Feminist Theory - List of Essay Samples And Topic Ideas

Feminist theory explores the societal structures and gender biases that perpetuate inequality between the genders. Essays on feminist theory can delve into the historical evolution of feminism, its various waves, key feminist thinkers, and the current state of gender equality across different societies. Discussions could also explore how feminist theory intersects with other ideologies and movements. A substantial compilation of free essay instances related to Feminist Theory you can find at PapersOwl Website. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

Feminist Theory and Multicultural Issue

The theory I chosen is feminist theory. The multicultural issue is typically gender. Some other cultural issues are ethnicity, language, age, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status. Empowerment is the main goal for feminist therapy. Feminist focuses on psychological motives that creates problems for individuals. Sociological impacts like gender roles and diverse backgrounds all have an effect on an individual. “Feminist therapy theory views healthy and unhealthy development as inseparable from an individual’s sociocultural context” (Conlin, 2017, p. 78). Feminist […]

Mona Lisa Smile

The 2003 romance movie, "Mona Lisa Smile," directed by Mike Newell, portrays a recent UCLA graduate female art history professor named Katherine Watson. She is hired at the prestigious all-female Wellesley College, in 1953 to teach an art history class to a classroom full of hardworking and demanding young girls, determined to make her feel unwelcome. The girls who attend Wellesley are from some of the most wealthy, influential, and upper-class families in Massachusetts. Despite all the hardships and judgmental […]

Gender Inequality and Feminism

Gender inequality is a concept which has been occurring over a number of years and due to gender differences it fuels up gender inequality, which gave rise to gender socialization. Gender socialization is the process of learning gender roles which emerge from society and nowadays social media, throughout this process men and women learn their roles in society. The most common attribute we ascribe to women is that they can be vulnerable and sensitive, on the other hand, men hear […]

A Comparative Analysis of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia and Japan

Introduction Ever since the birth of the women’s suffrage movement, and perhaps even before that, there has been a gradual shift in culture, politics, public relations, and government paradigms that have led us down the path of women’s empowerment. Although we are not fully there, western and developed states have made significant changes to their policies and overall attitudes to make for a more egalitarian society. Naturally, the cultural paradigm of feminism would eventually take hold and trickle down to […]

Personal Thinking : Gender Equality

“I want equality and all that, but I don’t really consider myself a feminist”- me two years ago This is something I used to say quite frequently before I came to college. For so long I had fallen victim to the stereotypes society gave to feminists, most likely by men. I was convinced that they were the liberal hippies that refused to shave or wear makeup, so while I wanted equal rights and equal pay, I didn’t really want to be […]

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Understanding Feminism on a Deeper Level

The definition of feminism was laid out for us students very well over the course of this semester through the readings and class discussions. After my time taking this course I have come to the realization that feminism is deeper than the rights of just women. Feminism is the combination of political and social movements along with different ideologies that share one common goal: the idea to attain political, social, and economic equality amongst all genders, races, sexuality, etc. Now […]

Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Simmel

Select the classical sociological theorist (Marx, Durkheim, Weber, or Simmel) that you feel is most relevant to sociology today. Describe at least three different ideas of the theorist that you feel are most important and why. The work of sociological theorist Emile Durkheim remains highly influential in contemporary sociological research. Influenced by the turbulent social, economic, and political chaos of his times, his work focused heavily on social change and order. Durkheim’s conceptualization that social cohesion and order are dependent […]

“Five Faces of Oppression”

According to Iris Young’s piece, “Five Faces of Oppression” there are five different types of oppression, violence, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, and cultural imperialism. These different types, according to Young, does not have to be from rulers. It can be from a democratic society and their rules and how they instill it on a group of people. For example, although a law can be passed to liberate women, it could also constrain people by limiting their access to many opportunities that […]

Feminism in this Day

Feminism in this day and age is almost pasted onto every person; it appears everywhere. Feminism is defined as the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. A key part of this definition is; equality of the sexes. Sexes include male, female, pansexual, bisexual, etc. The school of thought which I identify with most is feminism theory; as it is ubiquitous in this day and age and it makes fair and equal points which […]

Feminists Hooks and Beauvoir

"Feminists Hooks and Beauvoir had similar views but approached the topic in different ways. Hooks says ""To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism”. We define feminism as the advocacy of women 's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. Where she simply defines and shows that being feminism does not mean women have to become mean or they are better than men, she simply saying that men and women need to […]

How Alice Walker Created Womanism

The Color Purple is a novel that traces the suffering of black women from gender, racial domination in patriarchy society. This novel demonstrates the universally prevalent multiple injustices towards women: sexual violence and violation, sexism, political, economic and social domination. Male keeps women oppressed denying equal power. So, females have been prevented from enjoying their basic rights and are totally excluded from the social, political and economic life. The present study attempts to investigate how the color purple of Alice […]

Gender and Sexuality in World History

Queerness as Hope: Moving from Identity to Ideality Given the current popular and political discourse regarding homosexuality, transsexuality, gender confusion, gender blurring, and queerness, one might be surprised to read James Penney’s claim that “queer discourse has run its course, its project made obsolete by the full elaboration of its own logic” (1). Penney’s claim is based on the idea that queer theory has run its course because the hegemonic assumptions upon which it is premised cannot be reunited with […]

How does Media Define Masculinity

"Feminism can be defined as a “political project that explores the diverse ways that men and women are socially empowered or disempowered” with intentions to “deconstruct sexist oppression present in our everyday norms and experiences” (Ott and Mack, p. 194). A prevalent example of this is the #MeToo movement that originated in 2006 by Tarana Burke whose purpose was to support sexual assault survivors, particularly young women of color from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Ottesen). Today, the #MeToo movement has adapted […]

The Evolution of Feminism in Euripides’ Medea

The dictionary defines feminism as "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men." Many would argue that Euripides' Medea is an early representation of feminism. While this is true, as evident by Medea's independence and quest for equality, Medea does not exhibit feminist qualities until her first exchange with the women of the chorus. Many believe that Medea's bold decision to abandon her fatherland and fight with Jason shows that she is […]

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Example Of Feminist Theory Research Paper

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Theory , Thinking , Women , Women's Rights , Feminism , Gender Equality , Society , Culture

Words: 2500

Published: 01/14/2020


Feminism is the movement of people with the common ideologies that aim at defending equal rights for women. As a movement, it tries to create equal education and employment opportunities for women. Thus, feminism is intended to support and assist women in getting equal opportunities and representation in the society. Additionally, feminism is intended to ensure that women enjoy equal rights like men. Feminist theory is an extension of the feminist movements, and it tries to explain and enhance understanding of the different inequalities that arise due to gender difference. This implies that feminist theories try to determine the different roles of women in the society and their experiences which are important in understanding the nature of inequalities that have arisen due to gender difference. Additionally, it creates a culture where women can be appreciated based on their capabilities. Feminist theory has a range of disciplines which have theorized and responded to issues like the social construction of gender. Therefore, as an extension of feminist movements it has established and increased societal understanding of gender inequality. This theory has succeeded in improving culture change by addressing three issues, gender power and relations, gender politics and sexuality. By doing this, it has criticized the political and social relations which lead to gender bias. It has also supported promotion of women equality and equity by promoting women interests and rights in different capacities. Thus to successfully enhance understanding of the gender inequalities, feminist theory has improved social and political relations. With improved power relations, women rights and interest have been promoted and the societal understanding of the need for equality has improved. To sustain success in the latter behavior change, feminist theory addresses a number of themes which include oppression, sexual objectification, patriarchy and stereotyping. It is developed in three phases with the first phase being feminist critique, followed by the gynocritcs where women are motivated to create their textural meaning. The last phase is gender theory, a gender system (Laslit et al., 2010).


Feminist theory is faced with the big challenge of addressing gender difference. This is because; the gender inequalities often supersede the difference. To avoid this, most theorists have adopted feminist theory which is empirical based. This theory is structured such that it provides explanations to particular observations in life making it easy to address the gender issues. Also, feminist theory has been important in explaining some aspects of life like domestic violence, gender biasness, gender division of labor, rape as well as sexual assault. Additionally, the theory has assisted researchers in developing their research outline, and the research findings have been essential in the fight towards equality. These researches have also acknowledged the impacts of feminist theory by noting its relevance in the feminist movements. Researchers have also noted the importance of feminist theory in filling in the gaps that couldn’t be addressed by the social science researches. The feminist theorists have also undertaken the psychologists and the sociologists’ researches to prove the applicability of the feminist theory. Many theorists have therefore engaged in quantitative and qualitative research. These theorists have undertaken qualitative researches through ethnography, and quantitative researches through content analysis and filling in questionnaires. These researches have been undertaken through referring to feminist theory to inform the basis of the research. In some occasions, the researches have been performed and the findings used to inform feminist theory. In addition, feminist theory has been used to provide information for many researches including those which have not been undertaken by feminists themselves (Lerna, 2010). In addition to informing the research, feminist theory comes in hand in understanding psychological and social phenomena’s. This is why many theorists have identified this model as the most successful in the history of feminism. Feminists and women activists have emerged used this theory to successfully change the shape of the world and the way of doing business. The theory has brought with it societal change by establishing equal opportunities and oneness in work, power relations and all activities where inequality existed before. As much as there is applicability of the feminist theory its impacts and changes are yet to be experienced in some parts of the world. However, its applicability has not stopped because every day in almost all parts of the nation and across the globe, people apply feminist theory in varied areas. Most importantly is the application of the feminist theory by the feminists and the feminism movements’ activists who advocates for women rights and women interests. Thus as much as peoples culture and ideologies are yet to be changed to meet feminist theory ideologies, the theory is already in action and it is a daily experience. This can be seen through the women rights lobbying group that are daily in action in every corner of the world. In addition, in every town within the United States it is not rare to find organizations that are focused at ensuring that immigrants’ women rights are maintained. Also, the feminist theorist in action has been important in ensuring that the domestic violence issues are uncovered and perpetrators punished accordingly. Therefore the applicability of feminist theory is very wide with the main focus of ensuring that women rights are appreciated. It also helps in establishing safe environments for women. However, the theory has faced some challenges like difficulty in implementing some concepts. As much as some ideas presented by the feminist theory are not easy to implement, there are others which have been implemented and have shaped and changed the way of doing things. In addition feminist theory has been used to change the structures that resulted to oppressions in the society. It is also due to feminist theory that the hierarchy bias structures have been changed. Additionally, the women movement groups and the gender equality groups that we see today are as a result of feminism theory (Laslit et al., 2010). Another area that people have applied feminist theory is on increasing the insight and understanding how people think. This theory enables an individual to look at his/her self and take a position that enable one to understand and appreciate other people position and behaviors. Thus through this theory counselors have established causes of domestic violence, situations that might increase risks of rape and circumstances that can lead to gender inequalities. These counselors have used these understandings and perceptions derived from their insights to help people maintain their families. Thus this theory is applicable in everyday’s living. Thus through this theory a number of families have been united. It is through the application of this theory that many marriage counselors have convinced partners to stay together with respect and understanding. Through the applicability of gender equity and avoiding male dominance, feminist theory has managed to create a society with reduced levels of oppression. In addition, the application of feminist theory comes in hand in avoiding gender based violence as well as home based violence. Thus this theory is applicable in many ways in the modern world. However, much still need to be done to ensure that this theory helps in the change of the culture.

According to Delay (2007), feminist theory as an extension of feminism movement is vibrant and diverse. It focus on social work practice and it often try to establish ways of making the environment friendly to women. This theory is the best way to address the issues of oppressions, lack of control and lack of power in a society that is still dominate by males. In deed many methods of removing male dominion only a change in culture can address the inequality and the male dominance. Thus feminist theory, though a small portion of feminism movement, is very critical in changing methodologies, traditions and priorities in all aspects of life. These changes are targeted to enhance culture change which will go a long way in ensuring that gender equality and equity is established. To effectively deliver these changes, feminist theory concentrates on women and tries to understand issues that affect these women in the today’s contemporary society. Thus a feminist theory perspective sees an individual beyond her society. Instead the theory seeks to see an individual through the lens of cultural contexts, political, ethnic, economic and social contexts. The feminist theory also tries to add insight and understanding in the way these contexts interacts to bring in the oppression that is rampant in mal e dominate society. Usually, a feminist theory is centered towards women rights and interest. However, a deeper understanding is needed to bring in more theoretical understanding that can go a long way in bringing the cultural changes desired in a gender biased society. Lerna (2010) established that theory is created to help people understand themselves and the world around them, and so is the feminist theory. This theory has postulated that men and women have got different experiences due to their difference in gender. In this way the feminist theory states that the men and women world s are not the same and it tries to bring the understanding of this differences. Thus feminist theory’s goal is to make these two worlds the same by enhancing understanding of these differences. By ensuring that these two worlds are the same, the feminist theory seeks to make women and men to have the same opportunities and be able to make equal choices. Thus it increases the understanding of the way human gender brings in the differences in the roles and behavior exhibited by male and females. Feminist theory looks at oppression as a vice which is structured within the political and socio-economic structure of the society. Thus, according to feminist theory oppression is not a backward tradition or bad attitude but it’s the way the world is structured. Thus feminist theory tries to explain and bring in understanding in the difference in power between males and females. It also seeks to bring in relationship between the social development and the structures through which oppression is rooted. By doing this, feminist theory tries to bring an end to oppression by changing the oppressive structures and bringing in understanding and environment which enables both genders to have equal choices. In some western cultures women oppression is not extreme. Women in these cultures and settings do not view oppression as a concern since they have overlooked areas which they are being discriminated against. Therefore, these women do not see feminist theory as having ideologies of addressing the oppression women face in the society. The theory has tried to establish factors that contribute to oppression, and key in the list are unequal political rights, lack of equal education opportunities as well as lack of economic dependence. Thus feminist theory addresses oppression based on the biological differences, women’s self understanding, political structures, labor and cultural orders. Thus feminist theory tries to increase understanding on the factors that lead to oppression and emphasizes that more than one factor, gender contributes to oppression. It changes the concepts that people have held over time viewing gender differences as the sole cause of oppression. Feminist theory also fosters to change society by promoting advocacy once the conditions that lead to oppressions are identified. In fact, many theories have been established to exist to explain the concept of feminism and they include, black feminism, Marxist, cultural, radical, socialist and materialistic feminism. Liberal feminism is centered on women’s right, like right to vote. Black feminism is centered on the balk women and the struggles they face within their historical context; on the other hand, Marxist feminism is focused on the capitalism and the concept of viewing women as the concern of production of labor in the family. Material feminism on the other is centered on the access of materials by men and women in the society where they live. Radical feminism attributes the stereotyping to male dominance, whereas lesbian feminism is centered towards having lesbian as a distinct group. Also postmodern feminism exists and it entails all the problems experienced in different fields of feminism (Delay, 2007).

Synthesis and Evaluation

Felski (2000) noted that feminist theory was developed in 1960s due to culture changes as time progressed. The theorists based their views on the historical concepts and class differences. These basis reveals man as dominance force in the society and as perceived by culture. This has led some theorists to pre maturely conceptualize their concepts that societal oppression is done by man due to his own knowing. Others have also conceptualized and wrongly judged the contribution of male dominance as the force of oppression on the basis of the roles constructed by the society. Effect the opponents of feminist theory have considered feminists as people who are slavishly driven by the desire in women’s advancement and nothing more than that. Therefore, according to the opponents it is not worth giving this group any attention because they have no basis of arguments or basis for seeking attention. In addition, other theorists have identified class difference as the contribution to oppression; however this is not right either. The theorists and scholars who have rightly judged the origin of feminist theories and acknowledged by many readers have based their concepts on the favor of historical time and acknowledges the societal forming of the oppression. Due to the creation of the oppressions over time it is necessary to address these challenges and live in a society free of discrimination and oppression. Thus, this can only happen when the feminist theory is applied and people get willing to change their culture which is rooted in the historical pasts and the historical favors and societal forming of the oppression. Feminist evaluation approaches are aimed at measuring the effectiveness of the feminist theory programs as well as successes. It works like any other evaluation approaches though there is difference in the focus of feminist evaluation. In other words, the feminist’s theory evaluations are focused on the success of the gender based issues and it also looks at the ways of improving and making the gender based programs successful. The feminist evaluation approaches are therefore targeted towards ensuring social justice and promoting women rights and interests. However, the feminist theory evaluation approaches also gives attention to men, sexual orientation, race and class. These feminist evaluation approaches are also focused on ensuring change and promotion of women issues (Baker and Edith, 2009).

Barker, D. K., and Edith. K. eds. (2009). Toward a Feminist Philosophy of Economics. London and New York: Routledge. Daley, G. J. (2007). A Critique of Feminist Theory. Indianapolis, Indiana University School of Social Work. Advannces in Social Work Vol. 8 (1). Retrieved on 17th/11/2012 from Felski, R. (2000). Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture. New York. New York University Press, pp. 214. Laslitt, B., Ruth, E. B., Joeres, M., and Maynes, E., et al. ed. (2010). History and Theory: Feminist Research, Debates, Contestations. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Lerner, G. (2011). The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History. London, Oxford University Press.


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Article contents

Feminist theory and its use in qualitative research in education.

  • Emily Freeman Emily Freeman University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.1193
  • Published online: 28 August 2019

Feminist theory rose in prominence in educational research during the 1980s and experienced a resurgence in popularity during the late 1990s−2010s. Standpoint epistemologies, intersectionality, and feminist poststructuralism are the most prevalent theories, but feminist researchers often work across feminist theoretical thought. Feminist qualitative research in education encompasses a myriad of methods and methodologies, but projects share a commitment to feminist ethics and theories. Among the commitments are the understanding that knowledge is situated in the subjectivities and lived experiences of both researcher and participants and research is deeply reflexive. Feminist theory informs both research questions and the methodology of a project in addition to serving as a foundation for analysis. The goals of feminist educational research include dismantling systems of oppression, highlighting gender-based disparities, and seeking new ways of constructing knowledge.

  • feminist theories
  • qualitative research
  • educational research
  • positionality
  • methodology


Feminist qualitative research begins with the understanding that all knowledge is situated in the bodies and subjectivities of people, particularly women and historically marginalized groups. Donna Haraway ( 1988 ) wrote,

I am arguing for politics and epistemologies of location, position, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make rational knowledge claims. These are claims on people’s lives I’m arguing for the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity. Only the god trick is forbidden. . . . Feminism is about a critical vision consequent upon a critical positioning in unhomogeneous gendered social space. (p. 589)

By arguing that “politics and epistemologies” are always interpretive and partial, Haraway offered feminist qualitative researchers in education a way to understand all research as potentially political and always interpretive and partial. Because all humans bring their own histories, biases, and subjectivities with them to a research space or project, it is naïve to think that the written product of research could ever be considered neutral, but what does research with a strong commitment to feminism look like in the context of education?

Writing specifically about the ways researchers of both genders can use feminist ethnographic methods while conducting research on schools and schooling, Levinson ( 1998 ) stated, “I define feminist ethnography as intensive qualitative research, aimed toward the description and analysis of the gendered construction and representation of experience, which is informed by a political and intellectual commitment to the empowerment of women and the creation of more equitable arrangements between and among specific, culturally defined genders” (p. 339). The core of Levinson’s definition is helpful for understanding the ways that feminist educational anthropologists engage with schools as gendered and political constructs and the larger questions of feminist qualitative research in education. His message also extends to other forms of feminist qualitative research. By focusing on description, analysis, and representation of gendered constructs, educational researchers can move beyond simple binary analyses to more nuanced understandings of the myriad ways gender operates within educational contexts.

Feminist qualitative research spans the range of qualitative methodologies, but much early research emerged out of the feminist postmodern turn in anthropology (Behar & Gordon, 1995 ), which was a response to male anthropologists who ignored the gendered implications of ethnographic research (e.g., Clifford & Marcus, 1986 ). Historically, most of the work on feminist education was conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, with a resurgence in the late 2010s (Culley & Portuges, 1985 ; DuBois, Kelly, Kennedy, Korsmeyer, & Robinson, 1985 ; Gottesman, 2016 ; Maher & Tetreault, 1994 ; Thayer-Bacon, Stone, & Sprecher, 2013 ). Within this body of research, the majority focuses on higher education (Coffey & Delamont, 2000 ; Digiovanni & Liston, 2005 ; Diller, Houston, Morgan, & Ayim, 1996 ; Gabriel & Smithson, 1990 ; Mayberry & Rose, 1999 ). Even leading journals, such as Feminist Teacher ( 1984 −present), focus mostly on the challenges of teaching about and to women in higher education, although more scholarship on P–12 education has emerged in recent issues.

There is also a large collection of work on the links between gender, achievement, and self-esteem (American Association of University Women, 1992 , 1999 ; Digiovanni & Liston, 2005 ; Gilligan, 1982 ; Hancock, 1989 ; Jackson, Paechter, & Renold, 2010 ; National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, 2002 ; Orenstein, 1994 ; Pipher, 1994 ; Sadker & Sadker, 1994 ). However, just because research examines gender does not mean that it is feminist. Simply using gender as a category of analysis does not mean the research project is informed by feminist theory, ethics, or methods, but it is often a starting point for researchers who are interested in the complex ways gender is constructed and the ways it operates in education.

This article examines the histories and theories of U.S.–based feminism, the tenets of feminist qualitative research and methodologies, examples of feminist qualitative studies, and the possibilities for feminist qualitative research in education to provide feminist educational researchers context and methods for engaging in transformative and subversive research. Each section provides a brief overview of the major concepts and conversations, along with examples from educational research to highlight the ways feminist theory has informed educational scholarship. Some examples are given limited attention and serve as entry points into a more detailed analysis of a few key examples. While there is a large body of non-Western feminist theory (e.g., the works of Lila Abu-Lughod, Sara Ahmed, Raewyn Connell, Saba Mahmood, Chandra Mohanty, and Gayatri Spivak), much of the educational research using feminist theory draws on Western feminist theory. This article focuses on U.S.–based research to show the ways that the utilization of feminist theory has changed since the 1980s.

Histories, Origins, and Theories of U.S.–Based Feminism

The normative historiography of feminist theory and activism in the United States is broken into three waves. First-wave feminism (1830s−1920s) primarily focused on women’s suffrage and women’s rights to legally exist in public spaces. During this time period, there were major schisms between feminist groups concerning abolition, rights for African American women, and the erasure of marginalized voices from larger feminist debates. The second wave (1960s and 1980s) worked to extend some of the rights won during the first wave. Activists of this time period focused on women’s rights to enter the workforce, sexual harassment, educational equality, and abortion rights. During this wave, colleges and universities started creating women’s studies departments and those scholars provided much of the theoretical work that informs feminist research and activism today. While there were major feminist victories during second-wave feminism, notably Title IX and Roe v. Wade , issues concerning the marginalization of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity led many feminists of color to separate from mainstream white feminist groups. The third wave (1990s to the present) is often characterized as the intersectional wave, as some feminist groups began utilizing Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality ( 1991 ) to understand that oppression operates via multiple categories (e.g., gender, race, class, age, ability) and that intersecting oppressions lead to different lived experiences.

Historians and scholars of feminism argue that dividing feminist activism into three waves flattens and erases the major contributions of women of color and gender-nonconforming people. Thompson ( 2002 ) called this history a history of hegemonic feminism and proposed that we look at the contributions of multiracial feminism when discussing history. Her work, along with that of Allen ( 1984 ) about the indigenous roots of U.S. feminism, raised many questions about the ways that feminism operates within the public and academic spheres. For those who wish to engage in feminist research, it is vital to spend time understanding the historical, theoretical, and political ways that feminism(s) can both liberate and oppress, depending on the scholar’s understandings of, and orientations to, feminist projects.

Standpoint Epistemology

Much of the theoretical work that informs feminist qualitative research today emerged out of second-wave feminist scholarship. Standpoint epistemology, according to Harding ( 1991 , 2004 ), posits that knowledge comes from one’s particular social location, that it is subjective, and the further one is from the hegemonic norm, the clearer one can see oppression. This was a major challenge to androcentric and Enlightenment theories of knowledge because standpoint theory acknowledges that there is no universal understanding of the world. This theory aligns with the second-wave feminist slogan, “The personal is political,” and advocates for a view of knowledge that is produced from the body.

Greene ( 1994 ) wrote from a feminist postmodernist epistemology and attacked Enlightenment thinking by using standpoint theory as her starting point. Her work serves as an example of one way that educational scholars can use standpoint theory in their work. She theorized encounters with “imaginative literature” to help educators conceptualize new ways of using reading and writing in the classroom and called for teachers to think of literature as “a harbinger of the possible.” (Greene, 1994 , p. 218). Greene wrote from an explicitly feminist perspective and moved beyond simple analyses of gender to a larger critique of the ways that knowledge is constructed in classrooms.


Crenshaw ( 1991 ) and Collins ( 2000 ) challenged and expanded standpoint theory to move it beyond an individual understanding of knowledge to a group-based theory of oppression. Their work, and that of other black and womanist feminists, opened up multiple spaces of possibility for feminist scholars and researchers because it challenged hegemonic feminist thought. For those interested in conducting feminist research in educational settings, their work is especially pertinent because they advocate for feminists to attend to all aspects of oppression rather than flattening them to one of simple gender-based oppression.

Haddix, McArthur, Muhammad, Price-Dennis, and Sealey-Ruiz ( 2016 ), all women-of-color feminist educators, wrote a provocateur piece in a special issue of English Education on black girls’ literacy. The four authors drew on black feminist thought and conducted a virtual kitchen-table conversation. By symbolically representing their conversations as one from the kitchen, this article pays homage to women-of-color feminism and pushes educators who read English Education to reconsider elements of their own subjectivities. Third-wave feminism and black feminism emphasize intersectionality, in that different demographic details like race, class, and gender are inextricably linked in power structures. Intersectionality is an important frame for educational research because identifying the unique experiences, realities, and narratives of those involved in educational systems can highlight the ways that power and oppression operate in society.

Feminist Poststructural Theory

Feminist poststructural theory has greatly informed many feminist projects in educational research. Deconstruction is

a critical practice that aims to ‘dismantle [ déconstruire ] the metaphysical and rhetorical structures that are at work, not in order to reject or discard them, but to reinscribe them in another way,’ (Derrida, quoted in Spivak, 1974 , p. lxxv). Thus, deconstruction is not about tearing down, but about looking at how a structure has been constructed, what holds it together, and what it produces. (St. Pierre, 2000 , p. 482)

Reality, subjectivity, knowledge, and truth are constructed through language and discourse (cultural practices, power relations, etc.), so truth is local and diverse, rather than a universal experience (St. Pierre, 2000 ). Feminist poststructuralist theory may be used to question structural inequality that is maintained in education through dominant discourses.

In Go Be a Writer! Expanding the Curricular Boundaries of Literacy Learning with Children , Kuby and Rucker ( 2016 ) explored early elementary literacy practices using poststructural and posthumanist theories. Their book drew on hours of classroom observations, student interviews and work, and their own musings on ways to de-standardize literacy instruction and curriculum. Through the process of pedagogical documentation, Kuby and Rucker drew on the works of Barad, Deleuze and Guattari, and Derrida to explore the ways they saw children engaging in what they call “literacy desiring(s).” One aim of the book is to find practical and applicable ways to “Disrupt literacy in ways that rewrite the curriculum, the interactions, and the power dynamics of the classroom even begetting a new kind of energy that spirals and bounces and explodes” (Kuby & Rucker, 2016 , p. 5). The second goal of their book is not only to understand what happened in Rucker’s classroom using the theories, but also to unbound the links between “teaching↔learning” (p. 202) and to write with the theories, rather than separating theory from the methodology and classroom enactments (p. 45) because “knowing/being/doing were not separate” (p. 28). This work engages with key tenets of feminist poststructuralist theory and adds to both the theoretical and pedagogical conversations about what counts as a literacy practice.

While the discussion in this section provides an overview of the histories and major feminist theories, it is by no means exhaustive. Scholars who wish to engage in feminist educational research need to spend time doing the work of understanding the various theories and trajectories that constitute feminist work so they are able to ground their projects and theories in a particular tradition that will inform the ethics and methods of research.

Tenets of Feminist Qualitative Research

Why engage in feminist qualitative research.

Evans and Spivak ( 2016 ) stated, “The only real and effective way you can sabotage something this way is when you are working intimately within it.” Feminist researchers are in the classroom and the academy, working intimately within curricular, pedagogical, and methodological constraints that serve neoliberal ideologies, so it is vital to better understand the ways that we can engage in affirmative sabotage to build a more just and equitable world. Spivak’s ( 2014 ) notion of affirmative sabotage has become a cornerstone for understanding feminist qualitative research and teaching. She borrowed and built on Gramsci’s role of the organic intellectual and stated that they/we need to engage in affirmative sabotage to transform the humanities.

I used the term “affirmative sabotage” to gloss on the usual meaning of sabotage: the deliberate ruining of the master’s machine from the inside. Affirmative sabotage doesn’t just ruin; the idea is of entering the discourse that you are criticizing fully, so that you can turn it around from inside. The only real and effective way you can sabotage something this way is when you are working intimately within it. (Evans & Spivak, 2016 )

While Spivak has been mostly concerned with literary education, her writings provide teachers and researchers numerous lines of inquiry into projects that can explode androcentric universal notions of knowledge and resist reproductive heteronormativity.

Spivak’s pedagogical musings center on deconstruction, primarily Derridean notions of deconstruction (Derrida, 2016 ; Jackson & Mazzei, 2012 ; Spivak, 2006 , 2009 , 2012 ) that seek to destabilize existing categories and to call into question previously unquestioned beliefs about the goals of education. Her works provide an excellent starting point for examining the links between feminism and educational research. The desire to create new worlds within classrooms, worlds that are fluid, interpretive, and inclusive in order to interrogate power structures, lies at the core of what it means to be a feminist education researcher. As researchers, we must seriously engage with feminist theory and include it in our research so that feminism is not seen as a dirty word, but as a movement/pedagogy/methodology that seeks the liberation of all (Davis, 2016 ).

Feminist research and feminist teaching are intrinsically linked. As Kerkhoff ( 2015 ) wrote, “Feminist pedagogy requires students to challenge the norms and to question whether existing practices privilege certain groups and marginalize others” (p. 444), and this is exactly what feminist educational research should do. Bailey ( 2001 ) called on teachers, particularly those who identify as feminists, to be activists, “The values of one’s teaching should not be separated sharply from the values one expresses outside the classroom, because teaching is not inherently pure or laboratory practice” (p. 126); however, we have to be careful not to glorify teachers as activists because that leads to the risk of misinterpreting actions. Bailey argued that teaching critical thinking is not enough if it is not coupled with curriculums and pedagogies that are antiheteronormative, antisexist, and antiracist. As Bailey warned, just using feminist theory or identifying as a feminist is not enough. It is very easy to use the language and theories of feminism without being actively feminist in one’s research. There are ethical and methodological issues that feminist scholars must consider when conducting research.

Feminist research requires one to discuss ethics, not as a bureaucratic move, but as a reflexive move that shows the researchers understand that, no matter how much they wish it didn’t, power always plays a role in the process. According to Davies ( 2014 ), “Ethics, as Barad defines it, is a matter of questioning what is being made to matter and how that mattering affects what it is possible to do and to think” (p. 11). In other words, ethics is what is made to matter in a particular time and place.

Davies ( 2016 ) extended her definition of ethics to the interactions one has with others.

This is not ethics as a matter of separate individuals following a set of rules. Ethical practice, as both Barad and Deleuze define it, requires thinking beyond the already known, being open in the moment of the encounter, pausing at the threshold and crossing over. Ethical practice is emergent in encounters with others, in emergent listening with others. It is a matter of questioning what is being made to matter and how that mattering affects what it is possible to do and to think. Ethics is emergent in the intra-active encounters in which knowing, being, and doing (epistemology, ontology, and ethics) are inextricably linked. (Barad, 2007 , p. 83)

The ethics of any project must be negotiated and contested before, during, and after the process of conducting research in conjunction with the participants. Feminist research is highly reflexive and should be conducted in ways that challenge power dynamics between individuals and social institutions. Educational researchers must heed the warning to avoid the “god-trick” (Haraway, 1988 ) and to continually question and re-question the ways we seek to define and present subjugated knowledge (Hesse-Biber, 2012 ).

Positionalities and Reflexivity

According to feminist ethnographer Noelle Stout, “Positionality isn’t meant to be a few sentences at the beginning of a work” (personal communication, April 5, 2016 ). In order to move to new ways of experiencing and studying the world, it is vital that scholars examine the ways that reflexivity and positionality are constructed. In a glorious footnote, Margery Wolf ( 1992 ) related reflexivity in anthropological writing to a bureaucratic procedure (p. 136), and that resonates with how positionality often operates in the field of education.

The current trend in educational research is to include a positionality statement that fixes the identity of the author in a particular place and time and is derived from feminist standpoint theory. Researchers should make their biases and the identities of the authors clear in a text, but there are serious issues with the way that positionality functions as a boundary around the authors. Examining how the researchers exert authority within a text allows the reader the opportunity to determine the intent and philosophy behind the text. If positionality were used in an embedded and reflexive manner, then educational research would be much richer and allow more nuanced views of schools, in addition to being more feminist in nature. The rest of this section briefly discussrs articles that engage with feminist ethics regarding researcher subjectivities and positionality, and two articles are examined in greater depth.

When looking for examples of research that includes deeply reflexive and embedded positionality, one finds that they mostly deal with issues of race, equity, and diversity. The highlighted articles provide examples of positionality statements that are deeply reflexive and represent the ways that feminist researchers can attend to the ethics of being part of a research project. These examples all come from feminist ethnographic projects, but they are applicable to a wide variety of feminist qualitative projects.

Martinez ( 2016 ) examined how research methods are or are not appropriate for specific contexts. Calderon ( 2016 ) examined autoethnography and the reproduction of “settler colonial understandings of marginalized communities” (p. 5). Similarly, Wissman, Staples, Vasudevan, and Nichols ( 2015 ) discussed how to research with adolescents through engaged participation and collaborative inquiry, and Ceglowski and Makovsky ( 2012 ) discussed the ways researchers can engage in duoethnography with young children.

Abajian ( 2016 ) uncovered the ways military recruiters operate in high schools and paid particular attention to the politics of remaining neutral while also working to subvert school militarization. She wrote,

Because of the sensitive and also controversial nature of my research, it was not possible to have a collaborative process with students, teachers, and parents. Purposefully intervening would have made documentation impossible because that would have (rightfully) aligned me with anti-war and counter-recruitment activists who were usually not welcomed on school campuses (Abajian & Guzman, 2013 ). It was difficult enough to find an administrator who gave me consent to conduct my research within her school, as I had explicitly stated in my participant recruitment letters and consent forms that I was going to research the promotion of post-secondary paths including the military. Hence, any purposeful intervention on my part would have resulted in the termination of my research project. At the same time, my documentation was, in essence, an intervention. I hoped that my presence as an observer positively shaped the context of my observation and also contributed to the larger struggle against the militarization of schools. (p. 26)

Her positionality played a vital role in the creation, implementation, and analysis of military recruitment, but it also forced her into unexpected silences in order to carry out her research. Abajian’s positionality statement brings up many questions about the ways researchers have to use or silence their positionality to further their research, especially if they are working in ostensibly “neutral” and “politically free” zones, such as schools. Her work drew on engaged anthropology (Low & Merry, 2010 ) and critical reflexivity (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008 ) to highlight how researchers’ subjectivities shape ethnographic projects. Questions of subjectivity and positionality in her work reflect the larger discourses around these topics in feminist theory and qualitative research.

Brown ( 2011 ) provided another example of embedded and reflexive positionality of the articles surveyed. Her entire study engaged with questions about how her positionality influenced the study during the field-work portion of her ethnography on how race and racism operate in ethnographic field-work. This excerpt from her study highlights how she conceived of positionality and how it informed her work and her process.

Next, I provide a brief overview of the research study from which this paper emerged and I follow this with a presentation of four, first-person narratives from key encounters I experienced while doing ethnographic field research. Each of these stories centres the role race played as I negotiated my multiple, complex positionality vis-á-vis different informants and participants in my study. These stories highlight the emotional pressures that race work has on the researcher and the research process, thus reaffirming why one needs to recognise the role race plays, and may play, in research prior to, during, and after conducting one’s study (Milner, 2007 ). I conclude by discussing the implications these insights have on preparing researchers of color to conduct cross-racial qualitative research. (Brown, 2011 , p. 98)

Brown centered the roles of race and subjectivity, both hers and her participants, by focusing her analysis on the four narratives. The researchers highlighted in this section thought deeply about the ethics of their projects and the ways that their positionality informed their choice of methods.

Methods and Challenges

Feminist qualitative research can take many forms, but the most common data collection methods include interviews, observations, and narrative or discourse analysis. For the purposes of this article, methods refer to the tools and techniques researchers use, while methodology refers to the larger philosophical and epistemological approaches to conducting research. It is also important to note that these are not fixed terms, and that there continues to be much debate about what constitutes feminist theory and feminist research methods among feminist qualitative researchers. This section discusses some of the tensions and constraints of using feminist theory in educational research.

Jackson and Mazzei ( 2012 ) called on researchers to think through their data with theory at all stages of the collection and analysis process. They also reminded us that all data collection is partial and informed by the researcher’s own beliefs (Koro-Ljungberg, Löytönen, & Tesar, 2017 ). Interviews are sites of power and critiques because they show the power of stories and serve as a method of worlding, the process of “making a world, turning insight into instrument, through and into a possible act of freedom” (Spivak, 2014 , p. xiii). Interviews allow researchers and participants ways to engage in new ways of understanding past experiences and connecting them to feminist theories. The narratives serve as data, but it is worth noting that the data collected from interviews are “partial, incomplete, and always being re-told and re-membered” (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012 , p. 3), much like the lived experiences of both researcher and participant.

Research, data collection, and interpretation are not neutral endeavors, particularly with interviews (Jackson & Mazzei, 2009 ; Mazzei, 2007 , 2013 ). Since education research emerged out of educational psychology (Lather, 1991 ; St. Pierre, 2016 ), historically there has been an emphasis on generalizability and positivist data collection methods. Most feminist research makes no claims of generalizability or truth; indeed, to do so would negate the hyperpersonal and particular nature of this type of research (Love, 2017 ). St. Pierre ( 2016 ) viewed the lack of generalizability as an asset of feminist and poststructural research, rather than a limitation, because it creates a space of resistance against positivist research methodologies.

Denzin and Giardina ( 2016 ) urged researchers to “consider an alternative mode of thinking about the critical turn in qualitative inquiry and posit the following suggestion: perhaps it is time we turned away from ‘methodology’ altogether ” (p. 5, italics original). Despite the contention over the term critical among some feminist scholars (e.g. Ellsworth, 1989 ), their suggestion is valid and has been picked up by feminist and poststructural scholars who examine the tensions between following a strict research method/ology and the theoretical systems out of which they operate because precision in method obscures the messy and human nature of research (Koro-Ljungberg, 2016 ; Koro-Ljungberg et al., 2017 ; Love, 2017 ; St. Pierre & Pillow, 2000 ). Feminist qualitative researchers should seek to complicate the question of what method and methodology mean when conducting feminist research (Lather, 1991 ), due to the feminist emphasis on reflexive and situated research methods (Hesse-Biber, 2012 ).

Examples of Feminist Qualitative Research in Education

A complete overview of the literature is not possible here, due to considerations of length, but the articles and books selected represent the various debates within feminist educational research. They also show how research preoccupations have changed over the course of feminist work in education. The literature review is divided into three broad categories: Power, canons, and gender; feminist pedagogies, curriculums, and classrooms; and teacher education, identities, and knowledge. Each section provides a broad overview of the literature to demonstrate the breadth of work using feminist theory, with some examples more deeply explicated to describe how feminist theories inform the scholarship.

Power, Canons, and Gender

The literature in this category contests disciplinary practices that are androcentric in both content and form, while asserting the value of using feminist knowledge to construct knowledge. The majority of the work was written in the 1980s and supported the creation of feminist ways of knowing, particularly via the creation of women’s studies programs or courses in existing departments that centered female voices and experiences.

Questioning the canon has long been a focus of feminist scholarship, as has the attempt to subvert its power in the disciplines. Bezucha ( 1985 ) focused on the ways that departments of history resist the inclusion of both women and feminism in the historical canon. Similarly, Miller ( 1985 ) discussed feminism as subversion when seeking to expand the canon of French literature in higher education.

Lauter and Dieterich ( 1972 ) examined a report by ERIC, “Women’s Place in Academe,” a collection of articles about the discrepancies by gender in jobs and tenure-track positions and the lack of inclusion of women authors in literature classes. They also found that women were relegated to “softer” disciplines and that feminist knowledge was not acknowledged as valid work. Culley and Portuges ( 1985 ) expanded the focus beyond disciplines to the larger structures of higher education and noted the varies ways that professors subvert from within their disciplines. DuBois et al. ( 1985 ) chronicled the development of feminist scholarship in the disciplines of anthropology, education, history, literature, and philosophy. They explained that the institutions of higher education often prevent feminist scholars from working across disciplines in an attempt to keep them separate. Raymond ( 1985 ) also critiqued the academy for not encouraging relationships across disciplines and offered the development of women’s, gender, and feminist studies as one solution to greater interdisciplinary work.

Parson ( 2016 ) examined the ways that STEM syllabi reinforce gendered norms in higher education. She specifically looked at eight syllabi from math, chemistry, biology, physics, and geology classes to determine how modal verbs showing stance, pronouns, intertextuality, interdiscursivity, and gender showed power relations in higher education. She framed the study through poststructuralist feminist critical discourse analysis to uncover “the ways that gendered practices that favor men are represented and replicated in the syllabus” (p. 103). She found that all the syllabi positioned knowledge as something that is, rather than something that can be co-constructed. Additionally, the syllabi also favored individual and masculine notions of what it means to learn by stressing the competitive and difficult nature of the classroom and content.

When reading newer work on feminism in higher education and the construction of knowledge, it is easy to feel that, while the conversations might have shifted somewhat, the challenge of conducting interdisciplinary feminist work in institutions of higher education remains as present as it was during the creation of women’s and gender studies departments. The articles all point to the fact that simply including women’s and marginalized voices in the academy does not erase or mitigate the larger issues of gender discrimination and androcentricity within the silos of the academy.

Feminist Pedagogies, Curricula, and Classrooms

This category of literature has many similarities to the previous one, but all the works focus more specifically on questions of curriculum and pedagogy. A review of the literature shows that the earliest conversations were about the role of women in academia and knowledge construction, and this selection builds on that work to emphasize the ways that feminism can influence the events within classes and expands the focus to more levels of education.

Rich ( 1985 ) explained that curriculum in higher education courses needs to validate gender identities while resisting patriarchal canons. Maher ( 1985 ) narrowed the focus to a critique of the lecture as a pedagogical technique that reinforces androcentric ways of learning and knowing. She called for classes in higher education to be “collaborative, cooperative, and interactive” (p. 30), a cry that still echoes across many college campuses today, especially from students in large lecture-based courses. Maher and Tetreault ( 1994 ) provided a collection of essays that are rooted in feminist classroom practice and moved from the classroom into theoretical possibilities for feminist education. Warren ( 1998 ) recommended using Peggy McIntosh’s five phases of curriculum development ( 1990 ) and extending it to include feminist pedagogies that challenge patriarchal ways of teaching. Exploring the relational encounters that exist in feminist classrooms, Sánchez-Pardo ( 2017 ) discussed the ethics of pedagogy as a politics of visibility and investigated the ways that democratic classrooms relate to feminist classrooms.

While all of the previously cited literature is U.S.–based, the next two works focus on the ways that feminist pedagogies and curriculum operate in a European context. Weiner ( 1994 ) used autobiography and narrative methodologies to provide an introduction to how feminism has influenced educational research and pedagogy in Britain. Revelles-Benavente and Ramos ( 2017 ) collected a series of studies about how situated feminist knowledge challenges the problems of neoliberal education across Europe. These two, among many European feminist works, demonstrate the range of scholarship and show the trans-Atlantic links between how feminism has been received in educational settings. However, much more work needs to be done in looking at the broader global context, and particularly by feminist scholars who come from non-Western contexts.

The following literature moves us into P–12 classrooms. DiGiovanni and Liston ( 2005 ) called for a new research agenda in K–5 education that explores the hidden curriculums surrounding gender and gender identity. One source of the hidden curriculum is classroom literature, which both Davies ( 2003 ) and Vandergrift ( 1995 ) discussed in their works. Davies ( 2003 ) used feminist ethnography to understand how children who were exposed to feminist picture books talked about gender and gender roles. Vandergrift ( 1995 ) presented a theoretical piece that explored the ways picture books reinforce or resist canons. She laid out a future research agenda using reader response theory to better comprehend how young children question gender in literature. Willinsky ( 1987 ) explored the ways that dictionary definitions reinforced constructions of gender. He looked at the definitions of the words clitoris, penis , and vagina in six school dictionaries and then compared them with A Feminist Dictionary to see how the definitions varied across texts. He found a stark difference in the treatment of the words vagina and penis ; definitions of the word vagina were treated as medical or anatomical and devoid of sexuality, while definitions of the term penis were linked to sex (p. 151).

Weisner ( 2004 ) addressed middle school classrooms and highlighted the various ways her school discouraged unconventional and feminist ways of teaching. She also brought up issues of silence, on the part of both teachers and students, regarding sexuality. By including students in the curriculum planning process, Weisner provided more possibilities for challenging power in classrooms. Wallace ( 1999 ) returned to the realm of higher education and pushed literature professors to expand pedagogy to be about more than just the texts that are read. She challenged the metaphoric dichotomy of classrooms as places of love or battlefields; in doing so, she “advocate[d] active ignorance and attention to resistances” (p. 194) as a method of subverting transference from students to teachers.

The works discussed in this section cover topics ranging from the place of women in curriculum to the gendered encounters teachers and students have with curriculums and pedagogies. They offer current feminist scholars many directions for future research, particularly in the arena of P–12 education.

Teacher Education, Identities, and Knowledge

The third subset of literature examines the ways that teachers exist in classrooms and some possibilities for feminist teacher education. The majority of the literature in this section starts from the premise that the teachers are engaged in feminist projects. The selections concerning teacher education offer critiques of existing heteropatriarchal normative teacher education and include possibilities for weaving feminism and feminist pedagogies into the education of preservice teachers.

Holzman ( 1986 ) explored the role of multicultural teaching and how it can challenge systematic oppression; however, she complicated the process with her personal narrative of being a lesbian and working to find a place within the school for her sexual identity. She questioned how teachers can protect their identities while also engaging in the fight for justice and equity. Hoffman ( 1985 ) discussed the ways teacher power operates in the classroom and how to balance the personal and political while still engaging in disciplinary curriculums. She contended that teachers can work from personal knowledge and connect it to the larger curricular concerns of their discipline. Golden ( 1998 ) used teacher narratives to unpack how teachers can become radicalized in the higher education classroom when faced with unrelenting patriarchal and heteronormative messages.

Extending this work, Bailey ( 2001 ) discussed teachers as activists within the classroom. She focused on three aspects of teaching: integrity with regard to relationships, course content, and teaching strategies. She concluded that teachers cannot separate their values from their profession. Simon ( 2007 ) conducted a case study of a secondary teacher and communities of inquiry to see how they impacted her work in the classroom. The teacher, Laura, explicitly tied her inquiry activities to activist teacher education and critical pedagogy, “For this study, inquiry is fundamental to critical pedagogy, shaped by power and ideology, relationships within and outside of the classroom, as well as teachers’ and students’ autochthonous histories and epistemologies” (Simon, 2007 , p. 47). Laura’s experiences during her teacher education program continued during her years in the classroom, leading her to create a larger activism-oriented teacher organization.

Collecting educational autobiographies from 17 college-level feminist professors, Maher and Tetreault ( 1994 ) worried that educators often conflated “the experience and values of white middle-class women like ourselves for gendered universals” (p. 15). They complicated the idea of a democratic feminist teacher, raised issues regarding the problematic ways hegemonic feminism flattens experience to that of just white women, and pushed feminist professors to pay particular attention to the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality when teaching.

Cheira ( 2017 ) called for gender-conscious teaching and literature-based teaching to confront the gender stereotypes she encountered in Portuguese secondary schools. Papoulis and Smith ( 1992 ) conducted summer sessions where teachers experienced writing activities they could teach their students. Conceptualized as an experiential professional development course, the article revolved around an incident where the seminar was reading Emily Dickinson and the men in the course asked the two female instructors why they had to read feminist literature and the conversations that arose. The stories the women told tie into Papoulis and Smith’s call for teacher educators to interrogate their underlying beliefs and ideologies about gender, race, and class, so they are able to foster communities of study that can purposefully and consciously address feminist inquiry.

McWilliam ( 1994 ) collected stories of preservice teachers in Australia to understand how feminism can influence teacher education. She explored how textual practices affect how preservice teachers understand teaching and their role. Robertson ( 1994 ) tackled the issue of teacher education and challenged teachers to move beyond the two metaphors of banking and midwifery when discussing feminist ways of teaching. She called for teacher educators to use feminist pedagogies within schools of education so that preservice teachers experience a feminist education. Maher and Rathbone ( 1986 ) explored the scholarship on women’s and girls’ educational experiences and used their findings to call for changes in teacher education. They argued that schools reinforce the notion that female qualities are inferior due to androcentric curriculums and ways of showing knowledge. Justice-oriented teacher education is a more recent iteration of this debate, and Jones and Hughes ( 2016 ) called for community-based practices to expand the traditional definitions of schooling and education. They called for preservice teachers to be conversant with, and open to, feminist storylines that defy existing gendered, raced, and classed stereotypes.

Bieler ( 2010 ) drew on feminist and critical definitions of dialogue (e.g., those by Bakhtin, Freire, Ellsworth, hooks, and Burbules) to reframe mentoring discourse in university supervision and dialogic praxis. She concluded by calling on university supervisors to change their methods of working with preservice teachers to “Explicitly and transparently cultivat[e] dialogic praxis-oriented mentoring relationships so that the newest members of our field can ‘feel their own strength at last,’ as Homer’s Telemachus aspired to do” (Bieler, 2010 , p. 422).

Johnson ( 2004 ) also examined the role of teacher educators, but she focused on the bodies and sexualities of preservice teachers. She explored the dynamics of sexual tension in secondary classrooms, the role of the body in teaching, and concerns about clothing when teaching. She explicitly worked to resist and undermine Cartesian dualities and, instead, explored the erotic power of teaching and seducing students into a love of subject matter. “But empowered women threaten the patriarchal structure of this society. Therefore, women have been acculturated to distrust erotic power” (Johnson, 2004 , p. 7). Like Bieler ( 2010 ), Johnson ( 2004 ) concluded that, “Teacher educators could play a role in creating a space within the larger framework of teacher education discourse such that bodily knowledge is considered along with pedagogical and content knowledge as a necessary component of teacher training and professional development” (p. 24). The articles about teacher education all sought to provoke questions about how we engage in the preparation and continuing development of educators.

Teacher identity and teacher education constitute how teachers construct knowledge, as both students and teachers. The works in this section raise issues of what identities are “acceptable” in the classroom, ways teachers and teacher educators can disrupt oppressive storylines and practices, and the challenges of utilizing feminist pedagogies without falling into hegemonic feminist practices.

Possibilities for Feminist Qualitative Research

Spivak ( 2012 ) believed that “gender is our first instrument of abstraction” (p. 30) and is often overlooked in a desire to understand political, curricular, or cultural moments. More work needs to be done to center gender and intersecting identities in educational research. One way is by using feminist qualitative methods. Classrooms and educational systems need to be examined through their gendered components, and the ways students operate within and negotiate systems of power and oppression need to be explored. We need to see if and how teachers are actively challenging patriarchal and heteronormative curriculums and to learn new methods for engaging in affirmative sabotage (Spivak, 2014 ). Given the historical emphasis on higher education, more work is needed regarding P–12 education, because it is in P–12 classrooms that affirmative sabotage may be the most necessary to subvert systems of oppression.

In order to engage in affirmative sabotage, it is vital that qualitative researchers who wish to use feminist theory spend time grappling with the complexity and multiplicity of feminist theory. It is only by doing this thought work that researchers will be able to understand the ongoing debates within feminist theory and to use it in a way that leads to a more equitable and just world. Simply using feminist theory because it may be trendy ignores the very real political nature of feminist activism. Researchers need to consider which theories they draw on and why they use those theories in their projects. One way of doing this is to explicitly think with theory (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012 ) at all stages of the research project and to consider which voices are being heard and which are being silenced (Gilligan, 2011 ; Spivak, 1988 ) in educational research. More consideration also needs to be given to non-U.S. and non-Western feminist theories and research to expand our understanding of education and schooling.

Paying close attention to feminist debates about method and methodology provides another possibility for qualitative research. The very process of challenging positivist research methods opens up new spaces and places for feminist qualitative research in education. It also allows researchers room to explore subjectivities that are often marginalized. When researchers engage in the deeply reflexive work that feminist research requires, it leads to acts of affirmative sabotage within the academy. These discussions create the spaces that lead to new visions and new worlds. Spivak ( 2006 ) once declared, “I am helpless before the fact that all my essays these days seem to end with projects for future work” (p. 35), but this is precisely the beauty of feminist qualitative research. We are setting ourselves and other feminist researchers up for future work, future questions, and actively changing the nature of qualitative research.


Dr. George Noblit provided the author with the opportunity to think deeply about qualitative methods and to write this article, for which the author is extremely grateful. Dr. Lynda Stone and Dr. Tanya Shields are thanked for encouraging the author’s passion for feminist theory and for providing many hours of fruitful conversation and book lists. A final thank you is owed to the author’s partner, Ben Skelton, for hours of listening to her talk about feminist methods, for always being a first reader, and for taking care of their infant while the author finished writing this article.

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The Feminist Theory and IR Practice Essay


The feminist theory challenges women to forget about the ancient I.R. practice and theory completely. Females face marginalization in international relations as they are not involved in decision-making processes because men believe that women are unnecessary. Men argue that women are inferior and their contributions do not matter in international relations practice. The feminist theory made some contributions to international relations through destroying gender biases, both socially and powerful logic organizing (Ballo et al., 2021). It, therefore, challenged the existing myths and assumptions concerning both masculine and feminine roles that dictate what a man or a woman does in society, global politics, and international relations.

The myths and assumptions about gender determine global politics and shape people’s lives. The feminism theory explains that traditional IR concentrated more on males while neglecting females. Men were regarded as superior to women and carried out the main duties, including decision-making and offering support to their subordinates. The theory, thus, puts women and gender into consideration, posing challenges to international relations’ foundations, including assumptions and concepts.

Feminists developed arguments favoring the female gender, including politics and advocacy, to make people aware of gender biases. For instance, the United Nations is now aware of the mainstreaming gender concept, leading to developing more comprehensive women’s rights in terms of gender and peace. Focusing on how international relations theorists explained some concepts, such as security, state, and superiority that led to gender bias, feminists felt the need to develop and transform the international relations practice and theory (Latimer, 2019). The theory’s development led to women’s resolution and security as they gained knowledge about their rights, making them able to challenge men.

Countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have started considering women’s rights by preventing sexual abuse and violence by men. Although feminists have succeeded in their practical duties, society still accuses them of possessing a simplistic and positive attitude towards women’s empowerment (Ballo et al., 2021). They also face critics from people as the latter terms them as imperialists, especially in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars where feminists argued that even if the wars as a result of liberation, the primary purpose was to maintain power and guarantee western countries’ economic interests about the middle east ones.

As the theory progresses, some scholars fail to consider feminists’ arguments because some questions address whether the feminists are only performing international relations or have an interior motive. Traditional international relations developed in a rational research agenda and addressed questions, maintaining focus on the states and their systems (Ratna, 2018). Feminists, on the other hand, employ a different approach underlining the importance of social relationships and individual experiences instead of state abstraction. The feminists, therefore, concentrate on places, people, and activities outside the traditional I.R.’s scope (Norsted, 2021). Some scholars discipline feminists for contributing to an already stated agenda. For example, in 1989, Keohane Robert responded positively to feminist theories regarding interdependence and power. The situation led to the formation of an alliance between feminists and institutionalism, making feminists reject unusual forms in the feminist theory.

Other scholars, such as Weber, also responded and argued that he was trying to represent feminist arguments outside the context of feminist theory, thereby re-imposing boundaries about feminist thoughts. She also explained that feminist scholars visualized the theory’s literature simultaneously to view I.R. from multiple perspectives at a time. As a result, other scholars developed an interest in the feminist theory since it created boundaries that influenced the disregard of issues that are not included in the theory. Therefore, according to the arguments, Keohane tries to hijack and remove parts of the feminist literature that he terms unusual, takes and molds those ideas he likes, and links them with his theories.

Sylvester also identifies and other engagement encounters and types with feminist theory. He argues that some theorists engage feminist theories in political ways instead of considering the main issues (Elomäki et al., 2018). Other scholarly groups engage feminist ideas to form personal writing. In contrast, others consider gender an essential identity and an analysis variant and practice gender consciousness without considering or mentioning the feminist theories.

Contribution of Feminist Theories

The theory focused on making women relevant.

Feminist theories explained that women faced and are still facing gender-based violence due to disregard from men, making them ignored in critical areas, such as decision making. The theories focused on developing an international system that acknowledged gender-based problems and experiences in terms of sexual violence. For example, a former United Nations secretary General initiated campaigns to address gendered violence with the aim of reducing the rates at which females faced inequality as compared to men. The movement proved that a more significant percentage of women (60%) experienced sexual violence at times. It also exposed that most females worldwide reside in countries where sexual violence is rampant since it is not considered a criminal offense. Gendered violence still exists worldwide since it is not tied to a specific economic or political system (Azzopardi et al., 2018). Some scholars demonstrate the links between gendered violence against females’ private lives, such as domestic violence and all public violence that females experience due to globalized workplaces. The theory stated that women do not share equal political, social, and economic rights and freedom compared to men.

The situation led to increased cases of sexual violence since females face domestic violence at home and sexual one when involved in conflicts with men. Gendered violence leads to a situation where females do not experience peace and stability in their lives (Ratna, 2018). Some societies are termed as stable and peaceful without putting into consideration the increasing gendered violence cases against one gender. The situation makes the state portray a different image and reputation due to insecurity and violence cases as characterized by traditional international relations viewpoints.

The feminist theory also addresses females’ non-involvement in decision-making processes and absence from institutional structures, such as education and employment centers. For instance, in 2015, about 23% of the female population served in parliamentary positions worldwide, according to World Bank statistics. The theory also challenges females to occupy areas termed as highly political, such as military and state security. It encourages them to focus on those positions traditionally dominated by men (Brown, 2018). In the traditional setup, men dominated state activities, possessing power and made decisions about their progress without considering females. Males also ran global politics without considering the other gender, since they termed them as minor subjects without a say over particular matters.

The situation allows males to continue excluding females from major activities in the world, including global politics. Ancient practices disregarded females and failed to involve them in critical activities, such as global politics. Men therefore, disregarded the impacts of global politics on the lives of women. They also encouraged females’ dis-involvement in state and global matters, explaining that the latter formed a minority group and there was no need of taking their views into consideration about particular activities (Norsted, 2021). Feminist scholars, on the other hand, explained that ignoring women’s views and excluding them from the critical activities performed in international relations deprives them of their rights and freedom. Therefore, the scholars encourage females to occupy the topmost positions in states, bringing the gap between male and female life status.

Exposing Gender-Based Norms

Some cultural practices and beliefs discourage women from achieving their life goals due to gender discrimination situations from men. Feminist scholars explained the need for developing a society where males and females possess equal rights and freedom. The theory also helps people understand that sex results from biological processes while gender results from social perceptions and beliefs (Ratna, 2018). The theorists describe gender as social assumptions constructed and assigned to female and male people, including the appropriately considered behavior among people. In the traditional setup, men were associated with the public sphere’s independence, power, and status. In contrast, women were associated with domesticity, the need to be protected by men, and the occupation of the private sphere. The resulting political and social identities shaped and influenced interactions between men and women globally and in international relations.

The global identities also outline who should carry out a particular activity and the reason why. Socially developed identities determine power distribution, explaining the place women occupy in politics globally. Some scholars such as Cynthia posed questions about females’ existence in the globe (Bunyan, 2021). The question encouraged other scholars to notice the spaces that women inhabited in global politics, aiding in demonstrations proving that women would perform effectively in the international relations system if given a chance. She also explained how global politics influences and shapes people’s daily activities and how the activities impact gender identities (Azzopardi et al., 2018). In the conventional setup, war and military endeavors are considered men’s activities because men act as protectors and warriors who fight to protect women and children.

Over the years, women’s experiences about gendered conflicts have been irrelevant, without inconsideration from international relations. For example, gendered and sexual violence have been irrelevant and entered into the international relations agenda. The theorists explained that gender and other identities, such as ethnicity and race, shape international relations (Bunyan, 2021). Feminism also exposed marginalization and gendered violence among women globally, challenging gendered norms that term women as peaceful and need to be protected. They also state the norms as evidence that gender inequality exists and leads to female exclusion from global I.R. perspectives. When men assume women to be peaceful instead of aggressive or victims instead of actors, they are likely to ignore the latter’s perspectives and experiences of global politics.

Keeping Peace Worldwide

The theory encourages parties to make peace after an argument or conflict, especially when involved in complex misunderstandings. It addresses concerns about how post-conflict groups are rebuilt and preventing future conflict relapses (Brown, 2018). The global community initiates peacekeeping bodies to sustain peace after conflicts, broadening the U.N.’s ancient peacekeeping duty. The bodies involve missions about military forces, introducing police, and constructing political buildings. The theories state how masculinity influences peacemaking. After conflicts, situations are characterized by violence cessation between the conflicting parties, therefore, peacekeeping bodies engage in activities, such as disarming involved parties, monitoring, and facilitating peace deals. However, gendered violence continues after the conflict, including rape and forced prostitution.

Women face exclusion from decision-making and power development efforts concerning indirect and structural violence, leading to restrictions on access to resources, such as food and housing. They also face under-representation in the peacekeeping bodies, occupying very few positions. Increasing cases of gender inequality have been acknowledged, making peacekeeping bodies pay more attention to the causes and impacts of female insecurity. Peacekeeping bodies influence post-conflict continuation as they harbor gendered production (Bunyan, 2021). They also perpetrate sexual violence against children and women, as exposed in 2015 by a whistleblower.

The feminist theory challenges women facing marginalization in international relations as they are not involved in decision-making processes due to the belief that they are unimportant and their lives do not matter in the I.R. practice. The theory made some contributions to international relations through destroying gender biases, both socially and powerful logic organizing. Therefore, it challenged the existing assumptions concerning masculine and feminine roles that dictate what a man or a woman should do in society, global politics, and international relations. It focused on developing an international system that acknowledged women’s problems in terms of violence. Gendered violence still exists worldwide since it is not tied to a specific economic or political system.

Some scholars demonstrate the links between gendered violence against females’ private lives, such as domestic violence and all public violence that they experience due to globalized workplaces. It also helps people understand that sex results from biological processes while gender results from social perceptions and beliefs. Feminists explain that gender results from men’s and women’s identities and expectations and the duties performed by each group. The scholars explain gender as social assumptions constructed and assigned to female and male people, including the appropriately considered behavior among males and females.

Reference List

Azzopardi, C., Alaggia, R. and Fallon, B. (2018) From Freud to feminism: Gendered constructions of blame across theories of child sexual abuse. Journal of Child sexual abuse , 27(3), pp. 254-275. doi: 10.1080/10538712.2017.1390717

Ballo, R., Das, S., Dawson, E., Mignan, V. and Perronnet, C. (2021) ‘Feminism, intersectionality, and decolonization theories: “The price we have to be willing to pay is ourselves”: Discussing illusions of inclusion in science centers and museums’, in Bevan, B. and Ramos, B. (eds.) Theorizing Equity in the Museum. London: Routledge, pp. 34-49.

Brown, L. E. C. (2018) ‘Post-colonial feminism, black feminism, and sport’, in Mansfield, L., Caudwell, J., Wheaton, B., and Watson, B. (eds.) The Palgrave handbook of feminism and sport, leisure and physical education. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 479-495.

Bunyan, L. (2021) Book Review: Women and Work: Feminism, Labour and Social Reproduction by Susan Ferguson. Gender & Society, 35(2), pp. 56-59, doi: 10.1177/0891243220979173

Elomäki, A., Kantola, J., Koivunen, A. and Ylöstalo, H. (2018) Affective virtuosity: Challenges for governance feminism in the context of the economic crisis. Gender, Work & Organization , 26(6), pp. 822-839, doi: 10.1111/gwao.12313

Latimer, T. (2019) ‘Dear World: Arts and Theories of Queer Feminism’, in Robinson, H, and Buszek M. E. (eds.) A Companion to Feminist Art. Hoboken: Wiley, pp. 389-403, doi: 10.1002/9781118929179.ch22

Norsted, K.S. (2021) Subjects of Feminism: The Production and Practice of Anxiety in a Swedish Activist Community . Doctoral dissertation. Institutionen för kulturantropologi och etnologi, Uppsala Universitet.

Ratna, A. (2018) Not just merely different: Travelling theories, post-feminism, and the racialized politics of women of color. Sociology of Sport Journal , 35 (3), pp. 197-206, doi: 10.1123/ssj.2017-0192

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