Intersectionality Snowday: A Feminist Teacher Revolution!

February 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

Two years ago when Miranda and I started a feminism club at our liberal high school in Chelsea, we had chosen a faculty advisor, our global history teacher who openly incorporated feminism into the curriculum. Then, we walked into our English class and our teacher came up and asked us if she could be our advisor too! We celebrated the beauty of two awesome feminists, one who teaches of a patriarchal world with a critical eye and the other who teaches loquacious poetry written by unheard women. It is true that both teachers were in the humanities and it would be awesome to find some feminist science teachers to round out our school, but the point is that we had educators vying to teach feminism and we know that’s a rarity.

Too often, academic feminism is restricted to the college classroom. In Girldrive, Nona Willis Aronowitz articulates her well-deserved skepticism,

We realize its power, but we’ve also noticed how academic feminism alienates young women from concepts they would otherwise be down with…. All we want is conversation and if academic feminism really has become so removed from personal experience that it’s caused emotional paralysis, then we are determined to change that.

Here’s the thing: academic feminism can get so wrapped up in theories and generalizations that it gets disconnected from reality. That reality is that women and men experience sexism conditionally, based on all the intersections of their lives – their personal lives. The academic must be personal in order get young women and young men down with concepts they can relate to. And for the academic to be personal, intersectionality must be acknowledged, celebrated, and taught in the mainstream. And that’s especially hard when there’s such a clear socioeconomic gap between women’s studies curricula at various universities.

Next year, I plan to attend super-liberal and well-to-do Wesleyan University. Currently, Wesleyan offers 19 women’s studies courses and offers a major in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. And they better offer this many courses, seeing as Wesleyan costs $54,000 a year. I was also considering SUNY Geneseo, a public small liberal arts college with roughly the same number of students as Wesleyan, though it costs $48,000 less. SUNY Geneseo currently offers only three women’s studies courses. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between the escalating tuition of higher education and the number of women’s studies classes offered.

This is a problem. A dramatic disparity between the number of women’s studies courses offered at private versus public institutions means that only a certain part of the population is being educated on feminism. And let’s face it – those who go Wesleyan are already pretty knowledgeable on feminism whereas those who attend public universities come from a much wider range of backgrounds and need this education the most. Sure, it’s easy to celebrate intersectionality at a university that is known for being politically correct, but what about in a university that actually has a ton of students from backgrounds that provide the means for intersectional discussions? Shouldn’t that university offer courses devoted to such conversation?

I propose a solution. Academic feminism, as confined to the campus bubble, is nice and safe. It’s hard to pinpoint patriarchy as it affects us on a personal level when we sit in a classroom with around twenty women and one man in a college that is made up of mostly women in a town so crummy that quads have become the most immediate society we interact with. Of course Nona’s critique of the removal of academic feminism from personal experience occurs. There is little personal experience to draw from in such a setting. That is why feminism must be taught before the university bubble is blown, way before it is to be popped a few years down the road, academic feminism potentially leaving its students defenseless in the real world of personal experience.

Feminism must be taught in K-12 classrooms. And not just in yuppie high schools in Chelsea. Feminism must be taught in inner-city schools where students have personal experiences with domestic violence and rape. Feminism must be taught in Catholic schools where girls are taught to be chaste and purity rings are celebrated. Feminism must be taught in Jewish Day Schools where the religious classes are taught almost exclusively in a male lexicon. Feminism must be taught in all schools where, to quote the blog Equality 101, “history courses continue to obliterate women who have made marks on society and culture.”

To teach feminism in the classroom not only gets more students to identify as feminists, but it broadens the spectrum of whom a feminist is. When a feminist can be a kindergarten student who is genuinely pissed off that her arithmetic talents aren’t being as valued as that of her male peers, we are making progress. In the K-12 classroom, the academic is inherently personal. Us high school students deal with sexism daily – at home, work, school, extra-curriculars, the books we read, with friends…just fill in the blank. We need a feminist teacher revolution to incorporate equality into the curriculum. Why is this basic concept, one that promotes inclusion of personal experience, so revolutionary when it comes to the classroom, the youth that represent our future?

§ 2 Responses to Intersectionality Snowday: A Feminist Teacher Revolution!

  • Sarah Reiley says:

    It shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, and, depending on how it is framed, most people agree that it isn’t. The problem, I think, is in semantics. Too many people think “Feminism” is a bad word. As soon as someone is “accused” of teaching the f-word, there is pressure to conform to a more traditional, cannonized version of the discipline, whatever it may be. So, the focus then should be on teaching EQUALITY. Few people in 2010 America would openly argue against equality (see Frank Rich’s great column “Smoking Out the Bigots” – or something like that – for a similar argument in relationship to gay rights). A person can be an active feminist and live, breath, teach and learn equality without necessarily identifying as a feminist. Though ideally we would already live in a world where the f-word was not a bad one, equality is still progress. And until the ideological war of words is over, Feminism – the word, not the idea – will remain a tough sell in much of America. But that is just semantics.

  • [...] Glib: Intersectionality Snowday: A Feminist Teacher Revolution! Here’s the thing: academic feminism can get so wrapped up in theories and generalizations that it [...]

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