Friday, February 12, 2016

Year 6: Week 22 – Feminism In The Classroom

My special education professor at college opened his first lecture explaining that the entire class would be taught from a feminist perspective. My initial reaction was “what does special education have to do with feminism?” As the professor unpacked what feminist philosophy was and the history of the movement, I became to understand that I was in fact a feminist. Throughout this class, that professor made a persuasive argument that viewing education through a feminist viewpoint was essential.

Feminism became a bad word in the 1990s. People like Rush Limbaugh characterized people invested in woman’s rights as “feminazis,” a horrible and sexist term which was an expression of male insecurity. We are still reeling from this as people in my generation who embody feminist ideas often do not want to embrace this label.

I am proud to be a feminist. The more time I’m married, the more students I teach and longer that I’m a father, the stronger I feel about the necessity of bringing feminism into the classroom. That’s one of the main reasons, I sat down all of the 8th graders at my school during music class and made them watch Shut Up & Sing, a documentary about the The Dixie Chicks.


(I talk about this film in more detail in this blog post.)

In this film, my students saw a group of woman, The Dixie Chicks, deal with public criticism, watch their careers fall apart, struggle to reinvent themselves as artists, while having babies, and balancing family life. This film showed a depth of in the female experience that is rarely seen on film, and almost never seen by eighth graders.

This film has a clear story but there’s a lot of subtlety. The conversations about being a stay at home dad, and how they balance having kids with their careers are not issues eighth graders completely understand but exposing them to these conversations helps broaden the way they think about themselves and the people around them.

In year’s past I’ve had them watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer to give them different ideas of female roles in media and while The Dixie Chicks film was not as immediately engaging, it served a similar role.  Through the Dixie Chicks, my students saw women who spoke their mind, women who weren't afraid to swear, who loved their families, and fought against sexism and ignorance without "acting like men."

We have a lot of work to do.  People in our society are actively working to limit the choices and freedom that woman have in our country.  Woman are still socialized by many to be passive.  Double standards in gender are pervasive in everything from fashion to sexuality.  Unfortunately the progress that we have made, blind many people to the necessary work we have ahead of us.

We can't let sexist jokes go, we can't allow girls to make self-deprecating comments about their intelligence and we have to actively work to make sure that woman's voices have an equal if not more prominent place in our classrooms.

Towards the end of the film, there is this tearful and amazing scene:

On one side of the room, I saw a group of boys looking bored and tortured.  I thought, "well, they don't need to enjoy watching this but it's good for them anyways."  And then I saw one a group of girls sitting a couple rows ahead up leaning forward sitting at the edge of their seat.  One girl in particular had an expression of empathy and care, like a older sister watching her younger sibling struggle through a sickness.

Progress, one student at a time.

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