate my work in dialogue with feminist scholars whose experiential pedagogical pieces have helped me in the design and teaching of GWST 340. Then I provide some background information on the teacher, the course structure, the student composition of the classes, and the institutional site. Finally, I analyze the key components of the course and explore both my pedagogical intentions and the students’ reactions to them. I end the article by offering insights on how to manage and diminish student resistance in global gender studies courses and inviting further knowledge production on the subject matter.
Reflecting bell hooks’s conception of teaching as liberatory and transformative, I wanted to create a participatory classroom setting for GWST 340, where knowledges, experiences, and emotions would be provided by both the teacher and the students. This partnership would be fashioned to gain a more in-depth understanding of intermingling imperialist and patriarchal forms and structures of oppression both globally and locally. Such a critical perspective would necessarily center on a critique of U.S. hegemony, which in today’s intensely globalized world implies a substantial scope of economic, political, cultural, and military power. In addition to understanding gendered structures of global domination, which I believed were always already implicated in the local, I also wanted students to develop a sense of women’s agency (especially women living in the so-called Third World who are too often represented as victims in hegemonic Western discourses). Gaining such awareness on women’s initiative and [End Page 83] negotiative power would help students envision possibilities for global feminist activisms based on solidarity and inter-sectional political praxes against multiple oppressions, rather than on imperialistic models of Western feminism. Thus, I intended to help students develop critical thinking so that they could see the happenings in the world with a locally and globally informed gendered lens that would emphasize relationality and question issues of privilege, complicity, and accountability.
My vision of GWST 340 began to materialize as I became acquainted with the vast literature of feminist pedagogies, particularly experiential sources on globalizing feminist curricula, student resistance, and the feminist teacher’s power paradox. During this literature review, I not only became epistemologically familiar with the political notion of the “feminist teacher,” but also stumbled upon an inspiring article that caused a moment of epiphany in my pedagogical thinking and gave a new direction to my growth as a feminist teacher. In this stimulating piece, Michiko Hase discusses her experiences of encountering student resistance while teaching global gender issues and feminisms as a Japanese woman in a U.S. university. Hase brings nation/alism into the center of her discussion on student resistance. She explains how her course design—which focused on critiques of U.S. hegemony both in terms of state politics and feminist politics, rather than on the “horrific” oppressions of “Third World Women” in the hands of “Third World Men”—did not confirm students’ preformed ideas of other cultures based on a “superior us” versus “inferior them” binary. She argues that her students displayed resistance not only because they were not used to hearing their nation and Western definitions of feminism being criticized in such an institutional environment, but also because the critique was coming from...