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This is loooong!

As a supplemental reading to the reading “Why Feminists Make Better Tutors…?, I read “The Politics of Tutoring: Feminism within the Patriarchy? by Meg Woolbright. Woolbright urges writing consultants to be feminist “spies? within this patriarchal society of academia. The characteristics of feminism, which I found to be helpful in actually defining terms, (I felt like the Lutes reading was really vague and ambiguous with some of its terms and assumptions) is its “vibrancy, its personal voice, its sensuousness and openendedness, set in striking contrast to the linear, objective, abstract, tightly argued prose of the academy? (68). In this rhetoric, the boundaries between author and the self, and the self and the audience are blurred. (I don’t really know who the author means by self, either. Any ideas?)

The feminist classroom would advocate not knowledge as power, but understanding as power. The focus of the classroom, then, would be more of a conversation amongst equals, rather than it being a public debate between the know-it-alls and the know-nothings. Through this conversation, knowledge is left to be shaped by its participants. The teacher’s role in this setting is the “ultimate learner? (68) and his/her goal would be to “liberate the tortured voice.? Yet, this academic feminism must be acted out within a patriarchal academy, which causes many tensions.

Can I just stop here and insert my two-sense? I wonder, then, how the author imagines the ideal classroom? Would a feminist classroom be okay with the teacher conveying information at all, or is that domineering? If the classroom is a conversation amongst equals, how do students learn the various theories of psychology, the different systems of the body, or the events of the American Revolution if they are taking these classes to learn? I agree with the conclusion that the classroom should be one of discussion and an environment where students can ask questions and state their opinions, but I’m just wondering if the teacher has license to pass on knowledge that he/she has that the students do not?

Woolbright believes that the idea of a writing center and feminism pedagogy go hand-in-hand: both “advocate teaching methods that are non-hierarchical, cooperative, interactive ventures between students and tutors talking about issues grounded in the students’ own experience. They are, above all, conversations between equals in which knowledge is constructed, not transmitted? (69).

Writing consultants see the conflict between feminist discourse and patriarchy in their individual conversations with students. “In order to determine if our “hidden curriculum? suggests feminist values, Schiedewind suggests five process goals? (69):
1. The development of an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and community
2. Shared leadership
3. A cooperative structure
4. The integration of cognitive and affective learning
5. Action.

The rest of the article discusses a conference between a tutor, who identifies herself as a feminist, and a female student. The tutor says that a majority of what she wants to do in consultations “involves teaching feminist values? (69). She urges students to think and write coherently and in their own words. However, there is a conflict in her attempts: “she believes in teaching according to feminist practice, she thinks that the student’s success—which she equates with giving the teacher the traditional thesis-and-support format she wants—is her prime responsibility. For this tutor, there is a conflict between teaching feminist rhetoric and ensuring the student’s academic success? (70).

At the beginning of the session, the relationship between the two is one of friendship and openness, as they have an established relationship and are talking about personal details of the tutor’s life. This upholds the feminist criterion because it is more of an affective relationship, but as the consultation continues, the tutor pushes her view on the student and tries to force her to read the text as “a test of manhood.? The tutor did not help her view the story through her own experiences, but rather through the lens that the tutor found most important. The tutor begins to “write? the paper based on her interpretation of the story, and there is no shared-leadership. Consequently, “the tutor is caught between the conflict of wanting to teach feminist values but ever-mindful of the power structure in which she is working, doing so with the “correct? interpretation and in the “correct? form of the paper? (77). The effects of the tutor’s attempts to “liberate the tortured voice? in her consultation, writes Woolbright, is not of liberation, but “in deafening silence and alienation? (70).

Woolbright advocates action, within the tutorial session, and to talk about the battle between feminist values and the patriarchal society: “we can consider how and why different rhetorics and pedagogies come to be privileged and the implications of this privileging for how we both construct ourselves and are constructed by the institutions in which we work. With this naming, our students can be given power and the responsibility to negotiate between feminism and the patriarchy, between writing vibrantly, sensuously, in their own voices and writing the tightly argued prose of the academy? (78).

I agree with some of the author’s arguments about the importance for a comfortable, encouraging environment that does not tell the student what to think or influence his/her interpretations. I remember my one consultation with a student who was comparing “The Dream of the Rood? and some other poem. (This was the example of my really bad consultation…) I saw his essay in a completely different way; I so badly wanted to tell him how he could change his interpretation to make it stronger, but I held my tongue. It was killing me, but I’m thankful that I did not take away his voice.

While I understand and agree with the author’s desire to give students confidence and abilities to formulate their own opinions, I do not completely buy the author’s assumption that writing an essay based on a thesis-and-support format silences our voices. This form of essay draws its roots from philosophy, the basis of thought, where we assert a claim and then build it up with evidence. For me, this format gives me a framework from which to begin my analysis, and I can better organize all of the thoughts bumping around my head.

Of course, there are different ways to write an academic essay besides the thesis-and-support format. The problem is I don’t really know of any other way, and the author does not really provide me any alternatives to this type of essay. What are other ways in which students can write an academic essay? What does a feminist essay look like?

She talks a lot about feminist writing as affective, sensuous and unlike “the tightly argued prose of the academy? (78). However, these generalizations made me feel even more boxed-in as a female writer. By associating feminist writing as opposed to logic and filled with emotions, the author constructed this view that made women seem even more irrational and solely based on emotions. Perhaps I just took this statement wrongly, but I feel like there is a place for tightly argued prose, creative writing, essays that are openended, and not that one form of writing is privileged over the other, just that certain situations call for certain ways to write. (Take, for example, the differences in writing styles between sciences and humanities courses.)

Before this class, I would have never thought that there were so many implications to a writing consultation! The article was interesting and reading it (and blogging) challenged me to really analyze the process of a consultation and why advocating a thesis-and-support format could have gendered implications.

Love Jenna


jenna, i like your comment challenging the idea that "sensuous" and "openended" writing is always ideal (or that it's appropriate to uncritically characterize feminist writing as such). it strikes me that oftentimes works like this that talk about challenging academic conventions (or "the man" or "the system") tend to work in very absolute terms, like system = bad, stiffling, and alternative presented by the author = good, liberating.

and perhaps i'm ranting without truly knowing what's going on in the article, but i'm suspicious of authors who offer a complete and total "way out" or escape from conventions. that's not to say that things can't be changed, or improved, or made less rigid or problematic. i just don't really believe that there's some place where students can exist in some pure, ideal state where they write in a way that expresses some true, natural voice.