Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality
reviewed by Hilary E. Hughes & Vicki Scullion - July 19, 2016
Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality
Annika Butler-Wall, Kim Cosier, Rachel L. S. Harper, Jeff Sapp, Jody Sokolower, & Melissa Bollow Tempel
Rethinking Schools, Milwaukee
Search for book at Amazon.com
Perhaps the best way to capture the provocative, relevant, and beautifully diverse work presented throughout Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality is by calling upon Audre Lordes notion that [t]here is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives (p. 31). As feminist scholars who identify as white, heterosexual, cisgendered women; mothers; former middle school teachers; and current teacher educators who are oriented toward equity, social justice, feminist, and anti-racist pedagogies, we agree with contributor Sokolower that [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer] LGBTQ struggles cannot be separated from the fabric of all struggles for social justice. Making schools safe for LGBTQ students, staff, and families is inextricably interwoven with a fight against racism (p. 13). With this in mind, we know it is not enough to simply call ourselves allies, we must act. This book includes essays written by K12 teachers, parents, professors, doctoral students, administrators, and community activists who share their lived experiences around the intersections of gender fluidity, sexuality, sexism, queer, and queered issues. As such, the editors create diverse entry points for readers to both wrestle with and connect to the ways educators, activists, parents, and community members can think and act in more open and responsive ways to improve the quality of life and educational experiences for LGBTQ communities.
Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality is a timely book that will benefit educators, parents, and administrators both inside and outside of the classroom. Personally and professionally, the book helps us think more productively about how to be/become more effective and affective advocates in our feminist, motherly, teacherly, and community lives. Many of the authors explore the complexities of intersectionality: the idea that we cannot examine a single identity category, such as Black or queer, without acknowledging how all socially constructed categories are entangled. By doing so, the chapters connect back to Lordes notion that we do not live single-issue lives. For example, contributors Quinn and Meiners note that not all queers are white or able-bodied or wealthy, so LGBTQ liberation necessarily includes struggles against racism, ableism, and capitalism (p. 30). Situating the struggles of LGBTQ communities within multidimensional spaces reminds us that people are not one dimensional and we simultaneously learn about the nuanced yet widespread inequities permeating society.
The authors use the first chapter to describe the books purpose(s) and theoretical framing. Drawing on feminist theorists bell hooks and Margaret Randall, contributor Sokolower posits that, [c]hildren need to be learning about sexism, gender, and sexuality within a framework that includes an understanding of racism and other forms of oppression, and looks honestly at history and current events (p. 14). Sokolower also explores some ways certain concepts are taken up throughout the book such as what it means to queer the curriculum or the prison system. She also examines the limitations of using the term bully in schools as it tends to gloss over issues like homophobia, racism, sexism, and Islamophobia. In the second chapter, the authors describe the diverse ways they respond to moments of oppression, bigotry, and marginalization after realizing it is necessary and possible to address aspects of their students or childrens lived experiences that are at odds with the dominant discourses of school and society. These essays provide insights into creating safe and supportive classroom and societal spaces including four-year-old children learning to deconstruct the notion of a nuclear family, seventh graders and their teachers tackling gender stereotypes, a mother negotiating her childs gender fluidity, and a teacher standing up for a transgender student at the learners funeral.
There is no question that it is difficult for teachers to identify useful materials when creating safe spaces for discussing sexism, gender, and sexuality in the classroom while still meeting grade level standards and justifying a lessons purpose to parents or administrators. These challenges may in fact discourage teachers from undertaking the task at all. In our own work with in-service and pre-service teachers across content areas over the years, we have found that one of the most common reactions of resistance to powerful and uncomfortable ideas presented in texts such as these manifest in content-related Yes, but statements: Yes, but, even if I wanted to, I couldnt do this kind of work in my class because I teach [math, science, PE, music, Spanish, etc.]. The essays in Chapter Three provide multiple examples of curricular lessons teachers use to address issues of gender, sexism, and sexual orientation in their classrooms and illustrate the idea that no matter what subject area or grade level they teach their students still wrestle with the complexities of myriad social categories. Whether it is a second grade performance based on the picture book 10,000 Dresses or a high school discussion about whether Puck in Shakespeares Midsummer Nights Dream was bisexual, the third chapter offers creative, accessible, and implementable ideas for incorporating social justice lessons into many content areas and grade level classrooms so that students can begin to see curriculum as both a mirror of and window to their world.
As feminist scholars working to find new ways to support our LGBTQ colleagues, Chapter Four further opens our eyes to the harsh realities of educators forced to pass as someone they are not or bury their queer and gendered identities while working in school communities. The essays in this chapter are poignant, reveal realities that will resonate with those living through these struggles on a daily basis, and shed light on these experiences for those who have never thought about the issues queer and gender non-conforming teachers face every day. One of the most important questions from the fourth chapter is how we can ever expect our LGBTQ students to feel safe in educational spaces if their teachers do not feel safe or supported themselves. We understand that working toward a more socially just society is not a task that can be accomplished by educators and students in schools alone. Chapter Five provides experiences of advocates who work to create liberating spaces that reach past the classroom. This includes administrators working for policy changes at the school and district level, parent advocates reaching out to other parents, and adults working with gay-straight alliances to share their stories, support, and advice to advocates who wish to take up the challenge of creating a just society.
Finally, Chapter Six reminds us that we do not need to bring sexual orientation, gendered identities, and sexism issues into our teacher education classrooms; they are already there whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. These essays offer accessible lesson ideas such as incorporating art and writing projects into teacher education curriculum so that pre-service candidates and practicing educators in continuing education programs experience multiple ways to work through their own questions, frustrations, and assumptions and then be able to use these strategies to address similar issues in their own classrooms. In addition to the rich and diverse ideas presented in the book, we find the added bonus features extremely useful. For example, the glossary of terms that Annika Butler-Wall compiles across the essays offers an invitation to dialogue rather than a definitive guide (p. 445) of definitions so that readers can enter into conversations with the authors using a common language. For those wanting to learn more about topics broached in the book but not sure where to begin, Jeff Sapp assembles recommendations from each of the authors that provide rich and diverse resources. Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality offers us the opportunity to do just what its title states. By changing how we think about sexism, gender, and sexuality we can attempt to transform educational environments into liberating and restorative justice spaces where discussions about these topics are not only possible but expected.