Feminist pedagogy

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Feminist pedagogy is a pedagogical framework grounded in feminist theory. It embraces a set of epistemological assumptions, teaching strategies, approaches to content, classroom practices, and teacher-student relationships.[1] Feminist pedagogy involves more than teaching; it creates a scholarship of teaching because it brings “connected learning” into the very heart of women’s studies as a research field.[2] Feminist pedagogy addresses the power imbalances present in many westernized educational institutions and works toward de-centering that power. This method of learning embodies a symbiotic system of knowledge; a relationship between teacher and student in which both or all parties simultaneously learn from one another rather than a hierarchical passing of knowledge from teacher to student. It identifies the practical applications of feminist theory, while promoting the importance of social change, specifically within the institutional hierarchy found in academia.

This pedagogy is a method of instruction which encourages the transformation of students from passive recipients of knowledge to active knowers who see themselves as agents of social change. It is employed most frequently in Women’s Studies classes, which aim to transform [students] from objects to subjects of inquiry.[3] However, the use of feminist pedagogy is not restricted only to Women's Studies courses. To apply this philosophy in the classroom, feminist scholars must critically engage in dialogue and reflection about both what and how they teach, as well as how who they are affects how they teach. Feminist educators are driven by a vision of “a world which is not yet.” The standpoint of a feminist teacher is of the political nature and to help develop feminist analyses to inform and reform teachers’ and students’ ways of acting in and on the world.[4]

The theoretical foundation of feminist pedagogy is grounded in the critical theories of learning and teaching such as Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Feminist pedagogy is an engaged process facilitated by concrete classroom goals in which members learn to respect each other's differences, accomplish mutual goals, and help each other reach individual goals. This process facilitates participatory learning, validation of personal experience, encouragement of social understanding and activism, and the development of critical thinking and open-minds.[5]

Qualities of feminist pedagogy[edit]

Distinctive qualities of feminist pedagogy are the tradition of focusing on gendered subjects, and the opening of taboo topics for discussion. It is, at its core, about the feminist critique.[4] Feminist educators work to replace old paradigms of education with a new one which focuses on the individual's experience alongside acknowledgment of one's environment.[6] It addresses the need for social change and focuses on educating the oppressed through strategies for empowering the self, building community, and ultimately developing leadership.[7]

Feminist pedagogy shares certain characteristics with critical pedagogy, but while critical pedagogy is not inherently feminist, feminist pedagogy has an explicit foundation in feminism. Like all forms of critical pedagogy feminist pedagogy aims "to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.".[8] What makes feminist pedagogy unique is its emphasis on gender. With origins in the women’s studies movement, women are at the center of feminist pedagogy. Feminist pedagogy aligns itself with many forms of critical pedagogy including those focused on race and ethnicity, class, postcolonialism and globalization.

The introduction of the book Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward explains the qualities, and distinctions from critical pedagogy, thus: "Like Freire’s libratory pedagogy, feminist pedagogy is based on assumptions about power and consciousness-raising, acknowledges the existence of oppression as well as the possibility of ending it, and foregrounds the desire for and primary goal of social transformation. However feminist theorizing offers important complexities such as questioning the notion of a coherent social subject or essential identity, articulating the multifaceted and shifting nature of identities and oppressions, viewing the history and value of feminist consciousness-raising as distinct from Freirean methods, and focusing as much on the interrogation of the teacher’s consciousness and social location as the student’s."[9]


Feminist pedagogy is an interdisciplinary effort to challenge assumptions about teaching and learning; it positions issues of gender and power as central themes.[10] The neologism feminist pedagogy was coined by feminist artist Judy Chicago in the 1980s, as an effort to develop new teaching models that challenged dominant educational approaches.[11] Feminist pedagogy was adopted by feminists in women studies programs and later adopted by people teaching various disciplines. For example, John Kellermeier has written about successfully using techniques of feminist pedagogy to teach mathematics.[12]

Principles of feminist pedagogy[edit]

In Feminist Pedagogy: Identifying Basic Principles, Myria W. Allen, Kandi L. Walker, and Lynne M. Webb devise a comprehensive overview of feminist pedagogy and identify its six principles. They state that, “The purpose of the present essay is to review the extant literature on feminist pedagogy to distill its basic principles.”[citation needed] These principles consist of:

  1. a reformation of the relationship between professor and student;
  2. empowerment;
  3. building community;
  4. privileging voice;
  5. respecting the diversity of personal experience
  6. challenging traditional pedagogical notions


This way of teaching offers reformation of the typical relationship between an instructor and student, where the teacher is perceived to be an omniscient and authoritative figure and the student as the passive recipient of knowledge. Feminist pedagogy is displayed when power and control becomes shared between the students and teacher. It is an active, collaborative classroom where risk-taking is encouraged; where intellectual excitement abounds; and where power is viewed as energy, capacity, and potential, rather than domination.


Empowerment is said to be the primary goal of feminist pedagogy. Empowerment involves the principles of democracy and shared power. Feminist pedagogy challenges the view that education is a neutral cognitive process . Education either functions as an instrument facilitating students' integration and conformity into the logic of the present system, or it becomes "the practice of freedom" teaching men and women to deal critically and creatively with reality and to learn to participate in transforming their world. The practice of freedom emerges through empowerment, yet the patriarchal model generally neglects issues such as empowerment, feelings, and experiences.

Building community[edit]

Feminist pedagogy is concerned with building community and cooperation within the classroom as well as between the classroom and its broader environment. Developing a community of growth and caring is a key to critical/feminist education. Since feminism values community and equality, building a trusting environment in which all members are respected and have an equal opportunity to participate is at its core.

Privileging voice[edit]

Feminist pedagogy views knowledge as constructed and culture-bound. It fosters multiple authorities, which allows different classroom dynamics and voices to emerge. As authority shifts from instructor to the student, students can interact and ask questions as their feedback is actively sought and incorporated in the classroom dynamic. The relationship of student and instructor is less intimidating and more equitable.

Respecting the diversity of personal experience[edit]

A community of students and teachers who work closely with one another and respect one another's sociohistorical development challenges hierarchical relations of schooling and involves social bonding within more democratic relations fundamental to schooling as a forum for critical democracy. Feminist theory privileges personal lived experiences as the basis for analysis, theory generation, activism, and research. Thus, a feminist pedagogy involves an emphasis on personal experience and validation, such a perspective results in several positive outcomes, that including increased respect, enhanced empathy, better critical thinking skills, and broader understanding of truths.

Challenging traditional pedagogical notions[edit]

Embedded within the previously discussed five principles is a sixth principle: challenging traditional views and practices. Feminist pedagogy challenges the notion that knowledge and teaching methods can be value free. Schools reproduce and reinforce the social construction of gender through the dichotomization of nurture and autonomy, public and private, and masculine and feminine. Further, feminist teachers challenge the origins of ideas and theories, the positions of their promoters, and the factors influencing how knowledge comes to exist in its present form.

Influential figures[edit]

Paulo Freire[edit]

Paulo Freire

The theorist Paulo Freire is known for his works in the area of critical pedagogy. He penned Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1968 (written in Portuguese, later published in English in 1970).
Freire believed that "education makes sense because women and men learn that through learning they can make and remake themselves, because women and men are able to take responsibility for themselves as beings capable of knowing — of knowing that they know and knowing that they don't" (Freire, 2004, p. 15)[13]

Freire is also known for his disdain of what he called the "banking" concept of education, in which a student is viewed as an empty account waiting to be filled by the teacher. He said that "it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power" (Freire, 1970, p. 77)[14]
His love for teaching, knowledge, the student, the student/teacher relationship, and the educational process has led to his heavy influence on present feminist educators.

bell hooks[edit]

bell hooks

Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, is an accomplished writer and educator.
In Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, she argues that a teachers' use of control and power over students dulls the students' enthusiasm and teaches obedience to authority, "confin[ing] each pupil to a rote, assembly-line approach to learning.”[15] She advocated that universities encourage students and teachers to collaborate, making learning more relaxing while simultaneously exciting. She describes teaching as “a catalyst that calls everyone to become more and more engaged”.

Patti Lather[edit]

Patti Lather has taught qualitative research, feminist methodology, and gender and education at Ohio State University since 1988. She is the author of Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/in the Postmodern and Getting Lost: Feminist Efforts Toward a Double(d) Science.[16]

Ileana Jiménez[edit]

Ileana Jiménez is a high school teacher in New York City who teaches courses on feminism, LGBT literature, Toni Morrison, and memoir writing.[17] She is nationally known for her writing and speaking about inclusivity in high schools, her work to make schools safer spaces for LGBT students, and has won numerous awards for curriculum development.[17] She was heavily influenced in her feminism and her pedagogy by bell hooks.[18]

Practical implementation[edit]

Shimer College students engage in a decentered discussion of Sappho.

Feminist pedagogy creates spaces where student values and lived experiences are respected, especially those of women and marginalized students. At its core, feminist pedagogy aims to decenter power in the classroom to give students the opportunity to voice their perspectives, realities, knowledge, and needs.[19] This section outlines some practical methods to help teachers enact feminist pedagogy in their classrooms. This can be utilized through the process of decentering power, where the professor or teacher distances themselves from their authority status and enables their students to have equal footing with them. Pedagogy can also be implemented practically through the use of engaging in activism, within the classroom and outside of it.

Decentering power[edit]

One of the main tenets of feminist pedagogy is transforming the teacher and student relationship. Under this teaching method, educators seek to empower students by offering opportunities for critical thinking, self-analysis, and development of voice. Feminist pedagogy challenges lectures, memorization, and tests as methods for developing and transferring knowledge.[19] One practical application of feminist pedagogy is evident in the power and authority[19] of the feminist educator. Feminist pedagogy maintains that power in the classroom should be delicately balanced between teacher and students in order to inform curriculum and classroom practices. The sharing of power creates a space for dialogue that reflects the multiple voices and realities of the students.

By sharing the power, to promote voice among students, the educator and students move to a more equal position in which students produce knowledge. The shared power also decentralizes dominant traditional understandings of learning by allowing students to engage with the professor freely, instead of having the professor simply give students information.

Activist projects[edit]

Activist projects encourage students to identify real-life forms of oppression, take action against them, and recognize the potential of feminist discourse outside of the academic realm. The goals of this practical application of feminist pedagogy include raising students’ consciousness about patriarchal oppression, empowering them to take action, and helping them learn specific political strategies for activism.[20] Teachers report mixed results with these types of projects. One noted difficulties along the way, including students who resisted putting themselves in a controversial position,[21] and students who had trouble dealing with backlash.[22]

Students’ activist projects have taken a variety of forms, including organizing letter-writing campaigns or writing letters to the editor, confronting campus administration or local law enforcement agencies, organizing groups to picket events, and participating in national marches.[23]

Feminist teachers who have written about their experiences assigning activist projects recognize that this non-traditional method can be difficult for students. Since they want students to have a positive, yet challenging (often first) experience with activism, they often give students a great deal of freedom in choosing a project. Teachers may students to develop a project that would “protest sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other ‘ism’ related to feminist thought in one situation”.[24] By allowing students to choose any topic of interest, the teacher put more power in their hands. They also may ask their students to develop either an awareness campaign or a project that takes direct action on a feminist issue they discuss in an introductory women’s studies class.

Feminist assessment[edit]

Literature on feminist assessment is sparse, possibly because of the incongruity between notions of feminism and assessment. For example, traditional assessments such as standardized tests validate the banking model of learning and the concept of assessment in the form of grades or ability to advance within a structured curriculum is a form of power held by an institution. Nonetheless, literature on feminist pedagogy does contain a few examples of feminist assessment techniques.[25][26][27] These techniques decenter the power structure upheld by traditional assessment by focusing on student voice and experience, which allows students agency as they participate in the assessment process.[28]

The use of journaling is considered to be one feminist assessment technique [28] as well as the idea of “participatory evaluation”, or evaluations characterized by interactivity and trust.[29] Assessment techniques borrowed from critical pedagogy should be considered when thinking of feminist assessment approaches.[30] These may include involving students in the creation of assessment criteria or peer assessment or self assessment.[31] Finally, Accardi argues feminist assessment approaches can be embedded into more traditional forms of assessment (such as classroom assessment techniques or performance assessment techniques) if students are allowed to reflect on or evaluate their experiences. Surveys, interviewing and focus groups, too, could be considered assessments with a feminist approach provided that a student voice or knowledge is sought.[32] These assessment strategies should be tailored to the type of instruction taking place; performance assessment techniques may be more appropriate for short term instruction. If the instructor has more time with the learner, then the opportunity for more in-depth, reflective feedback and assessment is possible.


  1. ^ Crabtree, Robbin D. (June 9, 2009). Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward. The Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition. pp. 1–3. ISBN 0801892767. 
  2. ^ Pryse, Marjorie. "Defining Women’s Studies Scholarship: A Statement of the National Women’s Studies Association Task Force on Faculty Roles and Rewards" (PDF). National Women’s Studies Association. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Currie, Dawn. "Subject-ivity in the classroom: Feminism Meet Academe". Canadian Journal of Education 17 (3): 341–364. doi:10.2307/1495300. Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  4. ^ a b Manicom, Ann (1992). "Feminist Pedagogy: Transformations, Standpoints, and Politics". Canadian Journal of Education 17 (3): 365–389. doi:10.2307/1495301. 
  5. ^ Hoffmann, Frances; Jayne Stake (1998). "Feminist Pedagogy in Theory and Practice: An Empirical Investigation". NWSA Journal 10 (1): 79–97. doi:10.2979/nws.1998.10.1.79. Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  6. ^ Brown, Julie (1992). "Theory or Practice - What Exactly Is Feminist Pedagogy?". The Journal of General Education 41: 51–63. 
  7. ^ Sandell, Renee (1991). "The Liberating Relevance of Feminist Pedagogy". Studies in Art Education 32 (3): 178–187. Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  8. ^ Giroux, Henry A. "Lessons to Be Learned From Paulo Freire as Education Is Being Taken Over by the Mega Rich". Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Crabtree D. Robbin, Sapp Alan David, Licona C. Adela, ed. (2009). "Introduction". Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8018-9276-9. 
  10. ^ Chicago, Judy. "No Compromise:Lessons in Feminist Art with Judy Chicago". Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  11. ^ Thompson Wylder, Viki D. "Evoke/Invoke/Provoke: A case study of Judy Chicago's feminist pedagogy, Vanderbilt University, Spring semester 2006". Retrieved 4 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Kellermeier, John (1996). "Feminist Pedagogy in Teaching General Education Mathematics". Feminist Teacher 10 (1): 8–11. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  13. ^ Freire, Paulo (2004). Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder Colorado: Paradigm. 
  14. ^ Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum. 
  15. ^ hooks, bell (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge. 
  16. ^ http://people.ehe.osu.edu/plather/
  17. ^ a b Jiménez, Ileana. "About Ileana Jiménez". Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  18. ^ Jiménez, Ileana (September 7, 2010). "Teaching to Transgress in High Schools". Ms. magazine blog. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  19. ^ a b c Bryson; Bennet-Anyikwa (2003). "The Teaching and Learning Experience: Deconstructing and Creating Space Using a Feminist Pedagogy." Race Gender and Class.". 
  20. ^ Rose 1989, p. 489.
  21. ^ Rose 1989, p. 488.
  22. ^ Rose 1989, p. 490.
  23. ^ Rose, Suzanna (1989). "The Protest as a Teaching Technique for Promoting Feminist Activism". NWSA Journal 1 (3): 487–488. 
  24. ^ Rose 1989, p. 487.
  25. ^ Hutchings, P. (1992). The assessment movement and feminism: Connection or collision? In Musil, C. T. (Ed). Students at the center: Feminist assessment (pp. 17-38). Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges.
  26. ^ Shapiro, J.P. (1992). What is feminist assessment? In Musil, C. T. (Ed). Students at the center: Feminist assessment (pp. 29-37). Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges.
  27. ^ Accardi, M. (2013). Feminist pedagogy for library instruction. Sacramento: Library Juice Academy.
  28. ^ a b Accardi, M. (2013). Feminist pedagogy for library instruction. Sacramento: Library Juice Academy. (p. 77-78)
  29. ^ Shapiro, J. (1988). Participatory Evaluation: Towards a Transformation of Assessment for Women's Studies Programs and Projects. Educational Evaluation & Policy Analysis, 10(3), 191-199.
  30. ^ Accardi, M. (2013). Feminist pedagogy for library instruction. Sacramento: Library Juice Academy. (p. 79)
  31. ^ Price, M., O’Donovan, B., & Rust, C. (2007). Putting a social constructivist assessment process model into practice: building the feedback loop into the assessment process through peer review. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 44(2), 143-152).
  32. ^ Accardi, M. (2013). Feminist pedagogy for library instruction. Sacramento: Library Juice Academy. (p. 83-7)