Ask a Feminist: Guest Speaking on Feminism in a High School Classroom

Apparently, I am the resident expert in feminism in my school.  This doesn’t necessarily surprise me, though I do think many of the young teachers here fall somewhere on the feminist spectrum.  However, as the one who A) wrote her master’s thesis on feminist blogging, B) didn’t change her name after marriage, and C) is a feminist blogger, I apparently go above and beyond as far as being a feminist.  So when one of my friends asked me to speak to her Rhetoric class about being a feminist after they read The Awakening and several essays on feminism, I jumped at the opportunity.

I was honestly a little nervous!  While I do teach with a feminist lens, I tend to follow the old-school mentality that teachers shouldn’t push their political or religious beliefs on students, so I rarely discuss my personal feminism with my own students unless they ask.  These were students in my school that I may see again in the hallways, and one was even a student that I had last year in class, so I had to have a sense of my audience.

My friend, the teacher of the class, had the students write questions to ask me before I got there, so they would have a jumping-off point.  We sat in a circle and they asked me their questions and I did my best to respond.  At first, they seemed overly concerned with my relationships and kept asking me questions about how feminism has affected my relationships.  It wasn’t until I told them that I am married and joked that not all feminists are man-hating lesbians that the ice seemed to break and we were able to talk about some really interesting things.  What follows is a smattering of the more interesting questions I was asked and my answers.

1. “How has feminism affected your life?”

I think it’s made my life better.  I am empowered to make my own decisions and choices about how I want my life to be, and I may not have had that if I didn’t become so involved in a community of feminists.  I also feel more likely to demand things from people that I may not have demanded without the support and encouragement of like-minded people.  If I see an injustice here at work, for example, or with my friends, I’m more likely to call someone out on it because the feminists around me have encouraged that and supported me so much.

2. “If or when (the student actually said “if or when” – so wonderful!) you have children, will you try to shelter them from traditional gender roles?”

I would see my job as a parent as similar to my job as a teacher.  It’s my job to give my students the tools to be successful and accept themselves and love themselves, and it’s my job to help my students define their own successes.  It is not my job to tell students what is and isn’t success or what they should and shouldn’t do.  Same thing with my future children.  I don’t think you can really avoid having your kids know about gender roles, though, but I do think you can’t pressure your kids to act a certain way.  I certainly would never tell my son he couldn’t play with dolls or tell my daughter she had to play house.  It’s about giving options and letting them choose.

3. “Do you see blatant sexism in the media?  Not advertisements, but other media.”

Um, yea.  For example, this new law the Republicans are trying to pass making rape that isn’t “forcible” not really rape?  That’s pretty blatant sexism in the media.  But then on top of that is that football player, Roethlisberger, who was accused of raping a woman and played in the Super Bowl, which people were pretty upset about.  The announcers that day thought it would be “cute” or “funny” or something to make a joke about it by saying something to the extent of “He’s really raping those guys on that field.”  I didn’t hear the actual comment because I wasn’t really watchign it, but I read about it.  And that just isn’t cool.  That’s pretty blatant sexism.

4. “How do you not lose your mind with anger at all the sexism that is out there?  For example, I saw a billboard with a woman with a diamond in her mouth and the caption said, ‘Diamonds: That’s one way to shut her up’ and I just got so angry and my family just told me to calm down!”

Well, it helps that I have an outlet.  I have my husband to talk to, and my mom, and friends, and I have the blog.  I can spew anger on the blog and that helps, especially when my like-minded readers are supportive of that anger.  And you do have to step back and ask yourself how to make good out of a situation like that.  Maybe you analyze it on a blog and someone reads it and learns from it.  Maybe you start a letter-writing campaign or something.  But you do have to see a solution through the anger.  And picking your battles is good, too.

5. “What’s the point of fighting for women’s rights if women are just going to turn around and join society again anyway?”

It all goes back to choice.  Everyone has their own personal definition of feminism, but mine always goes back to choice.  If you want to work outside the home and not change your last name and all that, that’s your choice.  If you want to stay at home with the kids and cook and clean, that’s your choice, too.  Just like it is a choice for a man.  My duty, as a feminist, is to fight for your right to make choices, not to tell you what choices to make.  My thing is that no one should tell you what you should and shouldn’t do.  That’s having equal rights.

6. “Do you think it’s harder for female comedians to be perceived as funny in our society?”

Sub comment from another student: “I don’t care if they’re a man or woman.  If they’re funny, they’re funny.”

Yea, I do think it’s harder, and I have a lot of sources to back that up.  And you might sit there and say that you don’t care about gender and you just want to laugh or whatever, but think about this: What you see on TV has already been filtered by agents, people holding auditions, networks, etc.  It’s not about you caring about their gender.  It’s about what people decide to put on the air, and how they decide that is based on gender.  Tell me the last time you saw a female comedian on Comedy Central.  And for every female, how many male comedians are on the station?  You see a lot more men because it’s already filtered by sexist people.

7. “What are some great feminist role models right now?”

Oh, there are so many.  Jessica Valenti jumps to my mind.  She founded and wrote several books on feminism.  And books are a really good place to start, but keep in mind that this is the same thing with the comedians.  What is printed in books is filtered through publishers, editors, etc. and made marketable.  There are publishers out there who might say, “This is a great idea for a book, but don’t focus on women so much.”  That becomes a filter.  So what you read may have been looked over and changed in order to make money, or make it marketable.  I’d say the best place to look for feminist role models are the blogs.  When you own your own website, you can publish whatever you want, and a lot of the information out there on sites is good stuff that didn’t make it past the book-filters.

All in all, this was a wonderful experience.  It was such a treat to talk with such engaged, intelligent young people and share some ideas and conversations with them.  It gives me hope for the future!

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