Why Feminism Should Be Taught In School

Should feminism be taught in school?

It may not surprise you that my answer is an emphatic YES.  Of course, it is important to present students with multiple perspectives so that they may see that, historically, people with different perspectives have caused much unrest and, from that unrest comes progress.  I would hope that any literature or history teacher would agree with this.

Historically, women have been quite literally marginalized – relegated to boxes in the margins of textbooks as if to say, “This is what the women were doing back at home while the men were off at war.  It fits into this little box which must mean that it wasn’t that important and it won’t be on the test.”  This is not a new concept, and teachers have been incorporating texts regarding marginalized people into their curriculum for a very long time.

It is not really a question of whether or not this should be done, but I wonder how many people have really explored why it is important to incorporate feminism into the curriculum.  If one
day such classes were taught in schools to liberal arts colleges, it
would be a day to celebrate.

First, the study of feminism can “reinvigorate girls’ sense of self-worth and to help pupils think about the gender implications of their language and image.” It is important for girls today to think about their role models.  Who are young women looking to as role models today?  Miley Cirus?  Britney Spears?  If these women are not good role models for young women, who is?  Simone deBeauvoir?  Susan B. Anthony?  Think of all that today’s young women can learn from these strong, self-assured agents of historical change.  By holding the work of these latter women up to be seen as at least as important as the wars fought by and the leaders who were typically men, we show young women that being strong and confident is nothing to be ashamed of, and we show young men that strong and confident women are to be respected, not coaxed into becoming something else, something they can control.

Which leads me to my second point: Girls are accepting sexual assault at school as a fact of life.  I am not saying that young women are being joked about and taunted by young men at school because they lack confidence and strength.  I am, however, saying that I think there is something that tells these girls that if they don’t let boys treat them this way, boys will not like them and there are few things worse when you’re in high school.  By teaching students about feminism, we are showing both young women and young men that equality in human rights is important, and treating someone as if they are beneath you is unacceptable.

Girls are not only under pressure when it comes to boys, but also when it comes to the clothes they wear and how that affects whether or not they will fit in with the right crowd in school.  “According to the Girls Inc. Supergirl Dilemma report, 84% of all girls say it’s true that girls are under a lot of pressure to dress the right way.” I’m sure we all remember days in our youth (and maybe in our adulthood) when we wondered if we were wearing the right clothes or wanted to look just like someone we saw on television.  Girls’ confidence can very often hinge on whether or not they feel they look “right” or fit in with the “right” other girls.  Maybe, just maybe, by instilling in young women that the positive women role models in history (and today! Feminism is alive and well!) have been auspicious agents of change – as much as the men that fill the pages of their textbooks – we can show them that what matters most are not the styles of clothing they wear, but the restyling of history made possible by extraordinary women.  And who knows; maybe they’ll even be inspired to take up feminism themselves.

25 thoughts on “Why Feminism Should Be Taught In School

  1. I just read the latest copy of Ms. magazine in which a letter to the editor asked why there wasn’t women’s studies classes in middle and high school. That got me to thinking, “yes, why not?”

    I live in a small town of less than 10,000 where the highest paying jobs for women are teachers or nurses. Most women in this town will never make more than $12-15. They don’t travel, even out of the state much. They don’t really know any people who don’t act, think or look exactly like they do.

    Hunting, fishing and football are the celebrated pasttimes in this part of the state. Women are the afterthought.

    I don’t know. I love to see a women’s studies class at the high school here but they are constantly have budget cuts. The community can’t see past their noses and won’t pass any referendums to support the schools.

    I’d love to teach a women’s studies class for middle/high school but I don’t have a license. I have no idea how I’d pull any of that together.

    How’s that for a long-winded comment?


  2. Great post. I wish they’d had a class like that when I was in high school. Maybe I would have had higher self-esteem. Boys ignored me and I took that as a marker of my self-worth. :0(

  3. I absolutely agree — women’s studies/feminist theory/gender studies should be taught everywhere. This reminds me of a student’s argument paper from last semester, actually: he argued that not only should we have comprehensive sex education but that this education address issues of sexual orientation and gender as well. It would necessarily have to be taught from a feminist perspective (since the non-/anti-feminist perspectives of sexuality and gender are already instilled in us from the moment we’re born), and such a curriculum would be immediately applicable to everyone. The health classroom might be another place we could/should incorporate feminist thought, alongside the social studies, English/language arts, and science classrooms.

    Another issue connected with this that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about is gender-segregated classrooms. In my opinion, gender-segregated classrooms have the potential to allow for feminist pedagogy and discussions about gender in ways that mixed settings might not. One drawback to this approach is that sometimes teachers confuse “gender-segregation” with “gender-based education”: just because you have all boys in a classroom doesn’t mean you have to teach in stereotypically “boy” ways, and vice versa. (Also trans* issues make gender segregation sticky, but what better way to acknowledge the meaning of “gender” as opposed to “biological sex”?)

    Anyway, I’m glad to see you writing about this — I hope it inspires others to think about ways that feminism can and should find its way into the public school sphere.

  4. Pingback: Why Feminism Should Be Taught In School - Hippymom - An Evolution of Female Community

  5. Pingback: How Feminism Should Be Taught in School (Part 1): How Feminism Should NOT Be Taught in School « Small Strokes

  6. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Why Feminism Should Be Taught In School « Small Strokes [smallstroke.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  7. (Warning: this may derail into a rant on the public school system… but I’ll try to stay on topic)

    The problem with a women’s studies class in middle/high school is that it would be an elective, not a required course, so the students who needed to hear the information and viewpoints would not be likely to take the class. Especially when core course requirements leave so little time for extracurricular activities and electives. Here in TX, students who want to graduate on the “distinguished” plan need to take 4 years of English, math, social studies, and science; that’s 4 of your 7 classes each year without getting into health, fine arts (say, choir, orchestra, and other groups you want to be in all 4 yrs of high school), PE (including football and other sports, again something most kids want to do all 4 yrs), world languages, speech/communications, programs like PALS, and other stuff I’m forgetting.

    Social studies classes are already overstuffed with curriculum, and English classes are drilling-and-killing standardized test practice and 5-paragraph essays (for the tests), so those teachers are likely to come after you with a large ruler if you ask them to “teach something extra.”

    Now, professional teachers, who know what they’re doing and are committed to their craft, will find ways to incorporate feminist thinkers, events, documents, role models into their curriculum, but if you try to “mandate” a “feminist component” to these classes, then the district will have to write new curriculum and fill out papers and hold meetings and do lots of blah-blah to make everyone hate the idea on principle.

    In my opinionated “expert” opinion, we need to completely overhaul education and the courses we teach. “Health” class serves no purpose anymore, we need a human sexuality class (with comprehensive sex ed and honest, candid discussions), and we need a nutrition and exercise course. We need to separate “English” into reading/literature and writing/grammar and mechanics. And we need to completely change the way we try to cram “history” (read: boring, unending list of dates) down students’ throats. (Yes, I have a few ideas for how to go about doing this, but I won’t bore you with them at the moment…)

    Yes, we need to teach feminism in schools. But we also need to make it something natural, just part of the regular day, instead of “Today, kids, we will be learning about feminism, because it’s National Women’s History Month” and then forget about it the rest of the year. (BTW, same goes for all minority groups who have a “month” named after them.)

    It’ll be a challenge, but I know we’re up for it!

  8. It’s interesting that I went to a women’s college and we were not required to take ANY women’s studies/women’s issues classes. I think it should be part of a core curriculum. I did take an African-American History class and the history majors asked why I was there. Why? I shouldn’t even have had to answer that. By being at a women’s college I would have thought that I would get a broad-based education but there were still classes devoted solely to Women Writers (I was an English and Political Science major). In general I think my teachers in high school did a fair job with my studies and college was very good (there was variety and mention about women) but I still found I had to do my own research and projects on women’s issues.

  9. Pingback: I wish my high school had offered a women’s studies course « Emily Heroy

  10. Pingback: Carnival of Feminists | Small Strokes

  11. Pingback: Weekend Link Love « The Feminist Texican

  12. Your site is very nice. I’m really impressed and expecting the best for your next article. Hopefully we’ll get it soon. Really appreciate this post in particular. It’s hard to separate the very good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve pushed the right key! Is it possible to write a guest posts? I would like to write a few of my articles here.

Leave a Reply