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.
As it says above, teaching feminism is about more than teaching girls, and it’s about more than teaching about women’s rights. The feminist movement intersects with all sorts of movements for two main reasons. First, when we teach about feminism and women’s rights, we’re teaching about oppression in general, and so we can also talk about the fight for civil rights, LGBTQ issues, animal rights, disabilities, etc.
Second, women are many things besides just women and, as such, issues such as those listed here — and many more — intersect with feminism. Therefore, when we talk about teaching feminism, it’s really about teaching tolerance and equality. In my classroom, anyway, we talk about all of these issues, especially when my students tell me something is “gay” or “retarded.”
When my students walk in to class, the very first thing they see on the wall is a big poster (pictured above) with green and black lettering detailing all of the words they could say instead of “gay.” The first time one of my students says, “Miss, this is gay,” I direct them to the poster and have them choose a word to substitute. Sometimes, I’ll go a bit further and tell them that this assignment doesn’t like assignments of the same gender, so it is not, in fact, gay and they should therefore pick a word that means what they are trying to say. The students always get a good laugh out of that, but my point is made: don’t use the word “gay” to mean something undesirable. Doing so only hurts people around you and makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
I follow the same rules with the word “retarded.” Recently, my students and I have also had quite a few conversations about not using the term “illegal immigrant,” as well. The message here is important: what you say matters. When you use words like “gay,” “retarded,” or “illegal” when you are talking about something undesirable to you, think about what that means to someone who is gay, mentally retarded, or undocumented. Often, these students are the ones who sit silently by, feeling beaten down by the way students use these words so callously, not even giving a second thought as to what they really mean or who they are hurting.
It is important, though, that we go about these lessons in the right way. Every year, one of my students will bring up the fact that a writer is gay. Another student will inevitably call out, “You can’t say that word!” Each time this happens, I make a point to tell my students that they can say these words when they are using them properly: in discussions of sexuality, disability, or when talking about an illegal activity such as stealing. They need to understand that it’s not the word itself that is offensive; it’s how the word is used.
Photo Credit: Ashley Lauren