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1 Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging Classrooms

1 Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging Classrooms

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20 Teaching Spaces of Possibility: Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging…


students or their professor has happened a few times. Therefore, I now include the

following warning on my syllabus:

For many of you, the ideas presented in this class will challenge the way you think about

sexuality and life, in general. Given the fact that this is an upper-division course, deep

sociological thinking is a fundamental expectation of the course. That is, you will be

expected to think critically and sociologically throughout the course. If, after you closely

read over the syllabus, you feel that you are not prepared to think, write and/or discuss any

or some of the material sociologically, you should speak with me before you start working

on class material as we may need to discuss other classes that might better suit your needs.

Further, I ask that you keep an open mind, read texts closely, and come prepared to work

through the ideas presented in the readings and other resources covered in class. Finally,

please be respectful of other peoples’ opinions, identities, and experiences. This means

that discussions online, emails to me, your professor, or any other interactions in or

related to this class must occur respectfully and from a sociological perspective.

Disrespectful, inappropriate, non-sociological, and generally combative emails and communication are absolutely not allowed and, if this behavior occurs, I will immediately

report it to the Office of the Dean of Students. For more information regarding student

conduct and MSU’s expectations for student behavior, see http://www.montana.


Laying out some ground rules for how to act appropriately in class (face-to-face or

online) has helped.

While keeping the class organized, I also try to cultivate a relaxed environment,

one in which students—all of the students—feel like they can speak up. I do this by

reassuring students that if they come to class prepared and think deeply and sociologically about what we’re covering, they all have something to contribute (via inclass discussions, their writing, or in private meetings with me). Contributing further

to this relaxed environment, I offer gratitude to my students by telling them when

I’m impressed with a discussion we had or sharing my enthusiasm after grading a

strong set of papers.

Finally, I keep the discussions challenging by requiring a lot of deep thinking on

the part of my students. In other words, I remind them that they are responsible for

their own education and that while I am here to guide, challenge, and support them,

I can’t and won’t do the work for them. I also remind students of the readings that

we’re covering, the papers that should be creative and challenging, and the overall

effort that I expect of them on a weekly and daily basis.


Getting Started

I often start my gender and sexuality courses with the first 13 pages of Foucault’s

History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. I do this in order to provide a template for students to

use as they analyze and discuss class material. Also, by covering Foucault, I’m able


This was included in my syllabi for Montana State University. As a Teaching Assistant Professor

(non-tenure track), I taught in-class, hybrid and online courses in Sociology, Liberal Studies, and

Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.


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to introduce students to a key approach to sexuality and gender studies that is theoretically rich and opens up an early discussion about trends in the literature (for

example, where does Foucault fit in?). While I could certainly use other approaches

to gender and sexuality studies and often do (such as Rubin’s (1984) “Thinking Sex:

Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality”), Foucault serves as a nice

introduction because it allows me to review a useful template for their own analyses,

offer a new and useful way to think and write about power (for example, discussing

power as productive),2 and, perhaps most importantly, it encourages students to

challenge their preconceived notions about sexuality and gender early on and then

throughout the class. In short, the Foucauldian questions we cover are excellent

sociological and/or critical thinking tools that encourage students to start using their

sociological/critical imaginations during the first week of class. The questions follow an analytical pattern that also helps students organize their thoughts and any

course content:

Who does the speaking?

Of whom are the “speakers” speaking?

Who is being categorized?

What categories of knowledge emerge in and through this discourse?

Who (social positions) and what (social practices) get placed at the top of the hierarchy?

Who and what gets placed at the bottom?

What do we learn from this particular placement, these particular hierarchies?3

Pedagogically, using Foucault helps me help the students. If they need some

clear and concise questions for their papers, I go back to the Foucauldian questions.

If they’re having trouble making sense of hierarchy and power, we go back to

Foucault. If they’re having a lot of trouble thinking critically about sexual identity

and practice (for example, students might try to make arguments such as “heterosexual women are naturally more submissive”), I ask them where that idea comes

from, what that idea produces, how that idea shifts across multiple systems of

oppression, and how that idea has been challenged. Foucault’s questions, once

again, encourage students to take a step back, reassess what they think they know,

get more information about what we actually know, and then return to their original

argument with a far more critical and often more complicated analysis.

When I review the syllabus on the first day of class, I explain why they’re reading

the first 13 pages of Foucault’s book before the next class. I talk about how this

particular text is central to sexuality and gender studies.4 As I offer a nuanced discussion of Foucault, I add that we’re starting here because Foucault encourages us

to ask very critical questions (for example, Who does the speaking? Of whom are the

speakers speaking?), questions that he would also want us to ask about his own



For an excellent discussion of Foucault’s approach to power, see Schippers and Sapp (2012).

Some of these questions are my own modifications of Foucault’s ideas.


Yet there is also work that rightly critiques theories and approaches that speak from “the metropole” only (Connell 2007). I make sure I discuss the critiques of Foucault’s work as well.


20 Teaching Spaces of Possibility: Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging…


Students are asked to read the first 13 pages closely and carefully and come to

class with any questions they might have about Foucault’s central argument, the

questions he poses throughout the chapter, and, most importantly, they are asked to

think about why we’re starting with Foucault. That is, Why and how are his questions relevant to our class goals? How might his questions be used to generate class

discussions? How might his questions be utilized as students analyze content in

class and via their writing?

During this second week of class, I cover Foucault’s chapter, methods, and questions closely and then I immediately begin to use his questions and analytical

approach as we analyze and discuss some introductory readings and media sources.

For example, during one of these weeks, our third day in class consisted of some

short clips from Venus Boyz (Maeder and Baur 2002), a documentary about drag

kings, followed by these discussion questions:

1. First, how does Kate Bornstein define Gender Defenders and Gender Outlaws?

What do these people actually do?

2. Where do we see Gender Defenders in the film? Where do we see Gender

Outlaws? What do they do?

3. Bornstein highlights how the gender binary functions in society and, in particular, how it constrains us. How do we see the binary functioning as a constraint in

the film? How is the binary used productively (think about Foucauldian power


4. How do characters in the film use the binary productively? How does Kate use it

productively? Think about her use of humor…

5. Note anything else that stands out in the film, especially at it relates to what we

have covered and/or read so far…

In particular, I start with Foucault in order to give students a toolbox or set of useful

questions that will help them as they begin to think critically about the material we


If I am being honest, Foucault’s questions also help me organize my own

thoughts, reflections on the course material, and, in many cases, class lectures. For

example, during a recent class, I asked students to use Foucault’s questions as they

reviewed Kimberly Kay Hoang’s (2010) “Economies of Emotion, Familiarity,

Fantasy, and Desire: Emotional Labor in Ho Chi Minh City’s Sex Industry” in

groups and then as a class. In Hoang’s article, she analyzes three different sectors of

the sex industry in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). In groups, the students used

Foucault’s questions to make sense of the power dynamics and social stratification

of sex workers and clients in any one of the sectors. When we came back together

as a class, the groups (each group focused on only one sector) had clear and concise

summaries of the patterns in their sector and then were able to connect those patterns to patterns in the other sectors. As a class, we generated a rich, organized and

compelling discussion about Hoang’s work, any gaps that Hoang didn’t quite

address, and how Hoang’s work connected to larger discussions about emotional


D.A. Hidalgo

labor, intimacy, sex work, and globalization. In short, Foucault’s questions served

as a useful template for the students and their professor.5


Tools for Teaching Spaces of Possibility

There are a number of ways that I strategically cover topics that are seemingly “difficult,” “touchy,” or often resisted by students. In utilizing one of my strategies—

making the “sensational” mundane—I start by doing as much as I can to normalize

discussions of sexuality or any other fraught topic such as sex work, pornography,

or erotica. One of my students describes this strategy well, writing, “Danielle

worked so hard to make the material interesting and accessible to students—she

really wanted to make sure students understood it.” That is, the tools that I use centralize and support: (1) clarity, (2) complicated yet smart analyses of topics, and (3)

managing student resistance and emotion.


Teaching Tool 1: Making the So-Called “Sensational”

Somewhat Mundane

Notably, I strive to make the material accessible by making it mundane (Penley

2013). Instead of emphasizing any one topic more than another, I treat every topic

we cover in class as worthy of discussion. I never sensationalize a topic; that is, I do

not draw any more attention to porn than I might to sociology of the family or

asexuality. Further, in “making a topic mundane” I offer a vast array of thorough,

deep sociological and interdisciplinary reading on each topic I cover. That is, erotica

will require just as much extensive reading and deep thought as any other topic we

cover in class.


After students answered Foucault’s questions, I provided a list of additional questions that more

directly addressed the reading:

1. Hoang lays out the literature that she is building upon in her own study. For example, she discusses Elizabeth Bernstein’s (2007) work and then describes how her work is both similar and

different from Bernstein’s study. What’s similar? What contrasts with Bernstein’s research?

2. Hoang uses Hochschild’s theory of emotional labor to make sense of the relationships and

labor she studied. How does she use this theory? What do we learn? What are the patterns she


3. Hoang discusses the temporal dimension of relations in the high-end sector. What does she

highlight here and why does it matter?

4. How does the patterning of emotional labor in the different relationships she highlighted illuminate the broader structural conditions that shape the range of choices sex workers have in

relation to their clients?

5. Finally, think about how this article connects to and/or illuminates any one of the readings

you’ve already covered in class.

20 Teaching Spaces of Possibility: Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging…


Finally, I consistently return to Foucault as I use this strategy; in other words,

asking a question such as “What categories of knowledge emerge in and through

this discourse?” immediately encourages students to make sociological sense of the

material. It encourages them to step back, perhaps set aside their value system for a

class discussion, and think about how power plays out in any one cultural space. In

most cases, after they use Foucault and other sources to make sense of the material,

they also start thinking very critically about their own belief systems. This is when

a teaching space of possibility emerges because it encourages students to challenge

each other, challenge themselves, and oftentimes, challenge their professor.


Teaching Tool 2: Coupling Most (or All!) Lectures

and Discussions with Media

While this strategy might seem extreme, it is not. That is, almost every lecture/discussion I prepare is coupled with some form of media. I use thought-provoking and

relevant media as an introduction to the material that we’re covering for the day;

further, the media serves as a real-world example of the theories and issues we’re

covering in class. For example, the following is a list of media sources I have used

in class:

– Clips from a movie, documentary or TV show (this often includes clips that

range from 10 to 20 min long, followed by a lecture and/or class discussion that

includes class readings)

– A blog post that I read to the class

– A Ted Talk

– A Keynote at a major conference

– A short excerpt from a novel

– An interview with a key figure such as the Belle Knox interview with Piers


In an advanced feminist theories class, we spent a few weeks addressing the following topic: “Sexual Outlaws Speak Up!” and spent the first week reading chapters

from key texts such as Nagle’s (1997) Whores and Other Feminists and Taormino

et al.’s (2013) The Feminist Porn Book (Nagle 1997; Hartley 2013; Brooks 2007;

Lee 2013). Since we were more that halfway through the class, students were prepared to read and think about advanced texts in Porn Studies and related areas. For

the first few minutes of the class, I discussed the significance of the readings, some

key themes from the readings, and then launched into a discussion about how these

readings (and other material we covered in class) connected to and helped us make

sense of the media frenzy concerning Belle Knox. I reviewed the following questions and asked students to consider these questions as we watched Belle Knox’s

interview with Piers Morgan:

How does Belle reply to being “the most infamous student in America”?

Piers Morgan sets up a number of dichotomies—what are they? What do these dichotomies produce?


D.A. Hidalgo

Belle points to why, perhaps, her story went viral. What does she say and how did her

“talking back” disrupt everyone’s perceptions?

Piers and Belle discuss the hypocrisy we see in and through discussions of porn: “The

same society that consumes me is also condemning me” (Belle Knox). Let’s talk about this.

She talks about her support system. Where is this support system and how have they

helped her?

She is consistently asked: “Why did/do you do it?” Instead, what question should all of

us be asking (use Foucault here)?

Piers says “I have no moral hang up with what you do…” yet he goes on to say something else. What does he say? How does he do gender here?

Belle talks about “parent concerns.” How does she address these concerns, especially

given her experiences?

She discusses how “we so deeply fear sexuality.” Let’s talk about how she highlights

this fear and how Piers consistently falls back on tired arguments.

How is Belle clearly experiencing discrimination at Duke?

Finally, how does she talk about her work?

The class discussion (paired with the questions) that immediately followed the

interview allowed me to address a number of central issues that were addressed in

the literature and feminist discussions, such as: sex worker identity, sex workers’

rights, sexual commerce, misogyny and gender inequality, heterosexism, porn and

feminism, to name a few. Building upon Foucault and other texts, we collectively

made sense of problematic questions and assumptions that emerged in the interview

and, perhaps most importantly, we were able to have a discussion about how Belle

Knox navigated the interview and, in the process, educated both Piers Morgan and

her audience. In short, student interactions with the media encourages critical thinking, helps clarify theoretical concepts, supports and encourages students to analyze

their social world, and is often a fun and dynamic way to enhance the course material and classroom environment.

To summarize, this strategy keeps the class lectures and discussions dynamic,

creative, and forces all of us—both myself and the students—to use the theories and

frameworks we covered in the readings and via my lectures as tools for analysis.

That is, this teaching tool forces us to use theory to analyze anything we might confront in our everyday lives, anything we might see on the news or on our twitter

feed. Most importantly perhaps, it encourages students to practice doing analysis,

practice critical thinking, and further prepares them for writing their papers.


Teaching Tool 3: Navigating Student Discomfort or

Trigger Warnings and Teaching Today

In the last year, we have certainly heard a lot about trigger warnings and folks (particularly on twitter) often have very heated discussions about how to properly

address and use a trigger warning. For professors teaching gender and sexuality

topics, the issue of when to use trigger warnings and how to properly navigate student discomfort and trauma is ongoing; that is, this discussion is far from over and,

therefore, certainly worth mentioning here. First and foremost, I strive to provide a

20 Teaching Spaces of Possibility: Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging…


safe space for everyone in my classes. This means that I absolutely do not tolerate

hateful interactions in class or online, that I strive to keep the discussions sociological, analytical and on point, and that I remain sensitive to how my students are feeling about the class.

This includes occasionally checking in with students both as a group and individually, immediately responding to any students who reach out to me about class

material and any negative reactions they had to readings or videos, and, of course, I

make it very clear that students are not required to watch everything we view

together in class. That is, if, after they hear my short description of a video and

perhaps watch some of it and feel uncomfortable about the content, I typically set

up private meetings with these students to discuss their reactions to the content,

other material that they might analyze to make up for what they missed, and anything else that might help me better understand their perspective and how to cover

this material differently in the future.

In my advanced feminist theories course, for example, we read short sections of

the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in addition to erotic fiction by Rachel Kramer Bussel

and Alison Tyler. I checked in with students before we read the material; if anything

felt uncomfortable or triggering, they could simply stop reading and contact me.

One student decided that they couldn’t finish the reading, immediately contacted me

via email, and made time for a few Skype meetings with me; the student and I

decided that we would substitute missed class time with a couple Skype meetings.

During these meetings, we discussed what the student had missed during class time,

what the student was comfortable discussing, and other related reflections about

gender and sexuality patterns in erotic fiction. As I do with all of my classes and

course material, I remained sensitive to the student’s needs (without acting as a

therapist) at the same time that I strove to bring the discussion back to critical gender and sexuality analyses of the material. Notably, I’ve experienced trigger warnings and potentially triggering material and varying student reactions as a way to

gauge what to do in the future and how to cover material in more creative ways. In

short, these experiences have also forced me to think very deeply about every single

resource I bring to my classes.

Secondly, the use of trigger warnings also connects to the first teaching tool I

discussed. As many of us know, when sex, sexuality or gender is discussed in the

news, media outlets, primetime TV shows, etc., there is often a sensationalizing

process that occurs. For example, a sex worker character in a crime show like CSI

Miami will typically be targeted, stereotyped, harassed, and/or killed rather than

included as one of many characters in the story. Trigger warnings, in some cases,

can contribute to sensationalizing material we cover in class. For example, if I

emphasize a sex scene in a film clip over all of the other scenes that occurred in that

clip, I am contributing to the sensationalization of “the sex scene” rather than treating it as one of many interactions included in the clip. Avoiding this trigger warning

dilemma is tricky but certainly not impossible. I start by treating the clip as a whole

by stating, “If you are uncomfortable with any one scene, you are welcome to leave

the class and return when we’re done with the clip.” Further, I am extremely transparent and accessible throughout the entire class. Students are aware of what we


D.A. Hidalgo

will be covering and can opt out of the class during the first week. Additionally, I

remain in contact with students and consistently check in with them, reiterating that

I’m available to talk and discuss class material after class, during my office hours,

or via a Skype meeting. In other words, what I have listed above reflects my feminist

pedagogy and allows me to cultivate teaching strategies that encourage students to

challenge themselves, opens up space for students to come to me (their professor)

both during and beyond our class to talk about class material, their own academic

and activist pursuits, and their future plans, and always—to the best of my ability—

creates fun, challenging and relaxed spaces (virtual or otherwise) for learning. Most

importantly, my accessibility and availability to my students shows them that I care

about how and what they’re learning, I’m committed to their education, and I want

them to learn without fear and/or discomfort. I remember the stress of student life

and want to remove that stress as much as I can for my students. I want to teach from

a place of compassion and care; if students are prepared to do the work required of

the course, I’m prepared to give them my undivided attention and support.

The final point that must be addressed here is the issue of how trigger warnings

and triggering material impact professors differently (see also Hidalgo and Greene

2015). That is, as a non-tenure track (NTT) professor, my job is far less secure than

my tenure-track colleagues.6 This means that I have to be extra careful about how I

present material in my courses and how that material impacts students. I have to be

constantly aware of and sensitive to complaints that students might have about the

material that we cover. In sexuality and gender courses, this is par for the course.

Tenure-track professors have also received a lot of resistance in recent years (à la

Patti Adler and others), further solidifying how treacherous the terrain is for NTT

professors. Therefore, in any discussion of trigger warnings, we are also discussing

how academic freedom is playing out for professors and how power (NTT v. TT, for

example) operates in and through trigger talk. As I stated above, this conversation is

far from over and, most likely, here to stay.



Teaching spaces of possibility are rarely easy to cultivate and often take a lot of extra

work, careful attention to the details, reflexive and thoughtful teaching, and mutual

teacher-student respect. In this paper, I have outlined a few strategies I use to support safe, relaxed, and challenging classrooms. Students have responded extremely

well to my methods and appreciate my willingness to work with my students rather

than against them or in opposition to their interests. After all, I teach to bring about

social change and connecting with my students is central to that process. Therefore,

I end here with a student evaluation that sums up my approach and, hopefully,

inspires a conversation about other strategies we—as professors—might use to


This paper is based on NTT teaching I completed at both Montana State University and UC Santa

Barbara (2009–2015).

20 Teaching Spaces of Possibility: Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging…


strengthen our teaching and student learning: “Danielle—from the first class I had

with you (where I learned the joys of social theorists), I have felt so privileged to be

your student. Thank you for drawing the best out of us, requiring us to be critical

and teaching us to use our critical selves, whatever we may encounter. The world

will be better for your research, teaching, and students.”


Bernstein, E. (2007). Temporarily yours: Intimacy, authenticity, and the commerce of sex. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press.

Brooks, S. (2007). An interview with Gloria Lockett. In A. Oakley (Ed.), Working sex: Sex workers

write about a changing industry (pp. 138–159). Emeryville: Seal Press.

Connell, R. (2007). Southern theory: Social science and the global dynamics of knowledge.

Cambridge: Polity Press.

Foucault, M. (1978). History of sexuality, Vol. 1: An introduction (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York:

Vintage Books.

Hartley, N. (2013). Porn: An effective vehicle for sexual role modeling and education. In

T. Taormino, C. P. Shimizu, C. Penley, & M. Miller-Young (Eds.), The feminist porn book: The

politics of producing pleasure (pp. 228–236). New York: The Feminist Press.

Hidalgo, D. A., & Greene, D. (2015). “We’re still in the trenches, baby…”: Navigating academia

in an uncertain, post-Katrina world. In J. Haubert (Ed.), Rethinking disaster recovery: A hurricane katrina retrospective (pp. 169–184). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Hoang, K. K. (2010). Economies of emotion, familiarity, fantasy, and desire: Emotional labor in

Ho Chi Minh city’s sex industry. Sexualities, 13(2), 255–272.

Lee, L. (2013). Cum guzzling anal nurse whore: A feminist porn star manifesta. In T. Taormino,

C. P. Shimizu, C. Penley, & M. Miller-Young (Eds.), The feminist porn book: The politics of

producing pleasure (pp. 200–214). New York: The Feminist Press.

Maeder, K. (Producer), & Baur, G. (Director). (2002). Venus Boyz [Motion picture]. Zurich: ONIX

Filmproduktion GmbH.

Nagle, J. (1997). Introduction. In J. Nagle (Ed.), Whores and other feminists (pp. 1–15). New York:


Penley, C. (2013). A feminist teaching pornography?: That’s like scopes teaching evolution! In

T. Taormino, C. P. Shimizu, C. Penley, & M. Miller-Young (Eds.), The feminist porn book: The

politics of producing pleasure (pp. 179–199). New York: The Feminist Press.

Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In C. S.

Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and danger: Exploring female sexuality (pp. 267–319). London:


Schippers, M., & Sapp, E. G. (2012). Reading pulp fiction: Femininity and power in second and

third wave feminist theory. Feminist Theory, 13(1), 27–42.

Taormino, T., Shimizu, C. P., Penley, C., & Miller-Young, M. (Eds.). (2013) The feminist porn

book: The politics of producing pleasure. New York: The Feminist Press.

Chapter 21

Agency and Activism as Elements

in a ‘Pedagogy of Hope’: Moving Beyond

‘This Class Is Depressing’

Maggie Rehm

When we teach about gender and sex, we are inevitably also illuminating the ways

they function as stratification systems. Both those students who have long been

aware of the effects of such systems and those newly aware of social inequities can

find an ongoing engagement with this knowledge overwhelming, disempowering,

and depressing. This can lead to a reduction in engagement and learning, whether

students physically withdraw from class or the university as a result of their discomfort and unhappiness, or simply close down emotionally and intellectually within

the classroom. I have seen this happen in a variety of ways. A young woman of

color explained that she was dropping a class she thought was important because it

was emotionally too hard for her to learn about gender injustice and oppression

while also coping with their direct effects within her own family. LGBTQ students,

tired of the responsibility of explaining to their peers, sometimes report that they

“check out” and stop participating in classes. Discussions about the ways media

contribute to unattainable ideal versions of masculinity and femininity can quickly

devolve into students proclaiming in discouragement that “nothing can be done.” A

“pedagogy of hope,” specifically one that makes agency and activism explicit

elements of the learning process, offers ways to address the difficulties students can

face with the emotional impact of the material we teach.

Drawing on Paulo Freire’s ideas for making education democratic, humanizing,

and empowering (1970, 1992), teachers and writers have created various forms of a

“pedagogy of hope” in order to make sense of self, personal efficacy, and community development part of the educational mission. This has been most prevalent in

the areas of multicultural and literacy education. For example, Enrique Trueba

worked to develop a visionary pedagogy of hope for Latina/o students (Foley 2005,

p. 356); influenced by Trueba’s work and by Gloria Anzaldúa’s writing about the

importance of culture and language (1999), Miguel and Francisco Guajardo founded

M. Rehm (*)

Women’s and Gender Studies Program, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA

e-mail: mrehm@uidaho.edu

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

K. Haltinner, R. Pilgeram (eds.), Teaching Gender and Sex

in Contemporary America, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-30364-2_21



M. Rehm

the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development, putting their pedagogy of

hope into practice in this educational center in rural south Texas (Guajardo et al.

2008). By building on Freire’s work while addressing the challenges particular to

teaching about gender and sex, a pedagogy of hope can also be useful in feminist

education. Feminist scholar bell hooks outlines a pedagogy of hope that keeps

resistance, action, and community at its center in explicitly feminist ways while also

addressing multiple and intersecting forms of oppression (2003).

This approach has much to offer, and a key strength lies in the value placed on

critical thinking and the creative capacity to imagine change. As Darren Webb

explains, because there are multiple modes of hope, hope-based pedagogies come in

a variety of forms and “can operate to conserve and reproduce existing social

relations as well as to transform them” (2013, pp. 398–99, 412). This understanding

allows teachers to differentiate between those kinds of hope that can further critical

thinking about gender stratification and those that encourage an unquestioning

acquiescence or acceptance, an important and helpful distinction. For hooks, the

ability to imagine a more just society and to strive toward bringing it into existence

is at the heart of a pedagogy of hope, but students often come to college having done

some of their learning through other kinds of hope-based pedagogies – ones that do

not challenge the status quo or do not encourage moving beyond a hopeful vision of

individualistic goal achievement to a broader community-based vision. This brings

particular challenges for teaching gender and sex.


The “Linear Progress Narrative” as American


One of the challenges in teaching about gender and sex is the denial common among

students that any inequalities remain in the twenty-first century. This in itself is a

form of hopefulness. A linear progress narrative of social justice change is so

embedded in U.S. culture that students are often unaware when what they claim to

“know” about sex and gender depends on assumptions and extrapolations drawn

from this narrative rather than from concrete evidence or examples. An example of

the kind of hopeful thinking the linear progress narrative invites can be found in the

frequent recurrence of student papers that make claims about gender roles or

gendered divisions of labor “since the dawn of time” and then argue that things have

changed significantly today. This familiar example can shed some light on two ways

people commonly think about gender: on the one hand, there’s an element of acceptance that “it’s just the way things are,” and on the other, there’s a claim that “things

have gotten progressively better.” Both elements of this approach are rooted in and

learned through conservative versions of a hope-based pedagogy that reward what

Webb calls “patient hope” and the individualistic bootstraps motivation of what he

calls “resolute hope” (2013, p. 399–401, 406–408).

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1 Cultivating Safe, Relaxed, and Challenging Classrooms

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