The recent SPARK Summit held at Hunter College inspired my students to launch a movement against the sexualization of girls and women in the media. After watching a video made by the Women’s Media Center on the horrific ways in which girls and women are objectified by the media, students wanted to learn more about how they could be a part of the conversation too.
To prepare my students for the summit, I designed a series of workshops for them to participate in on issues such as media literacy, sexual assault, street harassment, and feminist blogging. Guest visitors from around the country came to my class to share their expertise, culminating in students creating their own feminist blog to be part of both the SPARK bloggers team at the summit and to use it as a platform for our classroom activism.
For our first workshop, I invited Andrea Quijada, Executive Director of the Media Literacy Project in New Mexico, to lead the students in a media literacy workshop. Quijada taught students how to examine media images critically, especially using an intersectional lens of race, class, and gender. Quijada impressed upon students the importance of creating media that is meaningful to our daily lives and to our communities that don’t rob us of our cultural and racial identities. One of my students was so impressed with Quijada’s presentation, that she blogged about it at our class blog, F to the Third Power.
Next, Nancy Schwartzman from The Line screened her powerful documentary about her personal experience with sexual assault. Students then took photos of their “line,” or boundaries regarding sexuality. The students were so moved by her film that they blogged about their experience both here and here. Nancy sent us photos of the students’ “line” activity and also blogged about the importance of doing this work with high school students.
After reading a series of disturbing personal essays from students on their experiences with street harassment, I decided to reach out to Emily May from Hollaback, which works to end street harassment using mobile technology. After sharing how Hollaback was founded, May invited students to share their testimony about street harassment at last week’s New York City Council hearing on this issue. Out of the 12 students in my feminism class, five girls submitted their testimony and one boy wrote in as a male ally.
One student, junior Grace Tobin, was able to share her testimony in person at the hearing. Her words were so powerful, that
she was interviewed by CBS as well as the New York Post. The focus of the hearing was to call for harassment free zones, a PSA campaign, and research to track the amount of street harassment that goes on every day towards women, girls, and the LGBTQ community in New York City.
When Tobin and I attended the hearing, it was incredibly powerful to be in a room full of subject experts and young people sharing their personal stories. Over and again the call was for schools to address issues of street harassment at age appropriate levels, including in elementary school classrooms, as girls as young as 8 are being harassed on streets and subways.
In a reflective and moving post, Tobin wrote about her experience testifying at the hearing.
Finally, our preparation for the summit could not be complete without a workshop led by two fantastic Feministing editors Miriam Zoila Pérez and Chloe Angyal, who both led a three hour session on the history of feminist blogging and today’s teen feminist blogs. Pérez and Angyal helped my students kickstart their own blog, F to the Third Power, which already has posts about my students’ experience at the summit and their vision for how young feminists are taking the movement into their own hands.