This weeks article is titled “But I’m Not Gay: What Straight Teachers Need to Know About Queer Theory” by Elizabeth J. Meyer. This article delves into what queer theory truly entails and how imperative it is to employ in an education system that is always evolving. It is important to note the reconstructed definition of what the term “queer” has been expanded to include in the education setting. The author of this text denotes queer theory as exploring normalized categories beyond classic binaries, questioning assumptions and gaining new understanding by teaching students new ways to view the world. It is through this lens that teachers can create classrooms that are inclusive and allow for students to express themselves and challenge inequalities.
There are a few themes presented in this article I would like to emphasize. The main point that struck me was the authors statement about how attention is brought to violence and bullying in the schools, but challenging the underlying social forces that are the cause of bullying are rarely addressed. Additionally, this bullying is seen as acts of teasing and violence, rather than a form of enforcing the norms of our society and culture. I found this to be a profound idea due to the fact that we so often hear about “anti-bullying” campaigns, but it is hardly ever questions WHY student’s are being bullied and ridiculed and the ideologies behind the violence. In order to truly address these behaviors, the mainstream identities and behaviors need to be assessed and questioned.
The next point I would like to emphasize is the function of traditional heterosexual gender roles and the implications of these. Queer theory allows for both teachers and students to acknowledge the harmful power dynamics and understand truly how much these shape daily thoughts and behaviors. It is important to note we are all taught as children both implicitly and explicitly, what it means to be traditionally “female” and “male”. If a student challenges these norms, they are often a target for harassment or unwanted attention. In essence, if an individual does not conform to the dominant culture and norms, it is considered to be “normal” to be harassed or ostracized for it. I question, why must conformity dictate life quality? Why must we punish those who are courageous enough to express themselves as they are?
The last point I would like to touch base on is the miscommunication we have with our students or children. It is essential we emphasize the difference between biological sex and gender expression. The author states “Choices are informed by codes that are explicitly and implicitly taught to children”, these codes are fundamental to enforcing these assigned roles. These codes can include the misogynistic cultural stereotypes that are often ascribed to women. I often resort back to the example that a man can be a leader, but if a woman displays the same quality it is often depicted in a negative light, such as her being “bossy”. It is imperative we teach our students that there may be biological differences between the sexes, but gender is solely a product of culture and what the dominant culture says is normal. It is these ever present restraints and labels that are placed on individuals that contribute to the seemingly never-ending cycle of enforcing norms and punishing anything “queer”.
The author displays evidence of references throughout the article. Meyer uses multiple other research articles as well as queer theory leaders to expand the perspectives given in the reading. For example, she includes a leader in queer theory, Kumashiro, and his conceptual and cultural resources as a mean to rethink educational practices. Meyer uses an abundance of outside resources in order to explain queer theory and what this ideological perspective entails. Specifically, this pedagogy includes aspects of political and cultural perspectives. In order to make true changes and challenge the norms and labels placed on us, there has to be changes both politically and culturally in order to enact this pedagogy. We see changes politically happening with the passing of same-sex marriage and other laws pertaining to rights of those who are non-binary. Additionally, culturally there is a shift to be more accepting and willing to challenge the system. It is the combination of these that are large components of this pedagogy.
The current connection I found was an article written on a website called “The Conversation”. It is titled “Beyond the Binary: How Teaching Children About Gender Could Reduce Sexism” by Dr. Pani Farvid in 2019. This article is addressing gender inequality, specifically in New Zealand.
The article begins by stating that inequality spans gender-based violence, women’s participation in public life, women’s representation in leadership roles, the gender pay gap and the deteriorating position of minority and immigrant women. As we see, gender inequality affects essentially all aspects of someone’s life, therefore this inequality has to be confronted. Research was shown in the article which indicates that gender inequality exists primarily because of the idea that there are only two different genders, there is no such thing as a non-binary gender, nor is it seen as a continuum. The underlying issue that is presented with this view is that men and women are thought to have different skill sets, therefore society treats them completely differently.
However, gender is not biological nor is it naturally assigned or tied to our bodies. The article really drives home the point that gender is the product of culture. Since we are products of our culture and we typically learn what is considered “dominant” the article notes the necessity of teaching our children about gender as early as possible as a means of preventing sexism before it becomes ingrained into our children. An interesting aspect this article touches on that often accompanies the sex vs gender argument, is how men and women are similar and different. The article says “Multiple reviews and meta-analyses of psychological literature have consistently found men and women are more similar than they are different when it comes to a host of psychological traits and mental functioning. These include cognitive performance, mathematical abilities, personality traits, social behaviors, emotions, aggression and leadership.” Additionally, biologically the only true differences between men and women are pregnancy, childbirth and lactation. It is noted that while these biological differences are apparent, men and women are both equally equipped for parenting and caregiving. This research allows us to shift focus from women being the caregiver to changing the nature of gender roles and how immensely they affect our lives. Men can be softer, women do not have to be the caregivers, etc. We must question this covert and overt sexisms that are leading to gender inequality and educate individuals on how harmful this truly is.
With the background information given from this article, it all circles back around to teaching this prior information to our children. The article notes that children should be taught the history and nature of gender inequality and sexism. While teaching is important, it is imperative to provide students the tools to dismantle gender binaries, sexism, and to offer them open expression and freedom. This article really drives home the points made in Meyer’s article, that note the importance of gender equality in education and teaching our children can reduce sexism and inequality. Educating is key to prevent gender-based violence that was prominent in Meyer’s article as well as addressing the underlying social forces that enable this bullying and violence. The author of this current connection makes some recommendations to help educators get the ball rolling on implementing these ideas. Some of these include:
- Training of teachers needs to incorporate gender theory and gender equality training.
- Students need to be seen as more than the sum of their gender, but as complex people
- The school curriculum needs to include lessons on the social production of gender, gender roles and gender categories.
- Schools need to incorporate curricula on global citizenship, which includes an awareness and acceptance of diversity and the promotion of equality for all individuals.
- The education system needs to identify and interrupt hetero-normative, hetero-sexist, and patriarchal practices that are part of society and, at times, part of school culture.
In all, using queer pedagogy allows educators to question how they teach and reinforce gender practices in school, how they support traditional notions of heterosexuality and how culturally specific information is presented in the classroom. This weeks assigned reading in combination with my current connection gives me immense hope in our future generation and allowing society to challenge these harmful traditional assigned norms. I am looking forward to seeing how I can eventually implement changes in my place in education and hopefully create an open and expressive environment for my students.
Farvid , D. P. (2020, May 2). Beyond the binary: how teaching children about gender could help reduce sexism. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/beyond-the-binary-how-teaching-children-about-gender-could-help-reduce-sexism-113140.
Meyer, E. 2007. “But I’m Not Gay”: What Straight Teachers Need to Know about Queer Theory. In N. Rodriquez & W. Pinar (Eds.), Queering Straight Teachers: Discourse and Identity in Education. (pp. 15-32). New York, NY: Peter Lang.