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Should Feminism Be Taught in Schools?

March 25, 2010

I didn’t come out as a feminist until freshman year of high school. I use the term “come out” deliberately because, unfortunately, thanks to the negative stigma and sweeping misunderstanding of the term, the decision to start publicly declaring my opinion carried a similar weight and anxiety. What is most sad about this is that I didn’t grow up in Middle America. I was raised and educated in an incredibly liberal town in upstate New York that was put on the map when our mayor granted a number of gay marriages. Yet I still shied away from the label, convinced that feminists hated men and raged against anyone who stood in their way while wearing ill-fitting clothing and smelling of B.O from their unshaven pits. It wasn’t until I took an American Women Writers class that focused on the questions of what qualifies someone as both American and a woman that I was introduced to modern feminism thought. It started with the realization that a woman could be interested in fashion and still be a feminist (the main disconnect at the time that prevented me from accepting the term) and gradually grew into my current understanding that being a feminist means you believe in the right for a woman to chose how she lives her life no matter what, whether that means climbing the corporate ladder or staying at home with her five kids.

It saddens me to watch girls growing up and following the exact same path. Even grown women are hesitant to publicly proclaim feminism, or are even unaware that it still exists, that sexism and inequality are still battles needing to be fought. And don’t even get me started on how men see it, how they believe that misogyny ended in the fifties, how they are completely unaware of the harassment women still face every day in every capacity to the point that, as it happened to me, stepping outside the safety of your apartment building triggers anxiety attacks in preparation for what’s to come. People don’t believe that it’s more difficult for a woman to do basically anything than a man, that there’s still a pay discrepancy, that body-image issues created by the media are extremely destructive. They don’t realize how rare it is for a woman to find a role model, especially one who is a public figure, that it is an incredibly complex atmosphere out there to figure out how the hell you’re supposed to act as a woman, especially for younger girls.

So it was alarming to me when I recently found out that posing the idea of teaching feminism in schools was a controversial issue. I had always assumed that the root to solving a problem (especially a gigantic one that affects everyone in our country) was through education, so I find it quite baffling that it’s even a question. My feminist history ended with the suffragettes, with a brief nod to Rosie the Riveter, but it didn’t get anywhere near the second wave, and especially not the intricacies of where we’re at today. Admittedly, there are some aspects of feminist theory that are probably not appropriate for high school audiences, like the split between pro-sex feminists from the second wave or even the abortion debate, but I think it is unforgiveable that both sexes graduate from high school with barely an idea of how a whole half of the world lives, then and now.

Obviously resources in public schools are incredibly strained, and history courses are packed as it is. Offering feminist courses as electives would probably see slim, single-sex rosters and school boards would probably decry them as unnecessary. But, as units have always been set aside for new topics emerging out of the evolution of education, I know room can be made for feminism. The Miss G Project, based in Canada, has been fighting for this acceptance and has created a number of suggested topics of study that can be adapted to how the community sees fit. Maybe students won’t understand the complicated questions of gender (I still can spiral into quite a mindfuck when it comes to that) but at least they can gain some awareness of how far women have come and how far they have left to go. Maybe a girl will be inspired to stand up for herself and maybe a boy will think twice the next time he wants to cat call. As long as girls can think of feminism as something other than a dirty word upon graduation, then at least a small success can be made.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    April 8, 2010 2:52 pm

    This was a really good article, well written, interesting, engaging. Props!

  2. Daddy-O permalink
    April 13, 2010 2:47 am

    Considering that thanks to the geniuses down in Texas that somehow have kidnapped the school textbook industry, Thomas Jefferson has been excised from American history because he championed the separation of church and state, is it any wonder that something like feminism will not be getting any coverage any time soon? But I think it also has to do with the public face of feminism, which at times promoted the very points that at first put you off to the idea. I hesitate to say the movement was hijacked because frankly I’m not enough of a student of the course of feminism to claim that but certainly the message became muddled as competing versions fought for Leadership rights. But just as we’ve seen with race, I don’t think we’re “post” anything just yet. Looks like your generation will have to take a swing at it.

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