How do you teach feminism if you are not a feminist?
The question was originally asked of me by Laura, and I didn’t immediately have a comprehensive answer, but I think it is a vitally important question for teachers. Many, many people do not identify as feminists for various reasons, or just do not think about feminism on a daily basis, and it is important to recognize that when talking about what should and should not be taught in schools. Of course we, as feminists, thing about feminism every day and agree with the fact that it should be taught in school, but if a teacher does not believe something is important, and it is not explicitly written in the curriculum, it can very often fall through the cracks or be replaced by something else the teacher deems important enough to teach.
If someone decides not to teach feminism, this does not make him/her a bad teacher or a bad person. Perhaps they feel they don’t know enough about feminism to do it justice and, therefore, leave it alone. Perhaps they, unlike us, don’t think about feminism every day and, therefore, just haven’t thought about teaching it before. Perhaps they didn’t have time to teach feminism because they were busy teaching about another historically marginalized group. I highly doubt, in this day and age, with such progressive teachers in the classroom, that many teachers don’t teach feminism because they are anti-feminist.
Although I absolutely agree that the concept and historical aspect of feminism is important for our youth to understand, I don’t know that it is necessary to explicitly teach feminism in order for the same effect to happen. As L alluded to in her guest post, simply rearranging the classroom or, as Laura herself mentioned in her guest post, allowing girls to have as much as a say as boys can help girls feel empowered, which is as much a part of feminism as anything else. As Sophia suggested in her guest post, teaching the literature and history of women is also integral. And you don’t have to be a feminist or even talk about feminism to do any of these things.
Also, I would hope that any good teacher would do what is best for his/her students, which means confronting bullying and harassment within a school setting and alleviating any threat of both – stopping a boy from pushing his girlfriend around in the hallway, stopping someone from making unwanted advances, stopping a boy from whistling at a girl in class, etc. This may not be explicitly teaching feminism, but it does help boys and girls understand what their actions mean, and what the implications of their actions are.
The bottom line in teaching is that you have to do what is best for the students. This means empowering young women in the classroom. Giving girls a sense of ownership over their education helps them as well as the male students understand the basic concepts of feminism and implement them in their every day lives. That is, after all, what we want, right?