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

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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

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

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:

Summer of Feminista: Finding My Latina Feminism

Want to know the story of how I became a feminist?

Fellow feminist Latina blogger at Viva La Feminista, Veronica Arreola, is hosting an amazing series of guest posts this summer by Latinas and their relationship to feminism.  I answered Veronica’s call for submissions as an opportunity to share the story that changed my entire life.  Here’s an excerpt from my guest post titled Finding My Latina Feminism:

If it weren’t for some Irish white guy, I never would have become a feminist.

When I read James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man my senior year in high school, it changed my entire life.  Never before had I read a novel that spoke to me with such intensity.

The main character, Stephen Dedalus, was repeatedly teased and picked on the playground.  I was teased and picked on the playground with names like spic and nigger.

Here was a boy who wrote poetry hidden underneath the covers. I wrote poetry with big words that no one in my family understood.

Here was a boy who questioned the Catholic Church and went off to college to proclaim non serviam, or “I will not serve” the church, and instead became an artist, a writer, and a thinker. At 18, I also questioned the Catholic Church and went off to Smith to proclaim my own destiny as a queer feminist writer and thinker.

But while I read Joyce, I kept asking: Why isn’t this character a Puerto Rican girl living on Long Island via the Bronx in 1993? And why haven’t I ever read a book with a Latina protagonist who shares my story?

Read the rest of my post here and if you’re a fellow Latina feminist, consider participating!

Guest Post: Learning Feminism in High School Led to My College Choice

Alexandra Garza

My name is Alexandra Garza and I was a student of Ileana Jiménez’s at Elisabeth Irwin High School (LREI). Before I was a student and now friend of Ileana’s, I had only known her contagious laugh heard frequently throughout the hallways. As time passed, I saw her at school assemblies encouraging students to get involved in various panels, lectures, and discussions on race, class, and gender. For some time, I’d been interested in joining these discussions Ileana so passionately advocated. I took my curiosity into consideration when selecting courses for my junior year. I was definitely lured in by Ileana’s passion. I decided to jump into the conversation head first by signing up for Ileana’s literature course, Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists. Aside from the fantastic title, I had a feeling this class could change my entire life. Continue reading

Guest Post: From Little Red to Big Red: Becoming a Feminist in High School, Creating Change in College

Jenilssa Holguin

After being at LREI for four years, speaking about diversity and feminism became second nature to me. The classes that I took–such as Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists; Queer Identities: LGBT Literature and Film; and Memoir Writing–paired with the student diversity conferences that I attended, as well as the series of speakers that we were lucky to have at my school, all made issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality prevalent in my mind. During my years at Little Red, one of my teachers, Ileana Jiménez, helped me find myself, develop my feminist identity, and be proud of who I am. I learned to do diversity work in my everyday life.

When I got accepted to Cornell University I was ecstatic. It was my first choice, and I was going to be the first in my family to go to college. I thought,“It’s a huge school, so I am sure that I can find people who share my views on diversity, since Cornell is pretty diverse.” Boy, was I wrong! During my first weeks there, I noticed how racially segregated my field of hospitality management was as well as the University as a whole. I was taken by surprise when I saw that two clubs that I was interested in were completely segregated. One was all white, and the other was made up of all students of color. Naturally, I joined both, not only because I was interested in both clubs but also because I wanted to get at the root of the problem. 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

“Leading Ably from Difference”: Honoring President Ruth Simmons on Presidents’ Day

Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons

Each year on Presidents’ Day, we examine the narrative of US presidential history.  While important, it also seems worthy to expand the conversation to consider the various ways in which one can assume the office of a president, especially if that president is a woman.

Last fall, a Forbes article reported that the American Council on Education indicates that 23% of college presidents are women. While Americans know we have never had a woman President, how many of us know that half of the eight Ivy League universities are headed by a woman?  Harvard is led by Drew Gilpin Faust, Princeton by Shirley Tilghman, the University of Pennsylvania by Amy Gutmann, and Brown by Ruth J. Simmons.  How many of us look to these women as models of leadership for issues that are important to us, especially as educators? Continue reading