The critique about MOOCs being patriarchal is theoretical rather than literal. Patriarchy does refer to authority being in the hands of men, either within a family unit or in a government or organisation. Most societies are still patriarchal in the literal sense because the majority of people in power, either in government, are men. This persists despite legal and constitutional reforms in many societies that provide equal rights, for the most part, to women. Patriarchy is also discussed in a more abstract sense in theory. For example, the history of Western science and philosophy is imbued with bias due to the fact that documented and produced knowledge was predominantly created and validated by European men. The voices of women, colonised people, indigenous people, disabled people, and sexual minorities were not widely heard, known or constructed as valid knowledge. Western philosophy privileged reason above emotion, mind over body, culture over nature. These dualisms led to hierarchies and women were associated with emotion, body, and nature. The prototype human being in science and philosophy was male. Simone de Beauvoir wrote about how women were Other. This historical production of knowledge with bias imbued in the scientific process is sometimes referred to as objectivistic, rationalist, and masculinist in feminist theory. Postmodern feminism takes issue with the category of women, or Woman. Some theorists object to an essentialist view of the category of women. Despite the fact that they might have physically gendered bodies, women do not necessarily have naturalistic, deterministic characteristics that are stable and fixed. Postmodern feminism is not only concerned with gender but also the concept of race, sexual orientation, ablebodyism, etc. Some theorists reject the idea that women constitute a single category because the material existence and lived experiences of women who are not white, heterosexual or ablebodied are underrepresentated and not constructed as valid knowledge. For example, African American theorist bell hooks argues that we live in white heterosexist capitalist patriarchy, a hegemonic culture of violence and injustice that is invisible to most because it is taken for granted and not questioned.
The feminist response to xMOOCs, the Stanford model of MOOCs, not the connectivist MOOCs, is related to the above theoretical ideas. In the mass-produced, pre-packaged courseware offered in xMOOCs through a centralised platform, the knowledge is centred around the course content and is managed by one (or a small number of) professor(s). The feminist critique is that this model reproduces a hierarchical power relationship between a teacher and learner and that knowledge is produced within the institution and delivered to the learner who must assimilate the information and reproduce it, without contributing, collaboration or questioning its production and validation. Feminist theories, methodologies, and pedagogies focus on collaboration and co-creation, reduce power hierarchies, and emphasise polyvocal knowledge production processes.
The structure, pedagogy and methodology of the DOCC have been reflective of feminist principles. Not only was the form based on feminist principles, so was the content. The course dealt with feminism, science, and technology. The DOCC proposed a common skeleton and video dialogues which partnering universities and course instructors could use and supplement with material determined in accordance to the situatedness of participating students. This provided for the collaborative experience. Students at participating universities and self-directed learners were invited to produce learning artifacts and publish and disseminate them.