Are new technologies feminist?
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Surprisingly, while most teachers (70% of teachers in France are women) are in favour of equality between girls and boys, as soon as the words “feminist pedagogy” are uttered, they are met with confusion and even rejection. It is like claiming to be in favour of equality without promoting the conditions for it.
A feminist approach to teaching is not about educational diktats, it is the repeated questioning of what produces inequalities in the classroom. It refers to the micro context-specific strategies developed to deconstruct inequalities, in order to build real emancipation for all. How do feminist teaching methods fare in the world of new digital and communication technologies?
I lead the training on feminist pedagogy for the CGT-affiliated Fédération de l’Education, de la Recherche et de la Culture in France. The theme of the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls” invites us to address this specific issue.
Two key considerations must be taken into account in the trade union context: new technologies are not an end in themselves and are not necessarily synonymous with educational progress. They must always be measured against the educational objectives, which should be examined in light of our values. Furthermore, feminist education should not be a pretext for offloading our political responsibilities in terms of gender equality onto future generations. Educating young people for equality does not solve the current societal problems of inequality.
That said, if we can educate young people in values other than those of the patriarchy, that is a very exciting mission!
Strongly influenced by Paulo Freire's “ Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, feminist teaching methods allow time for the awareness-raising phase. In the south of France, where I live, the Occitania region provides each student with a laptop when they start secondary school. Enabling students to share their experience (in the sense of the women's discussion groups of the 1970s) of using this tool and its purposes helps to raise awareness. Gender inequalities can be deconstructed by bringing three groups - two single-sex groups and one mixed group – together to discuss their use of the digital tool and then comparing the results in the classroom. Students report very concrete experiences, sometimes even forms of addiction or models that produce a bad self-image, and then together they become aware of stereotypical gender representations and examine them in order to deconstruct them. Roles can be shared, and roles can be rotated in terms of the distribution and regulation of speaking time, following a gendered alternation of speakers... In short, it is a debate regulated in a non-sexist framework.
Building critical thinking skills
Digital support is also useful for working on the geographical position of pupils according to their gender. Micro-geography studies show that the strategic places of communication or avoidance in the classroom are occupied by boys. Suggesting that pupils reflect on these issues and adopt a geography of occupation of space that allows for everyone to express themselves, using an evolving class map in digital format is effective. Pupils fill it in with their initial observations, then we reflect together to find a (modifiable) organisation in the classroom that reinforces everyone's involvement and chance to speak.
But it is mainly when analysing resources and web sites that awareness-raising is productive. In what way are gendered representations stereotyped? What implicit norms creep into the materials? As with paper materials, digital materials must be read with our gender glasses on. The French spellchecker requires the use of non-inclusive spelling. How does language convey these gender stereotypes? bell hooks, although heavily influenced by Freire, questioned the way in which he conveyed certain patriarchal prejudices. She encourages us to be wary of ourselves and our internalised prejudices: the digital environment is not free of them. Who do we call to fix a technical problem in the classroom? Why are boys unconsciously called upon as if they have an extra computer gene or innate skill?
It is an illusion to believe that exchanges between students are free of sexist bias. On the contrary, during childhood and adolescence when we are looking for our bearings, positions can even be caricatured. It is about building relationships between students based on reflective analysis: the way knowledge is appropriated and shared is just as important as what is produced. For example, the online Padlet on which students upload images of an imaginary museum is not the goal in itself, it is the gendered analysis of what is uploaded that matters. Indeed, when pupils comment on the objects they choose, we can look at the criteria that motivate their choice, and measure together what comes under gendered social representations. We also know that the phenomenon of identification with the work requires us, from a feminist pedagogical perspective, to give priority to cultural or scientific contributions produced by female artists, female experts, given the androcentric nature of our societies. Allowing boys to project themselves onto thoughts and observations made by women also means getting them to respect them, and therefore deconstruct and fight against the continuum of sexist and sexual violence.
Emancipation and creativity
Shared individual experience enriches collective experience and vice versa. Finding strategies together, developing collective productions of which we can be proud, choosing together and discussing your interpretations, taking yourself seriously... these are all didactic situations that enable progress. A shared digital document is very effective for this purpose. Pupils carry out individual research on an issue and collect it online in a shared document that constitutes the course. This is known as the flipped classroom because it is the students who 'make' the course (with the requirement that the research is done in class to minimise social inequalities). But who has the power? Who expresses themselves? Who shapes it? Who are the reference experts? These are the questions that reflective analysis must allow in the preparatory phase, as the work is being done, and later, in order to regulate relations in the classroom.
What is valued? The management of emotions is very often ignored or denigrated in the classroom. And this mental and emotional load is not recognised in the feminised professions in France. The CGT is fighting for the recognition of and better pay for skills in the care and relationship-centred professions. In the classroom, we must value these skills: quality of listening, analysis, interpretation and acceptance of the discourse of others. These skills are enhanced when students invest in them and develop them in creative activities. Digital tools enable the easy creation of short videos that reflect diverse world views and encourage individual expression.
Feminist pedagogy will definitely benefit from investing in the tools of new technologies, with, as always, the need to constantly re-examine the vision they offer us.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.