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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Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez, Launches School Tour of India

Students at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi talked with me about gender and sexuality in Indian culture (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)

Students at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi talked with me about gender and sexuality in Indian culture (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez)

This last week, I kicked off my tour of schools in India to talk about teaching feminism in schools globally. I’m taking a short leave of absence from teaching at the start of 2014 to meet with students, teachers, and activists throughout India who are thinking seriously about what it means to address issues of gender and sexuality in school, the media, and at home. I’ll be documenting my time abroad right here on Feminist Teacher.

My first stop was at the Sanskriti School in New Delhi, where a Fulbright teacher colleague of mine, Sangeeta Gulati, invited me to speak to a group of juniors who are taking a high school humanities course. During my hour with them, these students and I talked about everything from the recent Delhi Supreme Court judgment on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality and sex between queer couples, deeming it “unnatural”; to last year’s Delhi gang-rape; to slut-shaming in the U.S. and India (NB: the students used the term “slut-shaming” themselves); to the politics of feminist pedagogy and inclusion in K-12 schools.

The students were immediately engaged in the discussion. At one point, I shared with them that I teach a high school course on feminism and another class on queer literature and film, and they were immediately intrigued. They chimed in with a barrage of excited questions:

  • Do you believe in misandry (the hatred of men)?
  • How do parents at your school react to your teaching their children feminist and LGBT classes?
  • How do you propose to address the sexualization of women in the media?
  • Do you talk about slut-shaming in your classes? What about the Slutwalks?
  • Have you seen the “It’s your fault” video?
  • How will you work with teachers in India on bringing feminism to students here?

And that was only the beginning. Continue reading

Top 10 Feminist Teacher Highlights of 2013

A great deal of inspiring work happened in 2013 both in my high school feminism class and in my outside professional work to build a movement with other teachers, activists, and academics to bring women’s, gender, and queer studies to schools. Here’s my top ten favorite moments of 2013.

1. Launched a movement to bring women’s and gender studies to K-12 schools with other high school feminist teachers from across the country at the AAUW’s (American Association of University Women) first ever symposium, Creating Classrooms of Justice: Teaching Gender Studies in Schools. Hosted in partnership with the AAUW, I delivered the keynote and helped to organize the panels featured throughout the day. More than 50 educators and activists from across the country – from California to Massachusetts – met at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, for a day-long event. Special thanks to fellow activist, Holly Kearl, for helping make this event happen as successfully as it did. Everyone walked away inspired. To join the movement, email: gender-studies@listsrv.aauw.org

I delivered the keynote at the AAUW's first ever symposium on teaching women's and gender studies in K-12 schools. The symposium was held in St. Louis (photo credit: Holly Kearl).

I delivered the keynote at the AAUW’s first ever symposium on teaching women’s and gender studies in K-12 schools. The symposium was held in St. Louis (photo credit: Holly Kearl).

2. Brought my students to the United Nations in New York for a Girls Speak Out event to observe the second annual International Day of the Girl held every October 11. As part of observing IDG, my students held our second annual assembly and blogged about their experience. As a class, we continued to partner with the all-girls school, Shri Shikshayatan, in Kolkata, India and learned about global girls education, sex trafficking, sex selection, and sexual harassment in both countries.

Students from my high school feminism class attended a Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

Students from my high school feminism class attended a Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

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Top Five Moments on Teaching High School Feminism in 2012

My national television debut on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (photo credit: Cheryl Coward).

My national television debut on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (photo credit: Cheryl Coward).

2012 was a fantastic year for me as a feminist teacher, activist, and blogger. Take a look at my top five moments this year. 

  1. Appeared on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show to talk about teaching women’s studies to high school students as well as to advocate for safe and inclusive schools (August 2012).
  2. Featured in The Atlantic during the Aspen Ideas Festival for teaching students how to engage in public discourse via blogging (July 2012).
  3. Presented best practices on teaching high school feminism to a full room of scholars and activists at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Oakland. Among several topics, I highlighted my students’ work on the first International Day of the Girl (October-November 2012).
  4. Supported my students Emma and Carina as they led a SPARK petition challenging Teen Vogue to stop photoshopping images of women and girls and to start including more diverse models (July 2012).

    My students Emma and Carina (far left) led the SPARK petition against Teen Vogue (photo courtesy SPARK).

    My students Emma and Carina (far left) led the SPARK petition against Teen Vogue (photo courtesy SPARK).

  5. Record number of six boys sign up for my high school feminism class. Two boys credit sisters who have taken women’s studies classes–including mine–as the number one reason for taking my class. This year, students wrote phenomenal blog posts on their feminist blog, F to the Third Power, including their vision for the future of feminism (September-December 2012).

    Students in my high school feminism class 2012 (photo Ileana Jiménez).

    Students in my high school feminism class 2012 (photo Ileana Jiménez).

My High School Feminism Students Create Get Out the Vote Video for Young Women

Earlier this fall, my high school feminism students and I created an It’s My Vote video designed to encourage young women to vote in this year’s election. The American Association of University Women’s Action Fund sponsored the campaign and we were featured on their site.

As an educator-activist, nothing is more important to me than teaching young people the importance of civic engagement. In our video, I share the story of how each year, my Puerto Rican mom brought me to the polls in the Bronx to pull the lever for her while carrying me in her arms; my students then talk about why voting matters to them as young women.

In the same way that my mom carried me to the polls to share her voice, today and everyday, I carry the responsibility of teaching my students that they too must carry the legacy of change in their hands both for themselves and their communities.

Guest Blog: Krystle Merchant on Teaching Women’s History

Krystle Merchant teaches a high school women’s history class at an all-girls school outside of Washington, D.C. (photo courtesy, Krystle Merchant)

The following guest blog by Krystle Merchant is the final post in a three-part series on teaching for social justice featuring the work of educators in primary, middle, and high school classrooms.

Krystle Merchant is a teacher and proud feminist at an all-girls high school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. 

As a young, black female history teacher at a private school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., I often feel pressured to speak to colleagues and parents on behalf of many different communities. As a result, I try to educate girls to be willing and able to do the same as adult women, regardless of which communities they represent. This is especially true in my Women in the United States senior history elective, where I draw my students’ attention to their current and future experiences as women, the importance of gender to the meaning of history, and the construction of the historical narrative.

On the first day of class, we start with a simple survey. The first question, “Are you a feminist?,” always gets a qualified answer. Even seniors at an all-girls high school, who are choosing to take a course in women’s history, do not feel comfortable identifying as feminists. The term is so deeply connected to negative stereotypes of women, that even when they give a good working definition of feminism, they do not want to associate themselves with the term.

To chip away at their internalized barrier to feminism, I ask my girls to identify, follow, and respond regularly to a feminist blog such as the fbomb, Feministing, and Feminists for Choice. From there, the course proceeds by reviewing much of the same content covered in their junior year survey course on U.S. History.

However, rather than discussing notable American women or women’s contributions to the usual textbook topics, we talk about periodization, access to power, and production. The latter term “production” refers to the sources available for our study and whether they were produced by women. Women’s societal status at any given time determined the kinds of information they could produce and whether that information became accessible for later study. Continue reading

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

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.

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:

http://vimeo.com/31753926

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