Feminism, Sexuality, and Politics: Essays

By Estelle B. Freedman | Go to book overview

4 | Small Group Pedagogy | Consciousness
Raising in Conservative Times

This essay applies some of the historical lessons about feminism to teaching. Long
before the consciousness-raising groups of second-wave feminism, women relied on
personal networks and separate organizations to support the work of transforming
society. In teaching “Introduction to Feminist Studies,” I sought to have the students,
both male and female, rely on each other's insights in small self-reflective groups. Over
the years since I began to assign small groups, national politics have become even
more conservative, but students enter this class with less fear of feminism than in
the past. They also increasingly have adopted the multiple identities associated with
postmodern, queer, and third-wave feminist politics. Lesbianism, however, remains a
tense subject for many of them.

IN THE FALL OF 1988, I began teaching the introductory course in the Feminist Studies Program at Stanford University. “Introduction to Feminist Studies: Issues and Methods” (FS 101) had grown from a small discussion class to a medium-sized lecture course with separate section meetings for sixty-six students. The subject matter ranged from the origins of sexual inequality and the history of feminism to contemporary paid and unpaid labor, race and feminism, reproductive rights and sexuality, and violence against women. Because many of these topics raise both emotional and political sensitivities, I felt that FS 101 required a forum in which students could discuss their personal reactions to classroom learning. Even more than the U.S. women's history classes I had taught previously, “Introduction to Feminist Studies” permitted, and indeed necessitated, the integration of the personal and the academic.1

In preparing the course, I wondered how I might use consciousness raising (c.r.) in the classroom to achieve this end and whether my 1970s experience of c.r. would work with the more conservative students of the late 1980s.

Previously published as Estelle B. Freedman, “Small Group Pedagogy: Consciousness
Raising in Conservative Times,” NWSA Journal 2, no. 4 (Autumn 1990): 603–23. Re-
printed by permission of Indiana University Press.

-67-

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