My High School Feminism Class Marks International Day of the Girl 2012

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The students in my high school feminism class marked this year’s first International Day of the Girl by leading a phenomenal school-wide assembly for their peers. We partnered with 10×10 Educate Girls to learn about the state of girls’ education globally as well as with our partner school in India, the all-girls Shri Shikshayatan School in Kolkata.

In addition to sharing information about girls education globally, my students showed videos from a range of organizations including those from 10×10 and the Girl Effect. The young women and men in the class highlighted statistics on girls education and several girls shared personal stories about growing up at the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the U.S.

Across the globe, high school girls at Shri Shikshayatan sponsored a day of panels related to infanticide or sex selective abortion, trafficking, and the education of girls in India.

My students documented reflections on leading their International Day of the Girl assembly on their blog F to the Third Power, citing learning about intersectionality–or the theory that categories of oppression such as racism, classism, and sexism are interlocking–as the most important concept that helped provide them a lens for understanding both social justice feminism as well as themselves.

We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with the girls and teachers at Shri Shikshayatan, and are hoping to visit their school in the future. Until then, our classes will continue the dialogue about gender and equity in both countries, as we foster a critical and action-based understanding about the need for global education for girls and their communities to create social and economic justice.

Spoke at AAUW Release of Sexual Harassment in Schools Report (VIDEO)

Last fall, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a report titled Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment in Schools at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The report presents new data on sexual harassment, including cyber-harassment, in middle and high schools based on a 2011 nationwide survey of students in grades 7-12.

As part of the release, I participated in a panel along with report co-authors Catherine Hill and Holly Kearl, both of the AAUW; Kedrick Griffin, senior director of programs at Men Can Stop Rape; and Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes.

In addition to providing key findings, the report highlights four promising practices that schools can take action on, including teaching women’s studies at the high school level. Teaching gender and women’s studies to high school students not only increases girls’ knowledge of sexual harassment but also shows that “girls [feel] more self-empowered to respond to incidents of sexual harassment.”

As part of my remarks on the panel, I pointed to this promising practice of addressing sexual harassment in schools as part of my own women’s studies classroom. Key components of my course on women’s and gender studies include:

  • Collaborating with advocacy and activist organizations such as Girls for Gender Equity to address sexual harassment in schools; Men Can Stop Rape to engage young men; Hollaback! to teach high school students to address street harassment via blogging and social media; and the Center for Anti-Violence Education, to teach my students self-defense.
  • Learning about intersectionality: As the AAUW report shows, the intersection of race, class, and gender can cause some students to fare worse than others when they experience sexual harassment. In my own classroom, teaching students how to analyze various systems of oppression, including sexism and racism, leads students to build respect for each other and in the end, decreases incidents of gender-based violence in schools.
  •  Building consciousness for boys and working with them as allies. We cannot overlook the importance of bringing young men into the conversation in terms of helping them understand societal messages about masculinity and hyper-masculinity that leads to the kind of homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment, and other gender-based violence we see in schools and on the streets.

WBAI’s “Joy of Resistance” Features Feminist Teacher and Students

My student Carina Cruz shares her experience learning about feminism in high school. (photo, Ileana Jiménez).

Earlier this week, my students and I were guests on the radio show, Joy of Resistance, a feminist, multicultural radio show on WBAI hosted by Fran Luck and Jasmine Burnett (@blkfeminst). My students and I spoke on the importance of learning and teaching feminist theory and activism in high school classrooms.

Each of the students who joined me have done important feminist work both in the high school women’s studies class I teach as well as outside of the classroom. Carina Cruz, junior, is a SPARK bloggerSexualization, Protest, Action, Resistance, Knowledge—for a youth-led movement to stop the sexualization of girls and women in the media. Junior Dinayuri Rodriguez’s blog posts on our feminist class blog, F to the Third Power, have been so successful that one of her posts connecting Virginia Woolf’s argument in A Room of One’s Own to today’s low-earning feminist bloggers earned her a comment on the post from well-known feminist author and blogger Courtney Martin, of Feministing fame.

Emma Stydahar, junior, is also a SPARK blogger who recently spoke at the Meet Us on the Street anti-street harassment rally in New York. Finally, senior Grace Tobin found her voice testifying at last year’s New York City Council hearing on street harassment, landing her an interview with CBS, which led to a blogging internship with the Women’s Media Center. Grace also spoke at the anti-street harassment rally with Emma.

I was particularly moved and inspired listening to my students speak about how taking the feminism course has made an impact on their lives. Fran asked students if they could share how learning about feminism allowed them to name one thing in their lives that they could not name before, leading them to a feminist click. Here’s what they had to say: Continue reading

Teaching Feminism in High School: Moving from Theory to Action

The following post was originally published at On the Issues

The students in my feminism class read Rachel Lloyd's memoir, Girls Like Us, about the commercial sexual exploitation of children. (Photo, Steve Neiman, used with permission).

During a recent Twitter chat on #sheparty hosted by the Women’s Media Center, I tweeted: “How many feminists know edu hashtags and vice versa?”

The point I wanted to get across is that many feminists today don’t know much about today’s education conversation and, in turn, educators don’t know much about what’s going on in feminist discourse, whether it’s academic or activist.

My job as a feminist high school teacher is to close the women’s and gender studies gap for young people. To stop bullying, stop raping, stop perpetuating racism and sexism, and instead start making social change, I believe in bringing a gender, racial, and economic justice lens to education at all levels. Feminism does this work.

For me, connecting schools with feminist theory and action is personal. When I was in elementary school on Long Island in the early ‘80s, I was called “Afro” and “nigger.” Recess was not fun; to the contrary, it was a time to be bullied by my peers, who surrounded me while I was on the swings and in the sandbox. I always wonder how different my life might have been if my white teachers and white peers knew something about racism or if the rich history of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans had been taught to us as children. The goal would not have been color-blindness, but safety and inclusion, respect and responsibility for each other.

Now that I am a teacher, I believe that the power of feminist theory and action is exactly what young people need to create understandings across differences, learn how to lead healthy lives and to make social change.  Continue reading

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

Feministing Blogger Miriam Pérez Visits My LGBT Literature Class

Activist, blogger, and doula Miriam Zoila Pérez. (photo by Ileana Jiménez)

“Our society is so intensely gendered in ways we don’t even notice.”

Wise words from Miriam Zoila Pérez who visited my Queer Identities: LGBT Literature and Film class earlier today. Miriam is one of the editors at Feministing and is also the founder and sole blogger at Radical Doula.

I invited Miriam to visit the class to talk about her trajectory in the reproductive justice movement as well as to share her personal story as a queer Latin@.

At one point, Miriam joked: “Ellen Degeneres was the only inkling I had of what it meant to be a lesbian and since I wasn’t attracted to her, I figured I couldn’t be a lesbian.” Continue reading

Letter to Obama: A Call for Teaching Feminism in K-12 Classrooms

Emily Heroy’s post at Equality 101 about the call to teach feminism in high schools in the US reminds me of an assignment I gave to students last year in my course on feminism to high school juniors and seniors titled Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists.

In the wake of excitement after Obama’s inauguration, I asked students to write a letter to our new President asking him to examine the issue of gender and education with a critical eye on the ways in which feminism might be addressed in the curriculum. All of the letters, 11 total (8 by girls, 3 by boys), were fantastic. Here’s one from an African American female student that captures the urgency of teaching issues of gender and feminism in K-12 classrooms: Continue reading

Queer Online Videos Transform Queer Literature Course

As a teacher always in search of new texts, You Tube has opened up a treasure trove of possibilities for my Queer Identities: LGBT Literature and Film course.

With my school’s requirement of homework blogs, has come the additional perk of assigning videos that allow my students to become acquainted with authors such as James Baldwin and Leslie Feinberg even before we begin reading their novels. In addition, students can also learn about gender via short educational films such as Transgender Basics by the Gender Identity Project.

Continue reading