During the #MeToo movement, headlines of discrimination and gender inequality have become more frequent. In this Q&A, instructor Michaela Moura-Koçoglu explains how feminist theory plays a key role in building a coalition for change. She teaches a feminist theory course offered through the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.
1. What is Feminist theory and why is it important?
Common myth has it that feminism is about women gaining social equality with men. Misogyny and sexism lead to women’s marginalization and contribute to experiences of inequality and violence, but they are also harmful for men. They promote one version of masculinity — and what it means to be a man. Not conforming to such gendered stereotypes also hurts LGBTQ+ folks disproportionately.
Feminist theory helps us better understand and address unequal and oppressive gender relations. If we cannot name it, we cannot address it. We can only overcome bias, gender stereotypes and social injustices when we are able to identify the sources that create and sustain gender inequality, oppression and injustices across categories of race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, etc.
2. What is the role of Feminist theory in today’s political environment?
Feminist theory doesn’t only look at gendered power and oppression to understand how women’s experiences are different from men’s experiences. It also examines how systems of power and oppression interact. That means, in order to understand gendered oppression, we need to contextualize it in terms of how it intersects with other factors, such as structural racism, class divisions and a system that benefits able-bodied individuals, among other things.
In this sense, feminist theory provides an analytic framework, while at the same time paving the path for political practice. The struggle against inequality and oppression calls for a commitment to political consciousness and activism. If we want to engage in meaningful political practice, we need to develop strategies to liberate society from sexist and misogynist structures of inequality and oppression — and feminist theory offers the tools to do just that
3. What is the role of Feminist theory in the #MeToo movement?
The #MeToo movement highlights structural gender inequalities in the workplace and feminist theory is centrally concerned with analyzing how these structures came into being, how they are manifest in our society and how we might address these institutionalized forms of sexism.
4. What is the purpose of your class specifically? Goals/learning outcomes?
In my class, students critically examine feminist theories across time and analyze how gender intersects with other social identities (such as race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, nationality, religion, age, etc.)
Throughout the semester, the goal is to apply this theoretical framework to think systematically about the dynamics of power and resistance in private and public relations. My class assignments are specifically designed to enable students to connect their theoretical knowledge to our own social reality.
For example, every week students connect the theories we examined in class with lived experiences and/or news items by tweeting about them. They tweet about a diverse range of experiences — from the news, popular culture, academia, music and more. Another example is the study group project where students reflect on one of the central course concepts (e.g. heteronormativity, gender and power, toxic masculinity) by collecting evidence and connecting it to the theories we analyzed. The findings can either be presented in a digital story (iMovie) or through art work created by the student. Every semester I am blown away by the enormous creativity and energy that students put into their group projects.
5. Why do you teach Feminist theory?
This is my favorite course to teach! At the beginning, students are usually shy about discussing complex and dense theories. However, they quickly realize that the concepts discussed in these theories directly speak to their everyday lives and apply to their own social environment. Guiding them in their growth of knowledge, respect for others, self-confidence and genuine curiosity about the world of research is priceless.
6. What do you want your students to take away from your class?
To use Audrey Lorde’s words — there are no single-issue struggles and lives. Recognizing the diversity of our lived experiences is the first step in acknowledging privilege and gendered power and how they result in social injustices.
7. Can you share something YOU have learned from your students?
Hope for the future and a renewed sense of purpose. Every single semester, I have the privilege of teaching curious and engaged students who do not hesitate to call into question the status quo, to challenge structural inequities and to stand up for minority rights with only one goal: To work towards a more just and inclusive society. I am extremely proud to be their teacher.
Moura-Koçoglu’s primary research focus is indigenous feminism as a tool of critical literary analysis within a trans-indigenous framework. In addition to feminist theory, Moura-Koçoglu teaches courses in global gender, global women’s writing and women’s studies including a course on gender violence which covers wartime rape. Her feminist theory course is offered through the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.
Moura-Koçoglu was recently featured in FIU's Making Global Learning Universal podcast. Listen below.