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I wish my high school had offered a women’s studies course

August 31, 2009

Feminist-identification and Schooling

I was a self-unidentified feminist every since I came out of my mother’s womb. I refused to call myself a feminist because of the anxiety and misconception around the term Feminism (along with the lovely-associated word Feminazi). It wasn’t until I took my first women’s studies course (during the summer of sophomore year), that I happily proclaimed, “I am a feminist.” Why did it take me so long to identify as a feminist?

If I think back to my earlier education, pre-college, I remember learning very little of feminism. Women who have made marks on society and culture were and still are obliterated from history courses. There was very little but some coverage of black history, from slavery to the civil rights movement—and let’s not forget that that’s feminism, too. But I do not recall studying the women’s movement in the U.S.: If you had asked me in high school, I would not be able to tell you when women were finally allowed the right to vote in the U.S. (1920). However, to give my education some credit, there was a sufficient amount of comprehensive sex education, partly because I went to a private school.

No one in my family was a self-identified feminist, and any information of feminism that I received was attained through limited media outlets (and back then, I was probably reading YM or Seventeen magazines…I wasn’t reading The New York Times or Bitch Magazine quite yet). It wasn’t until I decided to attend (somewhat unknowingly) one of the most liberal schools in the U.S., New York University. I thought that many courses in the Gender and Sexuality studies department seemed interesting, so I signed up for a class.

As cheesy as it sounds, it was that class, Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies taught by Professor Svati Shah, that changed my perspective on how I perceived life. I learned that women and men should be equal, and that you cannot talk about gender without addressing issues of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and/or class. While I am eternally grateful for my college education, I wish I had known about the real feminism earlier. I wish that I wasn’t fed stereotypes about feminists who burn their bras and are man-haters when I was little. I wish that I had been able to learn more about marginalized populations, so that I could understand the world better.

Feminism Should Be Taught in Schools

Feminism should be apart of the regular curriculum starting from middle school. Some people may think that it’s too early to talk about abortion (I agree), but there is a way to teach children about age-appropriate feminism. This is what Bonnie Morris, a professor of women’s studies at George Washington University, believes needs to be done. She was on the Bob Edwards Weekend show (on NPR) yesterday to talk about the students (women and men) who come into her classroom not knowing anything about women’s history and share their fears of growing into old women. She also remembers when she first became a feminist, at the young age of 12 at a Quaker school she attended, when her history teacher talked about the women’s suffrage movement. She talks more about her classroom experiences in a memoir called Revenge of the Women’s Studies Professor.

There are many reasons why feminism needs to be taught. Ashley over at Small Strokes Big Oaks, writes about this in her series on Feminism in Education. According to Ashley, some of the benefits of teaching feminism are:

  1. ‘reinvigorate girls’ sense of self-worth and to help pupils think about the gender implications of their language and image,’ making girls re-evaluate their role models
  2. girls accept sexual assault as something normal
  3. girls will become more confident about themselves, looking up to women in history who have made a significant change in society and culture as their role models instead of Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus

I agree with all of these reasons. Feminism definitely benefits young girls, in more ways than one. We must not forget about the boys though. Teaching boys and young men about feminism could break down barriers that prohibit boys to do certain things due to masculinity. And of course, it would teach boys and young men about respecting girls physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Feminism is good all around when it comes to teaching the concept and history to children. I would like to see this integrated into the standard U.S. education, however I think that it could be a racy topic given that feminism is attached to negative stereotypes (I’m sure that the Concerned Women for America would have a heyday about this).

What are your thoughts about feminism in education?

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