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Teaching Students to "Get It"

The following discussion of how to help students to recognize that women
still face oppression took place on WMST-L in October 1999.  See also the
earlier, related file, Have Women Achieved Equality?, and a more
recent one, Students Who Deny That Problems Exist.  For more WMST-L
files now available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 18:36:23 -0700
From: Regina <rflark @ PACBELL.NET>
Subject: Teaching students to "get it"

I am teaching "Introduction to Feminist Theory," an undergraduate class at
a major research institution. I seem to be having problems trying to
"convince" my students (the majority are female) that women face oppression
on a variety of levels and in a multitude of ways regardless of race,
ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc.,etc. Today's discussion on
sexual violence and aggression revealed that many of my students believe
the following:

1. If a married woman hasn't yet found her "voice" and consistently submits
to unwanted sex w/her husband, then it's her fault if she feels that she is
being violated in the marriage.
2. If a "gentlemen" picks up a woman in a bar and brings her to his
apartment for sex but senses, through her nonverbal communication that she
doesn't really want to sex, then he will bring her back to her car.
3. Since Katharine MacKinnon's essay "Sexuality" was written so long ago
(1989) her views on pornography are no longer valid. Porn has changed and
is now really only about sex.
4. The students agree that it is socially acceptable for a female to drink
at a fraternity party so she can loosen up. But, if she becomes "too loose"
because of the alcohol -- anything that happens is her own fault because
she should have known her limits.
4. The list goes on...

No matter how many personal experiences that I share, no matter the
assigned reading, no matter that I bring in current events that speak to
the realities of women's and girls' lives, it seem that my students suffer
from extreme relativism. If they do not feel that discussions/readings do
not directly apply to their life, then their attitude seems to be: if a
woman doesn't like the oppression then she should just leave.

So, I guess what I am looking for are classroom exercises to engage the
students into looking at the BIGGER PICTURE. Any suggestions?

Regina Lark, Ph.D.
rflark  @  pacbell.net
University of Southern California
Glendale Community College
Pasadena City College
Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 09:09:35 -0700
From: Kathy Miriam <kmiriam @ CATS.UCSC.EDU>
Subject: Re: Teaching students to "get it"
I have posted this before to the list, and the original inspiration came
from another post-er, Donna Hughes-- I suggest that you use the essay
"Elements of OPpression" by Suzanne Pharr in her book Homophobia: a
Weapon of Sexism.  Rather than have them read the essay, I compose a
chart based on these "Elements," give a brief explanation of each element
such as "economic control", "violence" etc-- and/or elicit explanations
from the students-- and then get the students to generate examples under
each category.  We generally use the chart when focusing on a specific
issue-- e.g. beauty, pornography, welfare/poverty...and it grounds the
discussion of whether this issue is an example of structural oppression
or not.  Oh yes, and th essay folows upon a use of Frye's essay,
"Oppression" so they have a theoretical framework to tie the exercise in.
the point is, it's important-- in my opinion-- to make th estudents very
active learners in these kinds of situations--in all situations, really,
but especially in classes where there is sure to be resistance to
controversial issues. They need to be the ones to
generate the examples, and to use/grasp a conceptual framework that can
then be applied to various issues that arise in class.
this way, they have already generated an analysis of say poverty or
beauty as structural when they try to fal back onto their relativist
analysis or, relatedly, their rabid individualism-- and you can keep on
referring them back to what they themeselves have already theorized.
More to the point-- I don't encounter as much resistance after these
kinds of exercises-- which i do all through women's studies and related
classes-- because they are starting to get a kind of hands-on
theorizing/grasp, an approach that allows the readings and lecturing to
really sink in more effectively.
good luck,
kathy miriam
kmiriam  @  cats.ucsc.edu
also, i cant resist adding another point about teaching about violence an
dsexual violence-- I have found it most effective to teach about violence
against women in the context of also teaching some self defense, and
bringing in images/stories of women's resistance to violence.
Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 17:14:57 -0700
From: Kari B Mcbride <kari @ U.ARIZONA.EDU>
Subject: Teaching students to "get it"
I find that students "get it" when I show the video _Dreamworlds II_ about
women and violence in rock videos--it touches their world.

Do note, however, that this is a very disturbing video--it contains images
from the rape scene in _The Accused_. I always hand out a statement at the
beginning of class warning that students who have experienced sexual
violence or who are close to someone who has may find it hard to shake the
upsetting feelings the movie engenders. I tell students they may leave at
any time if they do not wish to watch the video, and I list actions
students might appropriately take (talk with a trusted friend or family
member, call a hotline, etc.) to deal with disturbing feelings. (I'd be
happy to share the disclaimer if anyone is interested.)

That said, I think it's an excellent video that shows the complex
relationship between images of women and a culture of violence against
women. I highly recommend it.
Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 18:21:27 -0700
From: Marilyn Edelstein <MEdelstein @ SCU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Teaching students to "get it"
One very brief "exercise" I often do is to ask students (in a class with 
both male and female students):  "How many of you are nervous when you go 
out at night alone?" or "How many of you fear the possibility of getting 
raped when you walk on a public street after dark?"  When the students see 
that only the women raise their hands, that gives us an opportunity to 
discuss some of the inequalities of men and women in our society. (If any 
men do raise their hands to the first question, I often follow up with 
"are you afraid of getting mugged or of getting raped?").

   Also (and I think we've had several versions of this thread over the 
years), one can always bring in statistics, e.g., re: # of women CEO's vs. 
men, national and/or international statistics re: wages, income, etc. 
broken down by gender, etc.

  More locally, one can ask students:  "How many departments at our univ. 
are chaired by women? How many women deans and/or top administrators are 
there here?  Who is the president of the university?" These answers (e.g., 
no or few women hold leadership positions) are often revealing and because 
they're local, they make make more of an impact on young minds than do 
global statistics.

    I sometimes have to remind myself how much more I learned about sexism 
after I entered the working world (9-5, that is, in between degrees) and 
started looking for apartments, etc.--things some of our undergrads 
haven't done yet--as well as during the course of college.20

  I sometimes use a personal anecdote, e.g., "When I interviewed for a job 
as an assistant prof., I was told by one male faculty member, 'My, you're 
remarkably logical for a woman.'"  That usually surprises male and female 
students; they all recognize at least some of the sexist assumptions 
underlying that remark.

   For many young women students, their lives really have been different 
in significant ways from those of their teachers. They may have "stay-at-home"
fathers or at least fathers who share in housework; they may have 
mothers who are lawyers and doctors. (Obviously, this depends on the 
demographics at one's college.) As girls, they may have played football--in
school and out--while their brothers may have been painting still 

  But some may have friends who were (or, unfortunately, will soon be) 
raped--by acquiantances, dormmates, or strangers.  Or they may have been 
sexually harassed when applying for a part-time job. Or they may have 
another teacher at your university who always calls on men in a science 
class instead of women.

   Some of the "light bulb over the head" moments re: feminism come from 
one's own experience of patriarchy and sexism.  Sharing our own and 
acquainting students with others' experiences of these (esp. when they 
read autobiographical narratives, for example) can often start turning on 
the switch, as can their own college experiences.  The closer to home 
(literally and figuratively) one's examples/data are, the more impact they 
are likely to have, I think.  (And even for some feminists, marital rape 
isn't really in exactly the same category as abduction and rape by a 
stranger with a gun.) College lasts 4 years (at least) so many students 
will have, sadly, lots of experience even in their lives as students, to 
help them "get it."

Marilyn Edelstein, English, Santa Clara U
medelstein  @  scu.edu
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 07:27:44 -0700
From: "Samantha M. Cahill" <cahil002 @ MAILHOST1.CSUSM.EDU>
Subject: Re: Teaching students to "get it"
As a Women's Studies Student, this issue concerns me a great deal.  I am faced
nearly every semester with classmates who not only don't "get it" but are
often hostile in their defense of their views.  Perhaps that this is the
result of a Women's Studies program which must rely on other disciplines for
its faculty and most of its courses.  What worries me even more is that fact
that the fact that if there are people in discipline specific women's studies
classes who don't "get it" the rest of the student population (those who would
never consider taking a WMST class) definitely don't "get it".
My final concern regards the fact that there are faculty on my campus who are
tagged Women's Studies faculty, who have told students that they don't "get
it".  I am thoroughly disheartened by the whole phenomenon, if the faculty
don't "get it," the students certainly never will.
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 14:11:40 -0400
From: "Denise A. Copelton" <br00849 @ BINGHAMTON.EDU>
Subject: Dreamworlds Videos
> Who distributes the film _Dreamworlds II_ and is there a _Dreamworlds I_?
I believe both Dreamwords and Dreamworlds II are produced and distributed
by Films for the Humanities.  In my opinion, Dreamworlds II is much more
useful than the original.  This is largely because the videos used in
Dreamwolrds II are more contemporary.  The videos depicted in the original
(though there is certainly some overlap between the two versions) tend to
focus on what some might call "glam rock" of the 1980s.  Motley Crue, and
Whitesnake videos readily come to mind.  As someone who grew up
uncritically consuming these images, (yes I owned tapes from both bands)
the original was quite effective.
However, when I have used the original in my classes, students are all too
ready to dismiss the entire production as "dated".  In other words, they
claim that videos are not like that anymore and that the violence against
women portrayed in these videos was a product of the particular genre of
popular music.  So, in this sense, the newer version (Dreamworlds II) is
better for younger audiences.  It includes clips from Janet Jackson videos
and other more contemporary examples.  It also includes much more diverse
types of music (pop, rap, metal, etc.) so that students cannot easily
write off the violence in these vidoes as endemic to only one particular
type of music.
Denise A. Copelton
Department of Sociology
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY 13907
e-mail: br00849  @  binghamton.edu
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 13:34:45 -0500
From: "Jill M. Duquaine" <jill-duquaine @ UIOWA.EDU>
Subject: Re: Teaching students to "get it"
The information I have on Dreamworlds II is as follows:
"Dreamworlds II" was produced in 1995 and directed by Sut Jhally.  For more
information on how to obtain it, you can contact the distributor:  Media
Education Foundation, 26 Center St., Northamptn, MA 01060; (800)897-0089;
fax 413-586-8398; email:  mediaed  @  mediaed.org; website:
Cheers, Jillian M. Duquaine
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 03:08:51 -0400
From: Jo Trigilio <jtrigilio @ LNMTA.BENTLEY.EDU>
Subject: Re: students getting it
i would like to add to the suggestions already made concerning strategies for
helping students understand the complexities of women's oppression.
i usually start any intro gender course with an essay on socialization.  this
just kinda establishes "the way things are" generally speaking.  then i use
frye's "sexism" to call attention to all the sex/gender marking that goes on in
society.  as i slowly introduce the subject of oppression -- usually through an
issue -- i rattle off terrible statistics.  rape stats, domestic violence stats,
eating disorder/dieting stats, pay inequity stats  -- whatever the topic is.  it
is hard for them to argue against a statistic.   i ask the class HOW CAN THIS
HAPPEN AND CONTINUE TO HAPPEN!!!!!  what forces in society lead to such terrible
stats?  even after ten years of teaching gender and women's studies, i am
baffled by the continuing high rate of sexual assault, domestic violence,
domestic murder, eating disorders etc, and i convey that to my students.  the
statistics speak for themselves.  really.
the first time i tried to teach a section on affirmative action in philosophy
101, some of my students argued that "there is not so much gender and race
discrimination and inequity these days."  the next time i taught that  section,
i started off by showing the class tables of  salaries categorized by race,
gender, and educational level.  one table revealed that men are, in most cases,
consistently paid more than women in the same profession.  the statistics
completely eliminated the "gender and race inequity hardly exists anymore"
jo trigilio
assistant professor
philosophy/gender studies
bentley college
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 01:23:14 -0500
Subject: Re: Teaching students to "get it"
The innoncence of youth, the experience of age.
If there is anything I have noticed when dealing with teen adults, it is the
frustration to trying to get them to think, to act, to make a decision. When
I was dealing with police troops, it was to get them to think tactically. When
it is dealing with college students, it is to get them to act, to try the closed
door because just because the door is closed doesn't mean it is locked.
The innocence to the world is the situation here, I think, the problem of
"get it". Is there a way around it that involves the benefit of experience?
In theory, yes; in practicallity, ........
When I first got in the Navy, I was involved in Deck. Small boats, running
lines, booms, that kind of thing. My Captain told me that the Navy technical
manuals were a product of all the different ways of trying to do something
with the end result of the ones that worked properally. Read them, he
said, for they will be your guide against when some Chief or petty officer
tries to tell you of a different, 'easier' way to do things. While I didn't
have too many major technical disasters, unlike other ships I saw (like
watching a nylon line "snapping back" between where I and another
were standing), I wish I had read them more.
The benefits of experience, the brashness of youth.
I'm afraid that unless the youth is very wise then the only way they get
the world is when they have been hurt or seriously scared or as they get
But then again, for all the 'benefits' that experience can give us, there is
something to be said for the glow of innocence that the youth possess, that
view of the world that once lost is almost never regained. Such is a perhaps a
question of ethics that each of us who are teachers must consider.
It is a 'problem' and not only in women's studies classes, but across the whole
th06  @  swt.edu
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 08:34:24 -0700
From: Sharon Barnes <sbarnes @ UOFT02.UTOLEDO.EDU>
Subject: Re: Dreamworlds Videos
Hi all,
When recently ordering one of these videos to show in my class, which I
do just about every semester, I was informed that they'd both been
stolen. (I'm only paranoid because everyone's out to get me!) The person
responsible for ordering videos for the library told me that libraries
can only get the second version, unless you can make some kind of
justification about video research.  In my notes I have the Media
Education Foundation as the publisher.
Also on the subject of good videos, the librarian also informed me that
Killing Us Softly 3--a sorely needed update of this classic--had already
been purchased by the library but was being held up somewhere in
production. Does anyone have any information on when we're likely to see
this one?
Sharon Barnes
sbarnes  @  uoft02.utoledo.edu
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 07:53:09 -0500
From: Susanne Dietzel <sdietze @ MAILHOST.TCS.TULANE.EDU>
Subject: Re: students getting it
Dear Listmembers:
I have to add my two cents, or rather $ 5, to this discussion.  In
addition to a whole bunch of theoretical and fictional texts, I also use a
very nifty book of statistics in my Intro course:
- Women's Action Coalition, _The Facts About Women_ (NY:The New Press,
This book provides statistics from A(bortion) to W(ork) that will forever
"silence" those who are adamant that women in today's world are not
oppressed.  Statistics for some strange reason are very convincing to
students of the "I am not a feminist, but" generation.
Check it out.
Susanne Dietzel, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Women's Studies
Tulane University
(504) 865-5248
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 10:10:20 -0700
From: Kathy Miriam <kmiriam @ CATS.UCSC.EDU>
Subject: Re: students getting it
I have a related question on the "getting it" theme.  I am presently
teaching a unit on california farmworkers.  Does anyone on thelist have a
suggestion in terms of exercises/games or something simple to introduce
the concept of exploitation and/or some consciousness raising approach to
the issue of "illegal immigration"?  thanks,
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 12:34:23 -0500
From: Janice Bogstad <bogstajm @ UWEC.EDU>
Subject: Re: students getting it
I use an exercise in the book:
Experiencing Race, Class and Gender in the United States.
The article is entitled:
"White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"  by
Peggy McIntosh
This is one of our textbooks for the courese, but
I don't assign the article as reading on the syllabus.  Rather, I ask
students to read it AFTER we do the exercise in class.
I copy the article, which lists several privileges white people
don't know that they have (I am white-largely Scandanavian,
as are most but not all of my students).  T
I hand them out slips of paper that list one of these privileges,
have each student take two of them, and have them read out the
privileges to each other twice, then ask them a short series
of quesitons designed to help them see that these 'rights'
they assume are actually 'privileges' that not all americans
share.  I have them discuss this in small groups and then summarize
the discussion to the whole class.
Students are at first uncomfortable, and somewhat subdued but it
gets general discussion going on 'white privilege'.
The list has 26 items...things like,
I can if I wish arrange to be in
the company of pepole of my race most of the time.
I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I
will not be followed or harassed.
There as a Gendered version of this checklist too..but this one focues
on race and poverty.
My course is on 'Immigrant Women' in the midwest, starting with
the 19th century but focusing on the mid- to late- 20th century and
in the past it has involved 70+ students.  I am about to try this
with a small, first-year experience class with 16 students.
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 18:29:36 +0100
From: Sue McPherson <sue @ MCPHERSONS.FREESERVE.CO.UK>
Subject: Re: students getting it
Both you and Jo Trigilio have mentioned using statistics
as one way of convincing students that women are oppressed.
But statistics can be used to support views that are not so
favourable to women.
Martin Fiebert has assembled an annotated bibliography of
85  'References examining assaults by women on their
spouses/partners', which demonstrate that 'women are as
physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their
relationships with their spouses or male partners'.
I don't how you would explain these stats to your students
or whether you would want to use them.  I'm sure this would
raise other issues about the reliability of stats, and who's
doing the research and so on.
Sue McPherson
sue  @  mcphersons.freeserve.co.uk
=========================================================================== ===========================================================================
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 12:35:53 -0600
From: Margi Duncombe <MDuncombe @ COLORADOCOLLEGE.EDU>
Subject: Re: Killing Us Softly-III
The Office Manager at Media Education Foundation told me in August that
"Killing Us Softly-III" would be available for distribution in December.  I
used "Slim Hopes" (also distributed by Media Education Foundation) as a
substitute, and it worked well to raise some of the issues about advertising
Margaret Duncombe
Sociology and Women's Studies
Colorado College
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 15:39:36 -0400
From: Jeannie Ludlow <jludlow @ BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: students getting it
Hi all,
Along with others, I advocate the Macintosh essays (either one will do) to
help students "get it."  But I also appreciate the reminder that life
experience is a better teacher than I can ever be.
One of the primary points of resistance that I experience from students as
they first learn about white privilege is the point (which Macintosh makes
quite clear) that privilege is the flip side of oppression.  My (white,
male, economically privileged, etc.) students are much more comfortable
"admitting" that they have privilege than examining how their privileges
are defined by someone else's oppression.
So, in addition to Macintosh's list of privileges, I use a list that was
run as an unsigned advertisement in our Student of Color newspaper, the
_Obsidian_ (BGSU, spring 1999).  The ad listed "Problems minority students
face on a predominantly white campus."  I took these "problems" and paired
them up with "related privileges enjoyed by most white students on the same
campus."  I was careful to word the privileges similarly to the way
Macintosh words the ones in her article.  I made all this into an overhead,
which I put up in class and ask the students to work in groups either to
come up with examples of each pairing, or to come up with examples of why
the statements are not applicable to BGSU.
This has, so far, worked very well in two classes, and pretty well in one.
Here is the overhead text--sorry if it is messed up.  I did try to keep the
columns together.
    adapted from The Obsidian
with related privileges enjoyed by most white students on the same campus
    by Jeannie
PROBLEM                    PRIVILEGE
Isolation/segregation from        Feeling like you could be included
the mainstream of university life.  in the mainstream of univ. life.
Few "minority" faculty/staff/        Many white faculty/staff/admin.
administrators for role models.        for role models.
Lack of a critical mass of         Everywhere you go (just about) you
"minority" students.             see people like you.
Food and cultural events         Food and cultural events that are
that are alien.                 similar to your own.
Harassment based on ethnicity.        Lack of ethnic harassment,in general.
Counseling toward vocational        Counseling that begins with your
and occupational majors.          own interests.
Curricula that imply that         Curricula that reflect your own
assimilation is the measure of         cultural backgrounds.
of success.
Social events and hangouts seem        Social events and hangouts seem
off-limits or uncomfortable.         welcoming.
Advisors and counselors who        Advisors and counselors who
do not understand what you         understand what you are
are experiencing.             experiencing.
Professors' and peers'            Professors' and peers'
expectations of you are based in     expectations are based in your
stereotypes.                 own behaviors.
I hope someone can find this helpful.
Cheers, all,
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 1999 15:41:34 -0400
From: Amelia Carr <acarr @ ALLEG.EDU>
Subject: Re: students getting it
I had pretty good experience last week using an exercise that I adapted from an
article called SCANLON, Jennifer, "Empathy Education: Teaching About Women and
Poverty in the  Introductory Women's Studies Classroom."  Radical Teacher, no.
48, pp. 710, Spring 1996. (The full text of this article is available in the
database Contemporary Women's Issues, which our college has online and perhaps
yours does, too.)   The exercise is called "Making it on a Minimum," and asks
students to work in groups to prepare budgets and reflect upon the economic
situations of various women and their children, one on welfare, someone on
minimum wage without health or childcare benefits, a couple where the primary
male wage earner is facing un-employment, and a worker actually making more
than minimum wage, but not receiving benefits.   As they prepared the budgets
they were asked to answer questions like, what to do when the kids are sick,
how the kids feel when they don't have money for extras, etc., and what
services would be helpful.
When I did the exercise this year, I needed to re-write it somewhat to take
welfare reform into account.  Most helpful along this line were materials from
the Women's Association for Women's Alternatives, Inc., particularly the report
by Diana Pearce and Jennifer Brooks, "The Self-Sufficiency Standard for
Pennsylvania," May 1999.  This report tries to assess cost-of-living
realistically for specific communities; I was able to find cost recommendations
for our county.  The report was good at detailing what levels of social
services are available for various family configurations, including taxes, food
stamps, etc.    The frightening statistic is their calculation of the hourly
wage necessary for self-sufficiency (working 176 hrs a month) -- minimum wage
isn't even close.  The PA report also indicates that these Self-Sufficiency
reports are or will be available for New York, New York City, California,
Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, Indiana, Washington D.C.  A contact
number for the group Wider Opportunities for Women is (202) 638-3143.  The
people at the Pennsylvania office were very helpful (610/ 543-5022).
It was very effective for the students to piece together a realistic budget and
to reflect on the kinds of choices available to a very large percentage of
poorer people.  While not all of the Allegheny students are well-to-do, very
few of them have ever had to confront a choice between visiting a doctor and
putting food on the table.  Being sheltered, mostly dependent college-students,
just making out a monthly budget is eye-opening.  With the help of the
self-sufficiency standard, they will quickly realize that even wages of $10 per
hour don't meet the requirements of a family.  The Self-Sufficiency report also
identifies how much of a help it is to have medical benefits and childcare.
Last night's news indicated that health care might become an issue again.
Okay, perhaps some of the students will simply resolve in their own minds not
to get stuck "working at McDonalds" as the catch-phrase goes.  But it is
certainly more difficult after doing the exercise to act as if merely "getting
a job" solves all the problems.  A small step toward "getting it."
Amelia Carr
Allegheny College
Meadville, PA  16335
acarr  @  alleg.edu

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