Top 10 High School Feminist Teaching Moments of 2014

This has been quite a year for me as a feminist teacher and activist. Here are some highlights of an exciting year of #HSfeminism in action.

1. This past fall, journalist Kelley Lord visited my classroom to document the impact that teaching feminism at the high school level was making on my students. She wanted to see firsthand why my students–both boys and girls–strongly identified as feminists. Included in her video below are highlights from our annual International Day of the Girl assembly, which featured boys acting out a scene on bystander intervention and girls speaking out on street harassment. All of them discuss why taking feminism in high school matters. Watch the magic of #HSfeminism.


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Create an Anti-Street Harassment PSA With Your Students

The success of last week’s International Anti-Street Harassment Week was astonishing. Organized by leading anti-street harassment activist Holly Kearl, founder of the well-known blog Stop Street Harassment, the week featured the work of the most cutting-edge activists in the field, including dance performances by Sydnie Mosley and her Window Sex Project and a viral video featuring Joe Samalin and other male allies telling men to just stop harassing women in both English and Spanish.

As part of the week’s events, two of my students, Grace and Emma, and I spoke at the Meet Us On the Street rally in New York. Grace shared a portion of the testimony that she read to last year’s New York City Council hearing on street harassment and Emma, who is also a SPARK blogger against the sexualization of girls and women in the media, shared her own vision for safer streets and communities not just for herself but also for her own sister.

I spoke about the importance of engaging teachers in the global movement against street harassment as an education and health issue for schools.

But the work doesn’t stop there. It’s important to show students that activism needs to be consistent, and not done in a flavor-of-the-month style. That’s why last fall, students in my high school feminism course partnered with other students at our school to create their own anti-street harassment public service announcement (PSA).  Their goal: to educate their peers about the gravity of street harassment in their daily lives.

As part of the background work to create the video, I invited activists from Girls for Gender Equity, Hollaback!, The Line Campaign, Men Can Stop Rape, and Right Rides to talk to my students. Activist Shelby Knox also visited to talk about her film, The Education of Shelby Knox. Each of them shared their expertise, provided students with materials, and ultimately inspired them to create their PSA.

You can create your own PSA with your students too. Start, as I did, with educating your students about the issue by inviting activists to your classroom. Then have students envision a PSA that would be relevant and engaging for your school community. Screen the PSA at an upcoming assembly. Then join the revolution.  See above for inspiration.

Why Teachers Should Join the Global Movement Against Street Harassment

My student Grace testifying at the New York City Council Hearing on street harassment in October 2010. (photo by Ileana Jiménez)

Last year, my student Grace did a very brave thing. Before a packed room of reporters, politicians, activists, and fellow testifiers, she shared her personal experience with street harassment to the leaders of the New York City Council.

During her testimony, Grace described how a man publicly masturbated in front of her on the subway and the humiliation and shame she felt as a result:

The moment which I have felt most degraded, belittled, and humiliated was at 6 p.m. on a Saturday getting on to the 1 train at Chambers heading uptown . . . His eyes flashed up to meet mine and I quickly dropped my gaze into my lap. I didn’t want to make eye contact with him, just like with any stranger; I was worried he would misinterpret the eye contact  . . . but I glanced up at him, against my better judgment.

The hands I thought were in his pockets were not. They were under the big sides of his tan coat. 
Masturbating.

I guess I must have been angry. I don’t think I could feel it though. My fear and shock overpowered everything else such as the shame and embarrassment. The vulnerability and victimization. The fact that I was frozen. Unable to say a thing. Unable to move. Unable to fully comprehend, or at least, not letting myself.

Grace’s powerful testimony was one of many shared at that hearing, which was organized by City Council Member Julissa Ferreras, chair of the City Council Women’s Issues Committee. Ferreras hoped that it would “cast light on this depraved practice and that women and girls will no longer have to adopt a veil of caution when they want to do something as basic as walk down the street.”

As a teacher, watching my own student testify against street harassment made me all the more galvanized to be a part of the growing global movement against street harassment. Her story not only confirms the experiences of so many girls, women, and members of the LGBTQ community on both national and international levels, but also confirms that my very own students are subject to this very real form violence as they travel to and from school, hang out with friends, and in short, live their lives. Continue reading

Book Review: “Hey Shorty!” Provides Educators Steps Against Sexual Harassment in Schools

(Girls for Gender Equity)

Reading Hey Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Public Schools and on the Streets is like drinking vitamin water for activists. An immersion in how-to community organizing, movement building, and feminist activism against sexual harassment, this book is the one we’ve all been waiting for. Written in easy-to-read language and clearly outlined, bullet point action steps, co-authors Meghan Huppuch, Joanne N. Smith, and Mandy Van Deven make the case for feminist activism in schools in ways that will make our non-initiated colleagues understand that we need to act now.

As hard as it is for some educators and administrators to admit, all schools are sexual and sexualized spaces. More specifically, when it comes to sexual harassment, all schools are spaces of power and submission, authority and silence.

Pervasive and destructive, sexual harassment is considered to be a “typical part” of school life by two-thirds of the 1,189 New York City public school students surveyed by Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), a Brooklyn-based girls advocacy and movement building group dedicated to gender justice.

In this new and important book, GGE co-authors Huppuch, Smith, and Van Deven, reveal urgent research that the young women in their Sisters in Strength program discovered.

Their three pivotal findings should press those of us who are educators and school leaders to respond: 1) in-school sexual harassment occurs in many ways, to many people, and in many locations; 2) sexual harassment is a “normal” part of young people’s school experience, and 3) students want and need more education about sexual harassment.  Continue reading

Guest Post: Prepare for the Day of Silence: Support Student-Activists

Day of Silence, April 15, 2011

To help support educators sponsoring the Day of Silence in their schools, I asked Elizabeth J. Meyer to write a guest post providing advice for this Friday’s national event. Meyer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She is the author of two books: Gender, bullying, and harassment: Strategies to end sexism and homophobia in schools (2009) and Gender and sexual diversity in schools (2010). She blogs regularly for Psychology Today and the Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy.

I was excited to get the invitation to write this guest post about the upcoming Day of Silence (DOS) on Friday, April 15, 2011. This is an important event that is taking place in high schools and universities across the country and I was asked to offer some suggestions for educators on how best to support students who have decided to participate in this event.

What is the Day of Silence?

This somewhat controversial event began in 1996 at the University of Virginia when a group of students chose to remain silent for one day to call attention to the anti-LGBT name-calling and harassment at their school.  In 2008, over 8,000 middle and high schools registered with GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) to participate. Although it was originally a grassroots, student-initiated event, GLSEN has provided their infrastructure to create educational resources and organizing ideas to their network of chapters and via their website to support widespread participation. There has been backlash in some communities against this event, but students and teachers who have participated indicate that it is a non-confrontational, yet empowering way to highlight these issues in a school community. Continue reading

Guest Post: On International Anti-Street Harassment Day, AtreveteDF Urges Youth Education

AtreveteDF, a new chapter of Hollaback!, fights against street harassment throughout Mexico City.

Earlier this fall, Feminist Teacher readers learned about the work that my high school students did with Emily May’s Hollaback! anti-street harassment movement. In particular, my student Grace Tobin testified at a New York City Council hearing on street harassment and the peers in her class sent in their powerful testimonies to the Hollaback blog. The importance of addressing street harassment in schools was never made more apparent to me than when my students shared their stories about being harassed on the subways and streets of New York, especially going to and from school.

Now that I’m in Mexico on a Fulbright, I have had the honor to meet with the founder of the Hollaback! chapter here in Mexico City, called AtreveteDF. A fairly new addition to the national and now global work that Hollaback! started in 2005, AtreveteDF is a growing force in the anti-street harassment movement. To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Day today, I invited AtreveteDF to write a guest post sharing its work and vision, especially in relation to the need to address this issue with young people. Below, readers will find both English and Spanish versions of AtreveteDF’s guest post. Please note that due to safety concerns, AtreveteDF contributed their post anonymously.

Education Against Street Harassment

One memory remains from a recent visit to a soccer stadium here in Mexico. Two kids, who were about 6 or 7, were shouting–in an almost eloquent manner–quite derogatory and objectifying comments to the cheerleaders and other women in the stadium. They also made comments directed at the players of the opposing team regarding homosexuality and their supposed “lack of manliness” as well as to members from their own team when players failed to score. People passed by and laughed; most men and women seemed to applaud this behavior, and nobody, including myself, asked them to be respectful or otherwise.

Today is International Anti- Street Harassment Day. When we speak of the daily realities many women and LGBTQ folks face when they walk down the street, let’s not forget to mention the children and youth who learn how to repeat these behaviors from the widespread sexual violence in our communities, the media, their homes, streets and schools. Continue reading

Interview with Safe Schools Advocate, Shannon Cuttle: One Hundred Days of Bullying

Shannon Cuttle, founder and director of the Safe Schools Action Network (photo courtesy, Shannon Cuttle).

Today is the 100th day of school. It’s also the 100th day of battling bullies.

No one is fighting this battle on the ground with more passion and energy than Shannon Cuttle. Cuttle, founder and director of the Safe Schools Action Network (SSAN), knows from personal experience as both a former elementary school teacher and administrator how important it is for all schools to be free of bullying against LGBT and gender-nonconforming students, families, and educators. Cuttle’s activist heart and policy wonk mind make her a fierce advocate for change and an inspiration to all educators who want to make a difference one day at a time.

What is the 100th Day of School and how does the movement for safe schools merge with this day?

The 100th day of school takes place each year and is recognized across classrooms and schools. The Safe Schools Action Network is marking 100 days of school as 100 days of bullying. Our day encourages schools to have discussions about bullying and harassment and to question whether schools are creating inclusive safe spaces for educators and students.

We’ve asked students to write to principals in a “Dear Principal” campaign, and we’ve asked parents to do the same by speaking to school leaders. On a national level, we’ve asked community members to speak out and speak up by writing letters and op/eds to raise urgency as we reach the end of the 2010-11 school year.

By the end of the day, the goal is to open up dialogue on a local and national level and bring back awareness to bullying. Change will not happen without support and action. Merging both the milestone of 100 days of school with 100 days of bullying will bring bullying back into the spotlight. Continue reading

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

A Task Force of Her Own: Interview with Refuse the Silence’s Morgane Richardson

Morgane Richardson

Morgane Richardson has a mission to change higher education for women of color as we know it.

A 2008 graduate of Middlebury College, Richardson started her work supporting women of color as an activist and mentor on campus. Throughout her college years, she made herself available to women of color as they navigated issues of race, class, and gender. Determined to change the campus climate, she also sat on Middlebury’s Task Force on the Status of Women, which continued the work of earlier task forces on issues of gender at the college from 1990 and 1997 respectively. The original 1990 report, which came to be called the “Gender Report,” was “undertaken in the aftermath of an incident in which a mutilated female mannequin was hanged from the front of a fraternity house during a party at the close of the 1987-88 school year.”

Upon graduating, Richardson became inspired to change the climate for women of color at elite liberal arts colleges, institutions whose histories of tradition and privilege generate cultures of racism, sexism, and homophobia, leaving women of color erased from the conversation, both academically and socially.  Today, Richardson is collecting the stories of women of color at elite liberal arts colleges to create an anthology made up of narratives, letters, essays and videos, which will be titled Refuse the Silence. These stories will be used to design a set of actions that will be sent to leading college presidents and administrators to create the kind of change we’ve long been waiting for. Continue reading

Justice is Sweet: Astraea’s Funding the Fight for Queer People of Color

The following post can also be found at Equality 101 in honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2010.

The Astraea Foundation funds LGBTI social justice activism both in the US and globally. (photo courtesy of Astraea)

Do you know who is funding the fight for queer social justice in Africa?

Do you know who is funding the fight for queer social justice in Latin America?

Do you know who is funding the fight for queer social justice right here in the US?

The answer to all of these questions is Astraea. No other public foundation is working harder for sweet justice than the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the world’s only foundation solely dedicated to funding LGBTI organizations in both the United States and internationally.

For more than 30 years, Astraea has been a major leader in the social-justice-feminist movement. Astraea began in 1977 in New York when a small group of women created a multi-racial, multi-class, feminist foundation in order to address the lack of funding for women—specifically lesbians and women of color. According to Executive Director Katherine Acey, the founding mothers—including Stella Alvo, Audrey Barnes, Nancy Dean, Barbara Grant, Joyce Hunter, Roberta Kosse, Cynthia Long, Achebe Powell, Joan Watts and Leslie Kanes Weisman—“believed that even the smallest of gestures, when combined, could create, nurture and strengthen significant social change. And they were right.” Continue reading