We are concerned with issues of
A feminist curriculum is not a uniform curriculum. It
aspires to include voices, experiences and values of all women, whether or not
they would define themselves as feminist.
We are concerned with issues of power
Who has power, and how do they maintain it? Who has an opportunity for
self-determination, and who is defined by those in power? The answers to these
questions are not simple and involve race, culture, sexual orientation and
ability as well as gender. They often raise problems of divided loyalties as we
consider the various groups we belong to, some of which have more power than
Many men have similar issues around power, identity and control,
especially men who are not white, middle class, heterosexual and well educated.
Our curriculum makes space for people to consider such issues.
We make space for women's experience
We do not assume that the generic "he" includes all of us. For
example, in the chapter "Choosing Safer Sex," we say, "Use a condom." This is
good advice for both men and women. However, we recognize that in reality men
have much more freedom to make that choice than women do. We make sure we say
clearly that in most heterosexual relationships, a man can say, "I'm going to
use a condom," without getting hassled, but if a woman says, "I want you to use
a condom," her wishes may be denied. Then we invite women to share techniques
for getting their needs met or we offer some assertive stances that may work,
always recognizing that for some women the actual or potential violence in the
situation means she does not have a choice. We make sure we say it out loud
because it acknowledges women's real place in the power imbalance. Very likely,
someone in the class will be in that situation. If we don't say it, we conspire
to silence her.
We are concerned with emotions
The authors of the chapters in this book are at some pains to take into
account the emotional needs of learners - validation of what they already know,
safety, increased self- esteem and so on. In the activities outlined here,
emotions are front and centre, acknowledged and analyzed. The acknowledgment
and analysis of emotions, in western culture, have been the province of women;
in institutions of learning, where for centuries women were banned, emotions
were also banned. We put them back into the curriculum and say they are
Many men and some women may be reluctant to take part in such
activities, and resist this part of the curriculum; they may say that such
activities are not "real" school. If a curriculum were "man-centred," we might
dispense with or disguise exercises that, for instance, ask learners to
remember what it was like to fail in school. In this curriculum, we say women
are used to doing the emotional work in our society, it is important work and
we will recognize it. In order to do good academic work, women need to have
their feelings acknowledged, and their needs for physical and emotional safety
met. In this curriculum women's need to deal with their emotions is given
priority over some men's need to deny their feelings.
Of course, there are men in our classes who are ready and
willing to take on emotional work, especially men who belong to Alcoholics
Anonymous, or who have been in a treatment program for drug addiction. I once
saw a student come away from a group of learners exchanging stories about what
illiteracy had done to their lives. He was a tall, strong man, wearing a muscle
shirt, upper body covered in tattoos, eyes red and teary, and reaching for his
cigarettes. "Man," he said to a group of us sitting outside, "that crying
really takes it out of you."
We try to tell the truth when the truth is
The chapter called "Women of Courage: Herstory" is a
great example. First learners are invited to notice that some groups of people
are not in the history books, then to suggest some reasons for the omission.
Many activities ask them to supply the omission, and finally to go out into
their communities to share their new knowledge. However, it is not just in the
past that women are hidden; everyone of these chapters tries to bring out
hidden aspects of women's lives.