Why we need to teach feminism

16th November 2015 at 15:11

You probably think you aren't sexist. And consciously, probably (hopefully) you are not. But take a moment to think about your language in school. We still hear teachers asking for "strong guys" to help move things. I've found myself using the phrase "unmanned" unnecessarily. How often do we dismiss certain behaviors as "boys will be boys"? 

Feminism has become a popular topic among our students. This was largely driven by four very engaged Grade 12s who set up their own Feminist Society last year. It was nursed by a sympathetic history department and has survived the loss of those first students and managed to go from strength to strength. 

The history department at our school has always encouraged "feminist views" (now is not the time to discuss exactly what this means - you're smart, you can figure it out) for reasons that are evident in our society. We have always included particular units on, what for the sake of brevity, we'll call "women's history". However we have long felt this to merely be the base level by which this particular box can be ticked. 

All history is "women's history". It is ridiculous to think otherwise. That said, it has continually been recorded and reported from the male perspective, quite often expressing Victorian attitudes on the position of women. Break the habit of sidelining women to the domestic sphere. They were part of everything that happened.

So what should we be doing as teachers? It should be a two-pronged attack. Truly including feminism in the classroom means doing so both in your subject matter and the manner of delivery. 

On the first point, use the topic of feminism in the delivery of subject content. In math, look at the pay-gap. In science, explore the work of female scientists. In PE, explore the notions of "female" and "male" sports. Make gender an explicit part of teaching. 

The material, however, is only half of it. Don't be afraid to point out when you've strayed into the gendered language and everyday sexism of the opening paragraph above. Explain why you probably shouldn't use it. Explain why you sometimes do, unconsciously. Give your students the context. 

Make them cry and make them angry. Then tell them your generation has failed them and it's now on them to go out and change it for the better.

Alex Porter was talking to Nicola Davison. He is the head of history at Parmiter's School in Hertfordshire, UK


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