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?

Intersectionality Saturdays: Why, oh why must high school students be deprived of life-changing literature?

January 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here’s why (although the reasoning is truly flawed):

Only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, only two days after President Obama spoke of Auschwitz before the SOTU, the South strikes again. With what? This time, a Virginia school system has banned the latest version of The Diary of Anne Frank – a young girl’s account of Nazi Germany up to her death – from being taught. And their reasoning just really tops this all of: homosexuality and sexually explicit content.

According to WaPo:

The diary documents the daily life of a Jewish girl in Amsterdam during World War II. Frank started writing on her 13th birthday, shortly before her family went into hiding in an annex of an office building. The version of the diary in question includes passages previously excluded from the widely read original edition, first published in Dutch in 1947. That book was arranged by her father, the only survivor in her immediate family. Some of the extra passages detail her emerging sexual desires; others include unflattering descriptions of her mother and other people living together.

Anne Frank was a young girl with a tragic life, a life that she documented. I do not know if Anne Frank intended to write for a worldwide audience. I do not know if she even wanted her writing shared. I also do not know if Anne Frank thought that she, along with 11 million others, would die before their time. At least the life of Anne Frank lived on through her written words.

Emerging sexual desires are actually normal for a teenage girl to experience. This was perhaps the one normalcy Anne Frank experienced during her time in hiding. And treating them as inappropriate furthers a taboo on discussing sex, especially in the schools, where students are beginning to have sex or have unanswered questions concerning it. As for “homosexual content,” how dare a school ban a book on that premise? How dare a school make sure that the only books students read are heteronormative? How dare a school do such a thing when there are bound to be homosexual students around who are wondering why a book which only hints at sexuality would be regarded as taboo? This is blatant homophobia and license for it to continue within a legislated school system.

This young girl has changed the hearts and thoughts of millions who have read her, many of whom have been assigned her diary as school assignments. The Diary of Anne Frank is tragic and accessible and it is not meant to be cut short because her life was cut short enough.

This is cross-posted from from the rib?.

Intersectionality Saturdays: Choice in a Cultural Context

January 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

It’s been a really long while since I’ve posted on here, but I’m back for a weekly cross-post between Women’s Glib and my new blog on Jewish feminism, from the rib?. This column will focus on intersectionality – the connection of oppressions and liberation movements – and how it affects my life. Here’s edition #1:

Yesterday, I was talking to a girl in my Biology class who just returned from a semester abroad in Israel. She asked me the broadest yet incredibly popular question: “What do you think of Israel?” After living in various parts of Israel for five weeks this summer, I left more confused than when I arrived. When I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, I was ignorant. I left realizing just how many diverse and seemingly unrelated topics there are to be ignorant about. Because of that ignorance, I like to gently lead people away from pre-supposed political answers and into topics I feel comfortable forming opinions about. These usually concern sexism and feminism.

Academically and socially, I feel authorized to speak on sexism and feminism. At times, I feel like I live and breathe books, blogs, and performances of feminist work. I am also a woman and recognize the exploitation of my own gender in the media, as well as what “society” (the largest abstraction of all) expects of me. Culturally, however, I feel like a feminist without a cause. Growing up as a white member of the middle class in liberal New York City with a mother whose income is greater than my father’s, the education of my choosing, and occasionally attending egalitarian synagogues, I am privileged and, on a superficial level, I have nothing in my own life to fight for.

So back to the conversation that got all these thoughts whirling. I redirected it to the treatment of women in ultra-Orthodox Israeli societies. While I was supposed to be researching viral causes of cancer cells, I spoke of the horrible treatment of women in education, in synagogue, and in the home. The girl in my Biology class responded that she does not see suffering amongst women in the ultra-Orthodox communities she has visited. Their roles are what they have been brought up with and it is what they want to continue with because they have never known anything else. It is their lifestyle.

My immediate response was that it is because they have not been shown an alternative. These women do not know they are oppressed because they have never experienced having equal opportunities. And then my Bio buddy threw at me one of the most provocative questions I could be asked: “How do you know your way is better?”

How do I know my way is better? I believe I know what equality is. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be a feminist and fight not only for my rights but for the rights of us all that are so interconnected. My way is what I have grown up with and has stemmed from the privilege I was raised with and the beliefs I have had the freedom to foster. I believe in choice and I believe that all women should be able to choose their own way in life, be it sexist or feminist through a traveler’s eyes. If a woman is happy and fulfilled singing lightly in the background of a synagogue or receiving an education different from her husband’s or forgoing occupational opportunities and chooses to do so, that is not sexist. She has chosen it for herself.

What does choice mean in a cultural context? Where is the line drawn between advocacy and – I’m going to make up a word here because we are speaking in a feminine lexicon at the moment – maternalism? How can we enforce a right to choose in communities where women do not know what choice is? And who on earth am I to say they do not know what choice is?

My Weighty Story: An Appeal to Feminist Thought

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

Two years ago, I lost weight. Growing up, I was made to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Left to the devices of a television that made me feel inadequate, magazines that made me feel I was in need of a makeover, a doctor that criticized the numbers on a scale, verbal abuse from my peers, and a me who did not understand the meaning of size acceptance, I became obsessed with my appearance. Inevitably, I dieted.

At the time, I had not begun my love affair with feminism, let alone that with fat acceptance (I still bring up the latter during family dinners just to have the opportunity to educate the confused faces around the table). Before my discovery of the ability to let my body be what it wanted to be, I began to physically shrink. Almost everyone commented. When I changed my Facebook photo, people who I barely knew began to commend me on what they thought were improvements.  I thought that if I “got thin” people would stop commenting on my weight, but no, the awkward dotes about my body just kept on coming.

It is considered far too acceptable to comment on women’s weight. Worse off, it is considered far too acceptable to commend thinness and criticize fatness. Although I never verbally criticized other women’s bodies the way I was conditioned to, I internally criticized my own. I am ashamed to say that when I dropped a few sizes and compliments abounded, I said “thank you.”

I no longer believe in dieting as healthy (neither physically nor mentally). I, diet-free, have a new system of beliefs: feminism and acceptance, the two joyously frolicking hand-in-hand. I believe in the power of my mind and body to take up space. It does not matter to me how much space I take up. Simply that I make an imprint on the face of equality is good enough for me. It does not matter if I’m a size 4 or a size 14. With feminism and acceptance, the imprint is still the same.

For some esoteric reason, people still comment on my weight. I do not blame them; they were taught to idealize one type of body and I provide a before, after, and yo-yoing picture for them. For similar societal pressures as why I lost weight, they comment on it. The difference between this year and last year is that this year, I do not say “thank you.”

Through feminism, I have become a size activist, reading the prose of other women speaking out against body discrimination and co-leading discussions on body ideals at my school’s feminism club. With the breadth of knowledge that I have gained from awareness and acceptance, I do not say “thank you,” but that alone unfortunately does not keep my friend’s mother from calling me “the incredible shrinking person” or my second-cousin-once-removed telling me I “look so much better after losing the weight.” Because I no longer deem these innocently demoralizing remarks worthy of my gratitude, I am left stuttering or awkwardly silent during the pause in which I’m expected to say “thank you.”

So what do I, a feminist size activist, do now? The comments keep coming, my body’s not changing, and the awkwardness pervades because I will not express my gratitude for recognition of conformity. How can I tell these people that my weight is not to be commented on (positively or negatively) when they are so innocently trying to compliment me? How do I spread this rant of size acceptance to people who just expect a “thank you” out of my loud mouth?

Rhyming Revenge

May 17, 2009 § 1 Comment

The third installment in this weekend series is dedicated to speaking out against those who place a woman’s body weight over her moral weight. Too many women don’t accept their bodies as they are — fat, thin, medium, small, large, changing, stagnant, and everything in between. Idealistically, we say that everyone should accept their body, but with society dictating (quite specifically, actually) what women should weigh, it becomes pretty difficult to accept ourselves when we’re not accepted by anyone else. Enough of my non-rhythmic rant (you’ll see much more of it in posts to come). Here’s this week’s rhyme:

According to a train of thought,

all that is valuable about a person is for naught

if their waist

does not meet the narrow taste

of a status quo

where women are purely for show

and those who take up space

are discriminated, abased.

Past selves are trampled on

when superficial judges fawn

over a body changed;

their logic is rudely deranged

because to be thin does not mean someone wins

the prize of fitting right in

with everyone else

who is not themselves

for who is society to say

what anyone’s body should weigh?

We are people whose minds breathe

and hearts grieve

for how can we accept our bodies as our own

if we are told our space cannot be shown? 

Rhyming Revenge

May 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

For my second piece in this new weekend series, I am rhyming revenge for all the mothers of feminism/feminist mothers out there who too often go unappreciated. In honor of Mother’s Day, I hope you enjoy my second totally stream-of-consciousness positioning of words:

You may say she does not deserve a say

even when she works without reputed pay

though without our mothers

we would see it as a bother

to care about the world

or watch human kindness unfurl

in an overwhelming whirl

of adolescent screeches

and guilt-giving speeches.

I know this is the case

for I have given this example a face,

but I am writing revenge on myself now

to reveal the communal ways how

we can protect the reputation

of a vociferous generation

and encourage open communication,

leading to progressive appreciation

Together we can trace

the sexism we want erased

and move past ageism

to fight a thousand other -isms.

We must pay up

and let our mothers drink from the prideful cup

of equality and choice;

they birthed us a voice.

Rhyming Revenge

May 1, 2009 § 2 Comments

By some very cool and strange coincidence, it seems to be spoken word weekend here at Women’s Glib. I just got back from the Urban Word NYC Poetry Slam at Cooper Union where I saw Zora from Bi-Racial Hair perform, as well as other dizzyingly talented artists.

I left the slam inspired by the last line of the second brawl: “Femininity does not equal negativity.” On the train home, I used that line as an opener to write my own thoughts into rhyme. Miranda and I must have been sharing a brain today because when I got home to finally post about my bad-ass inspiration, I found the spoken words illuminated on the surface of feminist action.

And so begins this weekend series, Rhyming Revenge. This is my first post, but every weekend, watch out for some feminist-configured words to combat the sexism we face daily. This first Rhyming Revenge is dedicated to anti-feminist lawmakers who believe women are not capable of making their own choices.

And so the rhymes begin…

Can we realize femininity does not equal negativity

when we grasp the power 

which is rightfully ours

from selected white men in black suits

who carry a void without truth

in soulless laws which embody the flaws

of patriarchal bile from which we defile

and run amock because we need not a cock

to know use of our tongues and heart of our minds

to claim our bodies for ourselves;

we find they heed possession of no one else

yet our beliefs are not felt 

without slaps on the wrist or a metaphorical fist?

We are put in our place and perpetually abased,

yet we have the same skin and are not considered equal kin

due to fragility of our hearts,

going unrecognized for other parts;

we have fists 

that can slap these laws on their wrists,

our choices no longer yonder:

hear our voices thunder!

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