Crossing Borders: Fluctuating Identities in a Feminist Classroom

  • Abstract:

    My paper narrates and theorizes moments of speaking “across” social and political identities in an Israeli classroom. I recognize the academic space as a “contact zone”. Within radically asymmetrical relations of power, secular westernized Jewish students and teachers from hegemonic groups interact with students from political and social minorities, mostly Palestinian, Mizrachi and orthodox religious women both Jewish and Muslim. Such participants are usually prevented from acquiring a voice and a space in the academic setting. Bell Hooks suggests challenging this oppressive invisibility through critical feminist pedagogy. A feminist teacher considers the power relations among classroom participants as well as those implicit in knowledge construction, intentionally encouraging students’ diverse identities, and interactions. Such pedagogical strategies create occasions for unexpected moments of inter-identities encounters. Ana Feigenbaum addresses these opportunities as teachable moments occurring in what Gloria Anzaldua describes as “in between” vulnerable spaces which open when teachers identify students’ resistance as attempts at encounter. These moments which display marginalized and “minoritized” perspectives, create potential or actual unexpected solidarities while challenging existing rivalries by destabilizing “rigid” political and social identities. The paper presents one unique fragile space/moment of resistance/encounter, a “teaching story” (as I call it) demonstrating a way in which certain behaviors and voices question the established Israeli identity politics that sustain existing rivalries. The story addresses the failed attempt of Abeer, a Palestinian Muslim woman, and Shani, a Mizrachi woman, both from oppressed minority groups in Israel, to cross existing identity-divisions and to initiate an act of solidarity. This moment questions the aptitude of academic conceptualization of political/social/class identities to illuminate subtle interactions in the complex Israeli academic setting. As the paper will show this new perspective constructs a more sensitive reading of actual fluctuating identities in the Israeli reality.