Tackling inequalities: Building a ‘healthier’ Literature curriculum through feminist reflexivity

Aimee Merrydew


By now it is commonplace that the western literary canon re-produces social inequalities by centring the work of privileged white, cisgender men at the expense of marginalised voices. The masculine, cisnormative, and white-centric underpinnings of the western canon makes for an 'unhealthy' English Literature curriculum, since it maintains oppressive hierarchies and does not reflect the diverse communities in which we often work and live. Individuals at Keele University – including those from the Keele Institute for Social Inclusion, the Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence, Women of Keele Educate, Decolonise Keele Network, and the LGBTI, BAME, and Disability staff networks, among others – work to ensure people from minority groups feel represented on campus and in curricula. These local efforts, which have contributed to Keele's recent Bronze awards from Athena SWAN and the Race Equality Charter, are part of global efforts to make higher education more inclusive.

This presentation will explore how I use my status as a cisgender woman and educator from a working-class background to learn from the work of my colleagues from and beyond Keele, whilst navigating the degrees of privilege that comes from being white in the white, middle-class, and cisnormative academy. I will consider how I leverage my platform for intersectional feminist activism in order to support the creation of healthier, socially and critically engaged, learning environments. This feminist reflexivity is important for teaching and learning because it enables me to achieve the following aims. First, to support student engagement with the Literature curriculum at Keele. Second, to encourage students to engage in social justice work by re-reading representation in canonical texts through the framework of privilege and oppression. By analysing key examples from my teaching practice, I will illustrate the potential for feminist pedagogy to help build and sustain a 'healthy' curriculum.