chapter  9
15 Pages

Complicating Gender Binaries in the Feminist English Classroom

ByKaren Coats, Roberta Seelinger Trites

For at least forty years, teachers have theorized about how to empower girls in the literature classroom-and the solution for many has been to engage feminist pedagogies. In this chapter, we trace how issues of critical thinking have led feminism (and misunderstandings of feminism) to intersect with secondary English education in the United States in order to contextualize a study we conducted of four high school teachers who self-consciously problematize gender while attempting to expose issues of critical thinking in their literature classrooms. We follow our consideration of texts and teachers with a demonstration of how two Young Adult (YA) novels marketed to girls-E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie LandauBanks and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games-represent gender as a multivariate social construct. Our findings lead us to believe that YA novels provide a way for teachers to

purposefully lead students to analyze feminism in terms of critical thinkingincluding asking students to think about issues of language, community, identity, and empowerment-because neither girls nor boys can effectively engage with social justice when they rely on stereotypes about gender and feminism. Most important, we find that a review of the literature on feminism and high school classrooms, a teacher survey we conducted, and the novels we investigate all demonstrate the importance of validating emotions in the teaching of social justice. Researchers and teachers indicate that adolescents (both female and male) who engage in empathetic understandings of situations and issues seem better prepared to understand how social problems, gender included, are created. Since YA novels tend to engage adolescent readers on many levels, including an emotional one, they provide ample opportunities for teaching critical thinking that is personal, analytical, and complex.