While the reading in Literature for Today’s Young Adults this week focused on realistic fiction, I want to focus my attention on the Critical Encounters chapter about “The Social Construction of Gender.” Overall, this chapter gave a refreshing take on how to present feminist/gender theory to the classroom. Appleman creates a variety of activities to teach students, male and female, how to look at texts and their world through a feminist lens. Probably the most unique activity put forth in the chapter is Appleman’s exercise investigating how gender role constructions affect male characters in a text.
I believe this kind of activity is crucial to open the minds of young men and women to see the point of feminist discourse. It make it painfully apparent that the dominant patriarchal worldview has disempowered everyone regardless of sex or gender identification. By acknolwedging and exploring the many ways that men are affected by the gender constructions of our society, we show that feminism does not just advocate for women’s rights. We show students, who may be afraid to advocate for feminism based on mistaken notions that feminists are man-haters, that men have a stake in this too.
However, there was something that nagged me throughout the chapter. Early on, Appleman announces that she will be using feminist and gender theory interchangeably. While she concedes that “theoretical purists may rightfully object to the renaming,” she also asserts that this renaming is to ensure that “feminist theory is not limited to only women writers or women’s experiences” (67). Now renamed, “Gender theory,” she continues, “provides us with a way of recognizing and naming other visions while promoting our own ways of seeing” (68). As a woman who was raised by a strong single mother who was a staunch advocate of feminist causes to protect both women and men, this insistence on renaming was like a slap in the face. While I see that the name may be less imposing to students, I also think the point of feminism is not just to advocate women’s views, but to show how the patriarchy as a whole is a power system that corrupts and oppresses everyone. Also, by avoiding calling it feminism, we inadvertently delegitimize the feminine stake in the issue, which I feel undermines the point of the theory/worldview in favor of a still-more male-centric view.
For a male perspective on this issue, I invite you to watch this awesome TedTalk:
I want to hear what you think: do you think we should call this lens “feminist,” “gender,” or use both terms interchangeably in teaching the concept to students?