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Teaching Feminism: Is “Girl Power” a Good Thing?

Teaching Feminism: Is “Girl Power” a Good Thing?


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.

“Miss,” one of my students approached me after class. “You’re a feminist, right?”

“Yes,” I replied cautiously, wondering where this conversation is going to go. It was, after all, the beginning of the school year and I didn’t know these students very well yet.

“OK, so I have a question for you. Why do you think women are better than men?”

I stopped in my tracks a little bit. Is this what my students thought being a feminist means? If so, it’s no wonder so many of them reject the term. I explained to the student that I do not, in fact, believe that women are better than men. What I believe is that women have been told that they are lesser people than men for a very long time and that, as a feminist, I, along with many other women, believed in evening out the playing field and allowing women the same opportunities as men.

Seemingly satisfied with that answer, or perhaps late for another class, my student nodded and shuffled out of the room. This got me thinking, though, about why this particular student — and probably more who hadn’t bothered to approach me about it — believed that feminists think women are better than men.

I suppose it’s no surprise that many people have this attitude towards feminists. We do, after all, spend a great deal of time championing women. In order to combat decades of magazines showing only the skinniest, photoshopped images of models, we teach young women that their bodies are something to be celebrated rather than ashamed of. In order to combat decades of women being erased from history books and from school curricula, we give young women a plethora of examples of famous women who have accomplished great feats. In order to combat decades of women being told that they are not as good as men, we tell young women that they can do anything they put their minds to. Girl power!

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Lisa Belkin wonders whether or not we are doing our girls a disservice by championing their gender so much. She writes:

How to reconcile these two contradictory goals? To teach our girls that females are awesome and also teach them that their gender is not the whole of who they are? To simultaneously celebrate being a girl and move past the point where it makes a whit of difference what sex you are?

These are great questions, and ones every parent and teacher, feminist or not, should ask themselves. How do we teach young women that they are not to be defined by their gender while still empowering them?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this dilemma. Until women are treated the same as men — until they receive equal pay for equal work, until they can walk home at night without fear of street harassment or worse, until they are not force-fed narratives about what they should want out of life — it seems we will continue to have to champion girls as a gender. Even though the ideal world would mean that it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, the fact is that it does matter, and we have to work within those parameters.

While I do not believe that girls are better than boys, I do want my students to be treated equally, both in and out of my classroom. I strive for equality, and that is what makes me a feminist. As such, I will continue to encourage the young women and men in my classes equally based on their unique skills and interests. Hopefully, I can also teach my students that this is what feminism is really about.

Related Stories:

Hunting for Girl Power?

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Dispatches from the War on Women: Girl Scouts Really a Feminist Army in Training

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Photo Credit: campanatrán

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4:46PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

Thanks for the article.

7:08AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

Martha ,
thats a good definition. i'm not sure why we men often feel so threatened by women.
Its like children sitting around the table,the bigger ones being resentful when others get the same portions they received. "I'm bigger i need more."
It seems we're all tempted towards a sense that life is cheating us, and someone is getting more pie,no what position in life we are in.. So when equal portions are doled out, there are some smiles and of course frowns from those who were used to getting bigger slices.

9:40PM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

Well-explained. Feminism simply means standing up for the sex that has barriers against it. Hypothetically, once the playing field is leveled, there won't be as much of a need to emphasize one's sex, but for now, girls must be encouraged to be proud of being female, and little boys must be taught equality. (really, I don't ever see sexism going away -- or it will be in a thousand years -- power never gives it up freely)

8:06PM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

Emma, "feminism" stands for "equality" the same way that "policeman" stands for "policewoman." And, who was it who declared the importance of removing sexist words from our language? Feminists. I'm not sure whether I'm struck more by the irony or the hypocrisy.

3:51AM PDT on Aug 9, 2012


That's me growling at the fact that we're still here. Feminism. It's a word. It stands for equality: the idea shines through despite all the shite that's been flung at it over the years by gynophobes like the cloddish Steve I and Gar M. (Most poorly-paid and 'scummy' jobs are performed by women, as the pair of you will see once you've evolved to then point of standing upright and looking around you.)

3:20AM PDT on Aug 9, 2012

Steve l, you are the reason why feminism remains extremely unnecessary.
The battlefield: first off, I have no interest whatsoever in defending a corporate-run state, where my blood would be shed to protect the interests of male-run oil corporations. However, at this time women are, ironically, NOT ALLOWED to serve on front lines. Who makes these decisions? Why, people like you, Steve -- men! Because, you know, women are, like, too emotional to, you know, serve on front lines. More ominous, however, is the fact that an extremely high percentage of women who do choose to serve in the US military are raped and their rapists are never brought to justice.

Getting paid for same work means getting paid the same. This is still not happening, Steve. Many women would gladly work a variety of jobs if we got the same pay that men get for the same work. In Michigan, it is LEGAL to pay women less money than men for doing the exact same work. But tell this to the millions of single moms, whose boyfriends or husbands can't handle the responsibility of being dads and leave them to fend for themselves. Women are expected to keep house -- not an easy task; raise the kids -- a much much harder task; work outside the home for less money than our male counterparts; and be sexy and show that cleavage.

It's guys like you, Steve, who want women at home barefoot and pregnant, unable to work and, therefore, unable to make our own way so we have to be continually dependent on you for our lives a

3:08AM PDT on Aug 9, 2012

The word has a negative connotation because, OMG, women standing up for our rights? How dare we? The world is far from equal at this point - men still run it. And women who want part of that power (I personally think competition is worse than cooperation, but that's not how the world turns right now -- and I think that's something that needs to change) -- we are expected to behave like men. Look at Hollywood, look at Congress, look at the CEOs who need bailing out. It is soooo extremely male-dominated. We are expected to conform to what male society doles out, and therefore, feminism is still needed. It's only a negative word if you don't believe in equality and change.

12:52PM PDT on Aug 6, 2012


8:45AM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

Unfortunately, the word "Feminist" seems to have a negative connotation these days.

2:16PM PDT on Aug 5, 2012

It seems to me if you believe that women are people and not property; that women should be able to vote, think, and be equals as human beings; that women have just as much to offer the world as men, then you are, by default, a feminist.

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