From the Archives: The Feminist Toolbox by Marie Cartier

This blog was originally posted on April 4, 2012. There were a significant number of comments which you can read here.

Photo of Marie Cartier by Lenn Keller

This spring I am teaching “Feminist Ethics” at California State University Northridge. For the students’ midterm and final we are doing an innovative project that we want to share with the “Feminism and Religion” blogging community. My students have been asked to find a problem in the public world, or their private world, that they wish to interact with and provide a solution for. The solution can solve the problem or a piece of the problem. They must deconstruct the problem and then construct the solution for the midterm. For their final they actually must *do* the solution.

In creating their solution, they must address and use the tools in what I call “the Feminist Ethical Toolbox.” These tools are ones we have been extracting from the class readings (so far we have read the anthologies Feminist Theological Ethics, and Feminist Ethics and Social Policy, and Carol Gilligan’s philosophical treatise on the patriarchy, In The Deepening Darkness, and the students have been using the toolbox and its accumulated (and accumulating) tools throughout the class, in their own lives, and interacting with the toolbox in the reading response journals in terms of looking at wider world issues.

The tools in what my students call “Cartier’s Toolbox” are as follows:

1. Is everyone affected by the decision (the solution to the problem) at the decision making table?

2. If they are not at the table, are they represented at the table by someone who will speak to their interests?

3. Are all points of view represented by equal resources? Is everyone at the table able to present their points of view equally?

4. Is the private considered as important as the public?

5. Is the “I” voice listened to as well as the third person speaking for someone else voice?  Is, as Bettina Aptheker states in Tapestries of Life, personal testimony valid?

6. Do people come from a place of empathy in listening to others, and not sympathy?

There is a training for using this last tool that we use in the class that I call “the circle of empathy” that involves listening and placing one’s self in the center of another’s circle, and trying to view their choices from the center of that circle, rather than judging people through a window. The idea is that when we become conscious of it we realize that we are often looking out at people —rather than trying to see from their point of view. Ideally what we want is to see the same view as the person we are trying to empathize with—seeing from the center of their circle.

Students also practice this “circle of empathy” training by engaging in conversations consciously, for one week at least, by saying “What I wish for you is…,” rather than “What I would do if I were you is….”

One note about the toolbox is that for condition number one to be fulfilled–“is everyone at the table?” –the dominant paradigm’s point of view does not necessarily have to be at the decision making table. Often the dominant paradigm has actually created the problem and if so, their point of view is already firmly in place at the table and already in the conversation.

Following this blog my current students will be posting their ideas for this year’s projects and sincerely hope that you – our “Feminism and Religion” blogging community will provide some feedback and conversation.

Let me elaborate first with at least one example from my last year’s Feminist Ethics class. One student felt the problem she wanted to interact with was the lack of information that women receive who want to get breast implants. Plastic surgeons are not required to give women information about all of the dangers of breast implants. My student did not want to take away a woman’s autonomy to receive implants but she also did not want women to not have the information they need to make an informed decision. She created a tri-fold brochure as her final project outlining the problems that women face if they choose breast implants. Students must document their projects, and the solutions. To complete her part of her proposed solution, she printed stacks of the brochure and delivered them to the waiting rooms of several plastic surgeons that she has discovered did not provide this information and photographed her brochures in their waiting rooms.

Another student was bothered that men had so much trouble integrating the feminist theory of variable gender roles into their psyches. He created a YouTube video interviewing over 100 men and having them hold a white board on which they printed feminine traits that they were not afraid to share with the world. Men held signs that read, “I sleep with a stuffed animal.” “I shave my legs.” “I’m not afraid to cry.” “I love chick flicks,” etc. At the end my student held a sign that read, “Fuck gender roles.” This video project was accompanied by a large art installation of photographs of his informants which he displayed at our women’s center, as well as posting the video on YouTube and other social media sites, and receiving and responding to commentary.

Students from this year’s class will be posting their ideas on this blog—they will be posting what the problem is that they want to interact with, what they see as a possible solution and the solution and/or piece of that solution that they want to actually *do.*

We are very grateful to “Feminism and Religion” for giving us this opportunity to dialogue with a wider audience outside our classroom and we welcome your feedback.

(Drum roll) Presenting the Spring CSU Northridge Gender Women’s Studies 360, “Feminist Ethics” class!

BIO: Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University; and a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

Categories: Activism, Ethics, Feminism, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General

Tags: , ,

3 replies

  1. Marie, this is awesome–and it’s probably a hundred times more useful today than it was eight years ago. It seems to me that the world is filled with more misery now and is more in need of it now. Consider: The pandemic and women having to care for everyone who is or was sick or dying (and if that new variant spreads, the sickness may rise again). Anti-abortion laws and whatever the hell is happening in Texas and states like it. Insanely conservative Republicans doing everything they can to restrict voting. The war in Ukraine and women having to leave their homes and try to find a new land where they and their children can live and stay alive. I could go on….. Yes, the world needs your toolkit and it desperately needs people like you to use the toolkit and teach us all how to use it. Bright blessings, my friend, brightest blessings to your work, back then and today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This toolkit is brilliant, and is applicable to just about any problem. In the past I’ve been involved with groups trying to do better in terms of affordable housing, building sites for the community to come together, reducing income inequality in small towns, and on and on, and this would have been so beneficial for any of these. Thanks so much for sharing it then and now!

    Liked by 1 person

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