Two instructors from Colorado State University (CSU) taught a course in which they encouraged incarcerated women to express themselves, specifically at a local jail and “a teen girls’ group at a residential youth and family rehabilitation center.”
“After collective feedback is offered, we move into the day’s writing, often organized by topic (e.g. women’s bodies) or by form (e. g. memoir or found poetry) based upon the interests that writers have articulated,” Tobi Jacobi and Stephanie L. Becker wrote in the latest issue of Radical Teacher, “a socialist, feminist, and anti-racist journal on the theory and practice of teaching.” Jacobi is an associate professor in the English department at CSU. Becker, now an instructor at CSU, recently obtained her master’s degree from that institution.
“To promote literacy-as-activism, we ground the workshops in feminist and queer critical pedagogies,” they aver of their prison and rehab center classes. To this end, they devised various classroom activities. “For example, one activity at the rehabilitation facility grounded in feminist pedagogy involved bringing in printouts of sexist print ads, including some that were vintage (from the 1950s-70s) and others that were contemporary,” Jacobi and Becker recounted. “The goal was to discuss and respond to the ads’ portrayal women in heteronormative relationships.”
“Most portrayed men as powerful and women as vulnerable.” Specifically, “an ad for Skyy Vodka shows a woman lying on the ground in a bikini, straddled by a man in a suit.” Well, the ads proved stimulating, but perhaps not in the manner the instructors had intended.
“The ad that received the strongest response from the writers was the Skyy Vodka ad, which some of the writers described as ‘sexy’ and ‘hot,’” Jacobi and Becker recalled. “Others expressed their own sexual frustration, which immediately elicited a staff response and subsequent redirection by facilitators to avoid institutional backlash.”
“In this case, the ability to engage in nuanced feminist critique was itself interrupted by both staff intervention that shifted the ways that writers could experience and reflect upon sexual freedom. In subsequent sessions, we selected images more cautiously to avoid staff attention and disapproval (staff had taken the Skyy ad away from a writer who had taped it to her wall.).”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail email@example.com.