Welcome to Teaching Feminism, a series about equality in the classroom. Teaching feminism is about so much more than teaching girls. We need to teach all of our students to respect everyone, no matter what. Teaching feminism talks about just that. Have your own story about these issues? Share it here.
Feminism isn’t just for women. While feminism is an important tool in the classroom to empower young women and to teach about equality and oppression throughout history, men can benefit from feminism, too. In fact, it can be argued that men need to be exposed to feminism even more than women. By raising a generation of men who treat women like equals, we can make huge strides toward making street harassment, sexual assault and discrimination a thing of the past. How do you engage male students when you teach about feminism? Here are five ideas to use whether you are a teacher or a parent, teaching in the classroom or at home.
1. Connect students to the themes.
Teenagers especially, but all students in general, really respond to the themes of “justice” and “fairness.” When something is unfair, students want to jump in and make it right, or at least share in the unfairness of the topic in question. When you start by bringing up the concept of fairness and justice, asking students questions about how they might react in certain situations, and then connect these themes to feminism, male students are more likely to get involved. Unfairness and justice affect everyone, regardless of their gender.
2. Create a safe space for opinions.
The most important thing when talking about any issue is to create a safe space in your classroom for opinions. If students feel they will be shot down for expressing their opinions, they won’t speak up. This can breed resentment and hostility — two things you definitely don’t want when you’re discussing women’s rights. You don’t want your students to think that you hate them because you are a feminist; you want them to be able to express their thoughts without fear of ridicule. At the start of every year, I always tell my students that I’m there to play devil’s advocate, no matter what their opinions are. This helps them realize that I’m not out to get them. I just want them to think about things differently.
3. Allow for debates in the classroom.
Shouting and yelling across the room are not usually productive ways to use class time, but sometimes students need to flesh out opinions and ideas in the form of a debate. Structured debates are great for this. When you allow students to express their opinions, and argue about those opinions, you’re not only helping students think in different ways, but you are also giving them room to express their feelings. If some students don’t feel feminism is important, for example, let them talk with other students who do. Just giving them the space to do this can be helpful and engaging.
4. Show them where feminism intersects with other movements.
Almost everyone has been oppressed for some reason or another. If you can show male students how feminism intersects with other issues like race, sexuality or disability, you can help them realize that we must stand up for ourselves when we are being oppressed. You can even bring feminism into a discussion on bullying — something, unfortunately, almost every student has experienced at one time or another. Helping students see that feminism isn’t only about women can help engage students who don’t think it applies to them.
5. Show them how feminism is useful in real life.
This is good advice for teaching anything, but particularly with feminism, it’s helpful for students to see why it matters to them in real life. Bring in newspaper clippings or articles from the web to show them how sexism is still rampant in society. This fall, it would even be great to talk about the sexist coverage of the Olympics and how we view women’s sports. When students see that these issue are real, and not just something to be tested on, they are more likely to take an interest in them.
Photo Credit: JacobEnos