Gender Pedagogy in German speaking countries: – Genesis and approach

Since the 1970th feminist, men´s movement and queer activists and pedagogues in Germany, Austria and Switzerland elaborated gender pedagogic approaches and practices. Reading the same books, meeting at conferences, seminars, working together but also controversial debates stirred the evolution of shared cognitive concepts and understandings on Gender Pedagogy.
This development of Gender Pedagogy since the 1970th mirrors the general involvement with shifting gender relations and stereotypes, gender equity, equal opportunities and fighting against discrimination, exploitation and abuse in those countries. Gender Pedagogy in German speaking countries accommodates the societal involvement with gender, gay, queer orientations and relations. It deals with intersectional discriminations of the mentioned gender contexts with race, religion, class, body and so on. And it explores ways to coexistence in trans-mixed communities, families, schools, youth centres etc.

Since the 19th century two dominant mindsets guided perspectives on gender relations:
1. Gender – male and female – is produced by socialisation, education, by processes of signification and meaning production.
2. Male and female are different (polarised or complementary) biological or spiritual essentialities.

In Gender Pedagogy those conflicting approaches have been and are mirrored – e.g. in the “Männerarbeit*” (Men’s Work) und “Jungenarbeit**” (Boy’s Work): Mythopoetic approaches (assuming an essential maleness) are conflicting with critical Men´s and Boy´s Work (assuming socialisation and meaning giving processes as crucial for the production of maleness).

Followingly I refer mainly to the critical Gender Pedagogy which consequently includes Queer Pedagogy and intersectional perspectives:

Girl’s Work
The first creation of Gender Pedagogy in German speaking countries was the so called “Mädchenarbeit” = “Girl’s Work***” . Feminist movement pedagogues and youth workers established gender homogenous spaces with girls in the 1970th within an openly misogynic environment. Legal equity and legal protection were not implemented, to say nothing of the customary practice of gender relations. Feminist activists empowered girls, encouraged them to explore themselves, built solidary relations with girls and women and to exchange their thoughts; supported them to become and be strong and self conscious, defending themselves or even fighting back; to study non-stereotypical subjects and choose non-stereotypical carriers; to choose non-stereotypical ways of life and behaving. During the last decades Girl’s Work changed and processed social, political and economical developments. It frequently defended and defends the acquired spaces. The argument, equity would be already reached and spaces for girls not longer necessary is used to justify financial cutbacks. But the still almost omnipresent inequity, violence against and abuse of women (ultimately because of being female) make clear that we are unfortunately not in the situation to suspend Girl´s Work. Besides new issues and challenges are processed by it, like illusionary body norms adapted by girls (key word: supermodels), global classed and gendered labour division, coexistence of people with different and also conflicting “cultural” mindsets.

Boy’s Work
In the 1980th “Jungenarbeit” = “Boy’s Work” has been elaborated originally after feminists demanded from male pedagogues to realize an anti-sexist education of boys; inspired by Girls Work also in a gender homogenous setting accompanied by male educators. Gender homogenous spaces have been regarded as a premise of Girl’s as well as of Boy’s Work. It has been supposed that only women should work with girls and only men with boys. During the 1990th Boy’s Workers shaped a more autonomous definition of Boy’s Work. They directed their efforts towards strengthening boys towards the ability of living lucky and aware of their (also emotional) potentials; therefore the term anti-sexist changed into emancipator, identity oriented or reflected Boy’s Work. The non-essentialist Boy’s Work supposes that boys should be encouraged to unfold their whole human potential – not being restricted by expectations and prescriptions about being male in a polarised-to-female way. They underlined that male stereotyping socialisation deprives boys and men from important aspects of their human wholeness. Being restricted is related to the affinity for substance abuse, certain emotional disturbances and mental disorders, higher suicide rates, risk behaviour, aggressive and violent behaviour, a range of maladies. Boys Work experts also deal with discriminating/privileging processes regarding hegemonic and marginalised maleness. How are boys doing masculinity in their specific environments? And how can they be supported to find their way and access their full human potential?

Reflexive/Conscious co-education
Schools are usually co-educative in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Also youth centres are basically mixed gender environments – although often frequented much more by male kids. In co-educative contexts Gender Pedagogy aims at exercising equal, non discriminatory, non hierarchical communication and coexistence of the genders. And it aims at clarifying that abilities and talents are not connected to gender. This gender pedagogical setting is called reflexive/bewusste Koedukation = reflexive or conscious co-education. Pedagogues have to be very aware of societal gender hierarchies, of gendered socialisation processes, gendered group dynamics etc. They have to be self-reflected and self-conscious of their own gendered socialisation and stereotypes. This awareness is a premise to guide and accompany creating gender acceptance and equity; to enable pupils of all sexes to experience and express also their individual talents, preferences, wishes, plans; to create structures and processes where young people experience that gender equity is an advantage for all sexes. Reflexive coeducation in this multidimensional context proofs to be a highly ambitious and demanding gender pedagogic setting for which teachers are normally not trained.

Cross Work
“Cross Work” (this English term is used in German to name this approach) refers to female teachers/youth workers working gender-sensitive with boys; and to male teachers/youth workers working gender-sensitive with girls. In Kindergarten e.g. boys may find out that female Kindergarten teachers build caves and play energetic games and male ones are caring and valuable consolers. Cross Work also may be applied in youth centres or schools, e.g. when a male expert answers questions to a group of girls in a sexual education workshop or vice versa a female expert to a group of boys. Cross Workers have to be especially conscious, sensitive and responsive to the fact that female educators are situated in contradictious hierarchies with boys (as a women on one hand but as a professional, educator, and elder person on the other hand). Meanwhile male educators compared to girls are placed in a multiple hierarchy (as a man, professional, educator, elder person). A carefully developed working concept and cooperation among male_female colleagues are premises for Cross Work.

Queer Perdagogy
Queer Pedagogy in youth work is used to encourage and support gay, lesbian, bisexual, inter- and transgender young people. It also starts from a critical examination of the bipolar division of the world respectively this critique is a core of Queer Pedagogy; and it aims at making aware of and recognising multiple differences and mixes gendered ways of life. Queer Pedagogy has been elaborated especially during the last decade. Separate institutions and organisations have been established. But also in the mainstream youth work LGBTI young people become more visible. Offering a protected environment and creating acceptance for all gender is a necessity in all contexts of working with children and youth.

A basic purpose of Gender Pedagogy is to encourage the liberation of restricting gender stereotypes and bipolarized definitions. At an individual level Gender Pedagogy is providing free space for experience and reflection to find out that there is no right or wrong with regard to gender, of how to be a gendered human being and of choosing ways of living. At the level of society Gender Pedagogy contributes to creating gender equity, equal opportunities and a safe environment for all gender.

Gender Pedagogy experts like Claudia Wallner, Michael Drogand-Strud, Marcel Franke, Mart Busche etc. conceptualised the Gender Pedagogy model. The described approaches are also qualified to design the work with children in Kindergarten and primary schools.
Pedagogues in any case have to be aware of the limits and potentials of the approaches. They should carefully decide in which situation they offer which approach. Girl’s Work and Boy’s Work dramatise gender at the access to the gender homogenous setting but not during the work itself; reflexive pedagogy does not dramatise it at the access but during work – plots and enacting of gender difference are or can be activated; Cross Work both deals with gender difference at the access and as a tool in the work.

Claudia Wallner visualises the Gender Pedagogy model with its four columns as, I added Queer Pedagogy:

* Gender sensitive, gender conscious, gender reflexive social work, counselling, therapeutic work with men.
** Gender sensitive, gender conscious, gender reflexive social work, counselling, therapeutic work with boys and male youth.
*** Gender sensitive, gender conscious, gender reflexive social work, counselling, therapeutic work with girls.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *