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April 23, 2004

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Jonathan Dresner

Funny, because I try to do very similar things with history, particularly social history, but I don't perceive (nor do my students percieve, apparently) my classroom as being feminist. While I do not make a presentist case for everything I teach I nonetheless try to instill my teaching with elements of theory (economic, political, social, intellectual, religious....) which are useful and relevant to contemporary life.

I invoke my students' personal experiences wherever possible ("Anyone here ever fired a crossbow? What's it like?"), and I try to make analogies to the present because it's a tool for increasing the presence of the past.

This isn't an issue of therapy or presentism. It is a matter of education, which is supposed to give students an appreciation for life and culture and tools to continue to grow intellectually, ethically, professionally.

History is very personal. So is political science, if you take things at all seriously. So is literature. So is psychology. So is physics and statistics. That doesn't mean that we can privilege opinion and emotive responses, but that abstracting our fields away from life is wrong, and we have to deal with the question of how our studies interact with our and our students' lives. Is this a feminist perspective?

Hugo

Well, yes and no. Yes, the sharing of personal experience is surely part of what we are trying to do. But a feminist perspective notes that women's experiences tend to receive shorter shrift than men's,and as a consequence, it takes steps to redress that. A feminist pedagogy also notes that women and men share experience differently. One has to construct a classroom that will be safe space for women who don't feel comfortable raising their hands in a lecture hall format.

Above all, feminist pedagogy recognizes that the most crucial "sharing" is the sharing of painful, difficult, experiences that are linked to gender issues.

Jonathan Dresner

OK, mine is not a feminist pedagogy, clearly. I'm not much for "constructing classroom space" (Yeah, I need to work on that, and it's not a gender thing), and I don't usually teach subjects in which ameliorating personal trauma is an issue. And I don't privilege gender as a vector of historical or personal trauma, though I do integrate it quite effectively in social and economic history.

That's OK. We have other people here who do your stuff, and I support that.

Hugo

And I support folks who initiate classroom discussions with questions like "Anyone here ever fired a crossbow?" There's one we don't get around to much in gender studies.

Ophelia Benson

I hope that crossbow filed a grievance! I never heard of such a thing. Crossbows can do the job as well as anyone else.

"But I also know that for most of my working-class community college students, long-term therapy is simply never going to be an option in their lives. It is cruel and unreasonable to assume that they should have any other forum for wrestling with and analyzing their own experiences!"

Well, that's certainly a point. (Too bad the fashion for consciousness-raising sessions died out, isn't it. Not that I ever actually went to one, and I've heard that a lot of them were horrible - either full of interpersonal tensions etc or over their own heads - dealing with stuff that [again] should have been dealt with by people with eight or nine medical degrees. But still, that sounds like another potentially useful therapy-substitute.) And I do think the whole tyranny of Britneyish-or-whoeverish-appearance thing should be deconstructed and problematized all over the place. But - I also think the chance to learn about wider subjects is irreplaceable. So I'm torn.

Gotta go, I'm going to organize a union for crossbows.

Mumcat

U.N. Strung, Senior Representative for the Longbow Union has declared they will march out in solidarity with their fired crossbow brothers and sisters.

Seriously, though, it's an interesting thought, that a male teacher would teach young women about body-image. I'm sure you do an excellent job, Hugo, but it still seems a bit strange to me. Of course, I'm from another generation where women's studies were called home economics and the body image we were taught to have was of a woman in heels, stockings, dress and pearls meeting husband at the door with a kiss and serving up the roast precisely on the tick of 6pm.

Hugo

Actually, just as we consider "cross-dressing" to be an inaccurate pejorative, we try not to talk about "crossbows" at all anymore. We talk about "gender-reassigned arrow propulsion devices".

Mumcat

LOL. Thank you for pointing that out, Hugo. :) You're right on target with that one.

Ophelia Benson

Made me laugh raucously too. Wish I'd thought of it first and stuck it in the Fashionable Dictionary.

Jonathan Dresner

Does that mean that my discussion of the superiority of longbows is lengthism?

I get to ask all kinds of goofy questions: when we talk about Rome I ask if anyone's ever seen a charging elephant....

Ophelia Benson

And then you follow that up with 'Does the elephant use Visa or Mastercard?'

Hugo

Well, the other problem is that to describe an elephant as charging reflects anthropomorphism, not to mention elephantiphobia. Charging is our perception of their activity, activity that within the community of loxodonta africanae might be more accurately understood as defensive behavior in response to human aggression. It goes without saying that historically speaking, men rather than women have been both the primary enemies of elephants as well as the primary zoologists of elephant behavior. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Ralph Luker

Ugh, Hugo, I forgot to forewarn you that, among other things, in a former life Ophelia worked with elephants in a zoo. We may hear about this! She will know whereof she speaks.

Hugo

Well, she doesn't know which credit cards elephants tend to use, so I don't feel threatened. Yet.

Ralph Luker

Odd, isn't it? I try to find these things out right up front. She may have forgotten to ask.

Ophelia Benson

Ah no, I didn't say I didn't know which card 'Phants use, I said that's what Jonathan asks his students next. Tsk. Sloppy reading! I hope that's not how you guys conduct yourselves in the archives.

Jonathan Dresner

To be honest, the followup never even occurred to me. That's kind of embarassing, actually.

Whole realms of bad elephant jokes come to mind, coupled with even worse Hannibal jokes. I wonder, though. Would my students evals be better or worse if I used them in class? Should it matter?

Ophelia Benson

Oh dear - those jokes are bad then? My colleague made a Hannibal joke in the Fashionable Dictionary, and I got into one of those unstoppable fits of laughter at it a couple of days ago when doing a semi-final editorial read-through. It's corny as Iowa, to be sure, but it's funny...

Jonathan Dresner

I lived in Iowa for three years. It's mostly pork and soy, now, though I do miss the St. Jude's Corn Festival.

I thought of a fabulous Hannibal-Elephant joke, told it to my exceptionally intelligent wife and had to explain it for about three minutes before she acknowledged that it was a joke. Maybe the jokes are funny, but delivery.... (would you sign for this joke, please?)

Mumcat

In humor, as in the obstetrics ward of the hospital, everything depends on the delivery. :)

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