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

Spoke at Barnard Center for Research on Women: Activism and the Academy (VIDEO)

Earlier this school year, the Barnard Center for Research on Women celebrated its fortieth anniversary by holding a conference titled Activism and the Academy: Celebrating 40 Years of Scholarship and Activism. I sat on a panel titled Writing, New Media, and Feminist Activism along with other inspiring activists such as Mandy Van Deven of Girls for Gender Equity; Veronica Pinto of Hollaback!; and Susanna Horng of Girls Write Now.

The inimitable Courtney Martin, former Feministing editor and author of such books as Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, moderated the panel. Courtney framed our conversation with three compelling questions:

  • What is one thrilling success you or your organization has had at the intersection of writing, new media, and activism?
  • What is one good failure?
  • What is one question you’re still “living your way into”? Ala R.M. Rilke:  “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

It was an honor to to be a part of this exciting conversation with inspiring women who are at the forefront of working with young people at the intersections of gender and equity, writing and feminism, activism and advocacy.

Even more exciting was bringing the high school juniors and seniors in my feminism class to the conference; they all sat in the front row of Barnard’s Diana Center eagerly scribbling notes as they listened to the panel. Each of them wrote excellent blog posts on their feminist class blog, F to the Third Power, about their experience at the conference.

I think you will be left inspired by my students’ posts, as they ponder what feminism means to them, including Dinayuri, who wrote: “Feminism is not broken. It does not need to be repaired. It isn’t tainted so much so that the grounds from which it was built has to be destroyed and created all over again. But rather there is a need to expand feminism to include as well as recognize and fight for more diversity. Feminists can no longer be ignorant to other factors of oppression that come into play and which thwart one from being fully free of all discrimination.”

A video of the panel is now available:


Guest Post: Feminism: Much More Than Women’s Rights

Meiling Jabbaar, former high school feminism student, and Ileana Jiménez (Feminist Teacher).

Last year, I launched an on-going guest post series written by my former high school students reflecting on the impact of learning feminism(s) in high school. To mark the beginning of the school year and to inspire teachers to bring a feminist vision to their curricula, I’m posting a piece written by my former student, Meiling Jabbaar, who took my course on feminism her senior year last fall. In this essay, Meiling teaches all of us that learning about feminism in high school made an impact on finding her voice. Meiling will be attending Brown University this fall.

Growing up as a young woman in today’s society, I have always been aware of issues that women, teenage girls, and even young girls face.  When I learned about the feminism course offered by Ileana Jiménez, who teaches in the English department at my high school, I realized that I would have the chance to discuss topics to which I could relate.  But little did I know how much of an impact the class would have on me.

My Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists class, which I took during the first trimester of my senior year, did much more than expose me to the world of feminism.  In providing the space to talk about issues important to me, such as female stereotypes, issues of beauty, and how women are portrayed in the media, I learned ways in which I could solve these problems, while at the same time, I learned a lot about myself.

Before taking the class, the only thing that came to mind when I thought about feminism was women’s rights.  I soon learned that feminism entails so much more.  First, we focused on feminist theory.  We read the works of various renowned feminist writers, including bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, and Virginia Woolf.  I was overwhelmed and moved by their powerful pieces that analyze the history and roots of the struggles that plague the lives of women.  After reading these writers, my eyes were opened to what feminism truly represents. Continue reading

Spoke at Mexico City’s First International Conference on Bullying

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It was a complete honor to be a part of Mexico City’s first international conference on bullying earlier this week. Bringing together speakers from around the world—including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain—the Congreso Internacional de Bullying was hosted by the office of Mexico City’s Secretary of Education, Maestro (Mtro.) Mario Delgado Carrillo.

As the opening speaker, I shared the context of some of the most tragic bullying stories the U.S. has endured these last few years, especially in the form of bullycides, which is the preferred term when referring to suicides that have resulted from bullying. Stories such as those of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, Phoebe Prince, and Tyler Clementi, have catapulted us into an even more pressing era for making change in our schools.  Continue reading

Feminist Teacher Celebrates First Year Blogging

This weekend I’m celebrating the first year of founding and blogging at Feminist Teacher. When I created this blog, my goal was to carve out a space to share my work as a feminist high school teacher and for fellow feminist educators to find a space to talk about the role of feminism in schools. As part of celebrating my first year blogging, I’m taking a look back at 2010 and my work as a feminist educator-activist:

SPARK Summit Inspired My Students to Launch a Movement

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. Continue reading