Making Space: Merging Theory and Practice in Adult Education

By Vanessa Sheared; Peggy A. Sissel et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 19

Feminist Perspectives on Adult Education: Constantly Shifting Identities in Constantly Changing Times

Elizabeth J. Tisdell

For most of my adult life, I have defined myself as a feminist. Perhaps it was my ten years (from 1979 to 1989) of working for the Catholic Church as a campus minister that helped me define myself as such. The obvious patriarchy of the Catholic Church made me think about sexism. But I know my journey toward this self-definition was a growing one, and that in my early young-adult years, I believed in women’s equality, but I didn’t see myself as a “feminist.” The image I had of feminists then was the one portrayed by the media—man-hating angry militants, who in their own unhappiness and anger, set fire to their underwear. But sometime in my later twenties, I began to understand that feminism is really about creating a society that not only gives women access to the pie that men have always had access to, but also about transforming societal structures. It is about transforming those structures that have created inequitable gender arrangements (and race and class arrangements) which have been counterproductive to both women and men. It is about examining how gender socialization messages affect us on the psychological level in conscious but mostly unconscious ways, and examining how this is manifested on a structural level and then taking action for change. Over the years, I had come to understand that feminism was far more complex and empowering than the media’s portrayal of it—that feminism was about social action and social justice for women. Ideally, feminism was for all women, not just White, middle-class, heterosexual women. So I returned to school to pursue a doctoral degree in fall 1989, in order to study the intersections of feminism and adult education in a pluralistic and multicultural society.

In many ways, my personal odyssey and shifting identity around feminist and multicultural issues parallels the relationship the field of adult education also has with these issues. This is due, in part, to the fact that the field, and my own

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