On her 80th Birthday: Reflections on Meeting Gloria Steinem in India

Gloria Steinem spoke at the India International Center in January to launch her book tour (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez, Feminist Teacher).

Gloria Steinem spoke in January at the India International Centre in Delhi to launch her book tour for “As if Women Matter.” (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez, Feminist Teacher).

At the start of 2014, I led a seven-week tour of schools in India speaking to high school students about feminism and education.

Little did I know that one of my favorite feminists and fellow Smith alums, Gloria Steinem, would also be conducting an Indian tour of her own.

One morning in Delhi, I opened an email from Smith trustee, Mona Sinha. She urged me to go hear Steinem at the nearby India International Centre, where she was going to speak about her new book, As if Women Matter, alongside her longtime friend and fellow activist, Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap, which supports survivors of sex trafficking, and who had also edited Steinem’s new book.

I immediately made my reservation. I wanted a chance to speak to her in the very country that had changed her life forever.

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Exclusive: First GSA in India Speaks to Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez

Students from Breaking Barriers, India's first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

Students from Breaking Barriers, India’s first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools marching in the Delhi Pride Parade in November 2013 (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

“I’m trying to build a culture of compassion, understanding, and of service. I’m trying to build a culture of questioning the status quo.”

Inspiring words by Shivanee Sen, a young teacher I recently met at the Tagore International School in Delhi, where Sen is mentoring the first student-led campaign in India to address LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex) issues. In the U.S., Sen’s student group would be called a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), but in India, it’s more like a revolution.

In just a little under six months, Sen has mobilized an energetic group of over 50 students to address issues of gender and sexuality in education and politics. What they have done in a short amount of time is more than what most established GSA’s in the U.S. do in years.

Called Breaking Barriers, Sen started her groundbreaking group during a conversation with her high school students about gender. Her initial goal was to inspire students to care about intersex individuals as well as the hijras, a community of transgender women, who are marginalized both socially and economically. What started as a discussion topic has turned into a national campaign that has gained the attention of the Indian media across the country.

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Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez, Launches School Tour of India

Students at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi talked with me about gender and sexuality in Indian culture (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)

Students at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi talked with me about gender and sexuality in Indian culture (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)

This last week, I kicked off my tour of schools in India to talk about teaching feminism in schools globally. I’m taking a short leave of absence from teaching at the start of 2014 to meet with students, teachers, and activists throughout India who are thinking seriously about what it means to address issues of gender and sexuality in school, the media, and at home. I’ll be documenting my time abroad right here on Feminist Teacher.

My first stop was at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi, where a Fulbright teacher colleague of mine, Sangeeta Gulati, invited me to speak to a group of juniors who are taking a high school humanities course. During my hour with them, these students and I talked about everything from the recent Delhi Supreme Court judgment on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality and sex between queer couples, deeming it “unnatural”; to last year’s Delhi gang-rape; to slut-shaming in the U.S. and India (NB: the students used the term “slut-shaming” themselves); to the politics of feminist pedagogy and inclusion in K-12 schools.

The students were immediately engaged in the discussion. At one point, I shared with them that I teach a high school course on feminism and another class on queer literature and film, and they were immediately intrigued. They chimed in with a barrage of excited questions:

  • Do you believe in misandry (the hatred of men)?
  • How do parents at your school react to your teaching their children feminist and LGBT classes?
  • How do you propose to address the sexualization of women in the media?
  • Do you talk about slut-shaming in your classes? What about the Slutwalks?
  • Have you seen the “It’s your fault” video?
  • How will you work with teachers in India on bringing feminism to students here?

And that was only the beginning. Continue reading

Top 10 Feminist Teacher Highlights of 2013

A great deal of inspiring work happened in 2013 both in my high school feminism class and in my outside professional work to build a movement with other teachers, activists, and academics to bring women’s, gender, and queer studies to schools. Here’s my top ten favorite moments of 2013.

1. Launched a movement to bring women’s and gender studies to K-12 schools with other high school feminist teachers from across the country at the AAUW’s (American Association of University Women) first ever symposium, Creating Classrooms of Justice: Teaching Gender Studies in Schools. Hosted in partnership with the AAUW, I delivered the keynote and helped to organize the panels featured throughout the day. More than 50 educators and activists from across the country – from California to Massachusetts – met at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, for a day-long event. Special thanks to fellow activist, Holly Kearl, for helping make this event happen as successfully as it did. Everyone walked away inspired. To join the movement, email: gender-studies@listsrv.aauw.org

I delivered the keynote at the AAUW's first ever symposium on teaching women's and gender studies in K-12 schools. The symposium was held in St. Louis (photo credit: Holly Kearl).

I delivered the keynote at the AAUW’s first ever symposium on teaching women’s and gender studies in K-12 schools. The symposium was held in St. Louis (photo credit: Holly Kearl).

2. Brought my students to the United Nations in New York for a Girls Speak Out event to observe the second annual International Day of the Girl held every October 11. As part of observing IDG, my students held our second annual assembly and blogged about their experience. As a class, we continued to partner with the all-girls school, Shri Shikshayatan, in Kolkata, India and learned about global girls education, sex trafficking, sex selection, and sexual harassment in both countries.

Students from my high school feminism class attended a Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

Students from my high school feminism class attended a Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

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Reflection on GLSEN/UNESCO Convening on Global Safe Schools for LGBT Youth

During the World Congress on Comparative Education in Buenos Aires, I presented my Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico City's schools (photo: Steven Toledo/GLSEN).

During the World Congress on Comparative Education in Buenos Aires, I presented my Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico City’s schools (photo: Steven Toledo/GLSEN).

Last month, I had the honor of attending a convening in Buenos Aires hosted by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and UNESCO to launch a global network of activists and researchers to support LGBT youth in schools. Our daylong meeting created the foundation of a strategic plan for providing LGBT students and their teachers the resources, research, and advocacy they need to create safe schools for all.

Surrounded by advocates and scholars from over 20 countries, I learned how much global queer groups care about teachers and the work we do in supporting LGBT students. From Brazil to China to Slovenia and South Africa, the diverse contexts that students and teachers learn and teach in are being accounted for in the current research and activism of the global safe schools movement.

As the only teacher-researcher at the convening, I came knowing that my voice as a practicing educator was one that is rarely heard in these urgent conversations. I had been selected to join the convening due to my Distinguished Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico, where I had interviewed queer students in high schools about their experience of bullying and harassment, coming out and relationships, counseling and curricular inclusion.

Following the convening, our cohort presented at the XV World Congress on Comparative Education, also held in Buenos Aires, where we each presented our cutting edge research on the latest trends in supporting LGBT students in schools globally. Continue reading

Teaching Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

My student, Genevieve, interviews Rachel Lloyd, founder and director of GEMS, about her memoir Girls Like Us at our 2011 annual  GEMS assembly (photo courtesy, Laura Hahn).

My student, Genevieve, interviews Rachel Lloyd, founder and director of GEMS, about her memoir Girls Like Us at our annual GEMS assembly in 2011 (photo courtesy, Laura Hahn).

In the spring of 2009, I was searching for something to make my then new high school feminism course have a sense of purpose. I wanted to teach students not just feminist theory and literature but how to learn and care strongly about an issue to mobilize them into action and advocacy.

My students wanted more out of the course, too. One after another, they–both girls and guys–shared in their course evaluations that they wanted to learn about a current issue involving girls and women that they could rally around. I took their request seriously.

That spring, I chanced upon a screening of Very Young Girls (2008) at Bluestockings, a radical feminist bookstore on the Lower East Side of New York. The film documents the work that Rachel Lloyd, founder and chief executive officer of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), has done to stop the cycle of commercial sexual exploitation of children in New York’s streets. Founded in 1998 in Lloyd’s own kitchen, GEMS is the only agency in New York State specifically designed to serve girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.

Among many services that provide prevention and outreach, GEMS ultimately helps girls and young women leave their exploiters–or their pimps–to live new lives of survival and support and eventually, of leadership and vision.

After attending that one screening, my entire course changed. Continue reading

High School Feminism Students Address School Sexual Harassment at UN Commission on Status of Women

My high school feminism students, Josey Stuart and Noel Diggs, (front) and Emily Morenike Carpenter from Girls for Gender Equity spoke on a panel addressing the findings in the AAUW report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).


This year’s 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women taking place currently in New York from March 4-15 is focusing on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls with a particular focus on the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men.

As part of a series of UN parallel events taking place in various venues was a panel sponsored by the AAUW (American Association of University Women) highlighting the findings of their important study Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. As Crossing the Line co-author Holly Kearl noted: “The AAUW was one of the first organizations to talk about sexual harassment in schools in 1993, and they continue to be a leading voice on the topic.”

Holly invited my high school feminism class students Josey Stuart and Noel Diggs to sit on the panel along with Emily Morenike Carpenter from Girls for Gender Equity; all students shared their insights on how to address sexual harassment in schools.

Josey mentioned that “to learn, you need to be in a safe environment, you need to feel like you’re able to express yourself, you can’t be focused on the constant fear of being harassed,” while Noel highlighted the importance of teaching students to shift their language away from misogynist messages such as “bagging” girls sexually and using words such as “gay” in negative contexts.

Emily noted that “instead of having faculty talk down to students and saying ‘this is what sexual harassment is,’ we can have students define and talk about sexual harassment in a way that gives them agency and supports their voice.”

Holly highlighted that “48% of students experienced sexual harassment during the 2010-11 school year, including more girls than boys, especially in the upper grades. 30% experienced cyber-harassment and most of them were also harassed in person. Nearly one in three students witnessed harassment happening, including more girls than boys.”

During my portion of the panel I highlighted: Continue reading

MAKERS Moment with Cherríe Moraga, Chicana feminist

Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga and I at the MAKERS: Women Who Make America premiere in New York (photo credit, Ileana Jiménez).

Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga and I at the MAKERS: Women Who Make America premiere in New York (photo credit, Ileana Jiménez).

In the spring of 1994 during my first year in college, Cherríe Moraga changed my life forever. Her essay “A Long Line of Vendidas” from Loving in the War Years gave me the language I would forever use to understand my brownness, my queer identity, and my feminism.

“To be a woman fully necessitated my claiming the race of my mother. My brother’s sex was white. Mine, brown.”

I recently met Moraga at the red carpet premiere of the MAKERS documentary Women Who Make America in New York. As I watched the first hour of the film during the premiere, I was excited to see a shot of the now classic 1980 photo of Moraga with Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith wearing their Kitchen Table: Woman of Color Press t-shirts. Kitchen Table was the first woman of color independent press that became well-known for publishing the groundbreaking collection This Bridge Called My Back.

Edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Moraga in 1983, the pieces in Bridge paved the way for how we breathe, speak, and love feminism today. We only need mention these women’s names and we all immediately recognize the bridge they built for our collective feminist consciousness.

Anzaldúa, Lorde, Moraga, and Barbara Smith (who is also featured in MAKERS) were the women who revolutionized feminism. They were the ones who brought an analysis of race, class, and ethnicity to our critical discussions of gender and sexuality. They were the ones who taught us how to bring this intersectional lens to issues of education, immigration, labor, reproductive rights, and much more.

Indeed, they created the feminism we so revere and rally around today. Continue reading

2013 Speaking Engagements for Feminist Teacher: Ileana Jiménez

I presented at the National Women's Studies Association Conference in 2012 (photo credit: Veronica Arreola).

I presented at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in 2012 (photo credit: Veronica Arreola).

I have an exciting line-up of presentations and speaking engagements this spring. Please join me at one of these events and make teaching for social justice through feminism and activism a reality. Let me know if you’ll be there!

Top Five Moments on Teaching High School Feminism in 2012

My national television debut on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (photo credit: Cheryl Coward).

My national television debut on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (photo credit: Cheryl Coward).

2012 was a fantastic year for me as a feminist teacher, activist, and blogger. Take a look at my top five moments this year. 

  1. Appeared on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show to talk about teaching women’s studies to high school students as well as to advocate for safe and inclusive schools (August 2012).
  2. Featured in The Atlantic during the Aspen Ideas Festival for teaching students how to engage in public discourse via blogging (July 2012).
  3. Presented best practices on teaching high school feminism to a full room of scholars and activists at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Oakland. Among several topics, I highlighted my students’ work on the first International Day of the Girl (October-November 2012).
  4. Supported my students Emma and Carina as they led a SPARK petition challenging Teen Vogue to stop photoshopping images of women and girls and to start including more diverse models (July 2012).

    My students Emma and Carina (far left) led the SPARK petition against Teen Vogue (photo courtesy SPARK).

    My students Emma and Carina (far left) led the SPARK petition against Teen Vogue (photo courtesy SPARK).

  5. Record number of six boys sign up for my high school feminism class. Two boys credit sisters who have taken women’s studies classes–including mine–as the number one reason for taking my class. This year, students wrote phenomenal blog posts on their feminist blog, F to the Third Power, including their vision for the future of feminism (September-December 2012).

    Students in my high school feminism class 2012 (photo Ileana Jiménez).

    Students in my high school feminism class 2012 (photo Ileana Jiménez).