What is a Feminist Curriculum
by Kate Nonesuch

You don't need a women-only group to use a feminist curriculum.

If you have leafed through Making Connections, you've seen what's inside-chapters on various themes, such as herstory, role models, self esteem, cross-cultural awareness, roles, everyday life, safer sex and work, as well as chapters organized around the genres of poetry and song and one organized around women's ways of learning.

On closer inspection, the material seems to be learner-centered and respectful of difference; it offers instructors a variety of activities to suit a variety of learning styles; it offers learners lots of options and invites them to bring their own lives and needs into the classroom. There are, however, other curriculums with those attributes that do not call themselves feminist and, indeed, would shy away from that name. What makes this? curriculum a feminist curriculum?

When you can't see the forest for the trees

Those characteristics we've already mentioned - learner-centredness, respect for differences, non-linear process - all are trees that grow in many forests. They make up a large part of the forest that we call feminist curriculum, but they also grow elsewhere, for example, in the forests we call “whole language,” “learner-centered,” “non-traditional,” and “popular education,” to name a few. You may be used to seeing them there. However, there are some trees that grow only in a feminist curriculum, and those are the ones that concern us now.

Before going further, let's look at a particular tree - “women only” - and clear up some problems of identification. In fact, you don't need a women-only group to use a feminist curriculum and, generally, the material in these chapters is not meant to be used exclusively with women-only classes. It is important to use it in mixed groups and it will prove to be good curriculum for both men and women. (Indeed, if it were restricted to woman-only groups, it would have limited practical use since most literacy and English- as-an-additional-language (EAL) classes have both women and men in them.) Of course, it could be used with women-only groups and it would be very interesting to use it with men-only groups.

In any case, a program can be woman-only and not necessarily be feminist. For example, a women-only class on re-entry to the work force that concentrates on training "good" employees, that does not comment when women choose to enter low-paying traditional jobs, but instead focused on dressing for success and word processing, is not feminist.

So what trees grow in the feminist forest that don't grow in other forests? Let's move on to look at some of them.

Back Contents Next