- Feminism, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Kindness
Feminist politics of care are not only about describing the conditions of care in the world as it is, but also about the risky speculative politics changing the order of things by becoming people who care. Thinking with the work of care in mind can then be a political act that points to a generic refusal to push away activities and affects that are dismissed as petty and trivial in a particular setting: for instance, in “serious” knowledge, politics, or theory.—Maria Puig de la Bellacassa, “Thinking With Care”
All caring teachers . . . see that to be successful in the classroom (success being judged as the degree to which we open the space for students to learn) [we] must nurture the emotional growth of students indirectly, if not directly.—bell hooks, Teaching Community (130)
Feminist theorists use a number of pedagogical techniques to resist existing structures of domination and oppression. In Methodology of the Oppressed, Chela Sandoval argues that feminist scholars use different terms including “trickster,” “coyote,” “mestiza consciousness” (Gloria Anzaldúa), “sister/outsider” (Audre Lorde), “margin” (bell hooks), or “cyborg” (Donna Haraway), and by reading across the disciplinary boundaries of critical race theory, cultural studies, feminist studies, queer theory, and global studies one can see how each phrase helps feminists to conceive of a “methodology of the oppressed” (Sandoval 170). Shifting technologies of resistance are, for Sandoval, a “complex kind of love in the post-modern world, where love is understood as affinity-alliance and affection across lines of difference” (169). This article seeks to radically reconceptualize kindness as one such “technology of social transformation” (2). As Michalinos Zembylas argues in “‘Structures of Feeling’ in Curriculum and Teaching,” it is important to note that we need to analyze emotions as “cultural formations” (188). That is, we need to theorize the ways that feelings “play a critical part in the construction of teacher identity, subjectivity, and power relations” (188). Here, we seek to explore how kindness might produce pedagogical relationships that sow the seeds of possibility for the transformation of our students’ lives. In particular, we ask: how might we imagine a feminism that uses kindness as a pedagogical strategy? And what might feminist kindness in the classroom do to the lives, bodies, experiences, and identities that inhabit these spaces? We do not conceptualize kindness as a pure feminine emotion,1 nor do we imagine that kindness is free from co-optation or appropriation for neoliberal or conservative political projects, as emotions remain a central [End Page 1] site of social control in education (Boler 11). We begin, then, by defining feminist kindness and complicating contemporary perceptions of its possibilities as they are understood in historical context. We next examine kindness’s impure history by using an interlocking feminist analysis, employed by Razack (Looking), to examine its relationship to imperialist endeavors aimed at maintaining oppressive racial, class, and gender orders. In doing so, we demonstrate that who is allowed to claim kindness, and on behalf of whom, remains tied to existing structures of white supremacist heteropatriarchal ableist domination. That is, kindness has been and continues to be used to explicitly marginalize othered bodies. From the institutional exploitation of kindness to persuade women to work for lower wages, forego promotions, and sacrifice their own interests in the name of nurture and love for their students, to the scripting of women of color as always-already angry and refusing to behave “kindly” or with gratitude to the institutions that oppress them, kindness has been deployed by higher educational institutions in ways that maintain existing structures of power, and are, therefore, nontransformational. And yet, despite its polluted history and complicated present, we argue that we should not abandon kindness as a feminist pedagogical strategy. Where it is used, how, and by whom matters. To this end, we aim to provide a critical reimagining of kindness through a “politic of accountability” (Razack Looking). We understand a politic of accountability as a way of accounting for our own forms of race, class, ability, and professional privilege, an accountability we argue is essential to any methodology of kindness. Understanding...