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

Feminist Teacher on the Radio

Feminist Magazine, KPFK 90.7, Pacifica Radio

Within the past few months, I’ve had the terrific honor of being a guest on two feminist radio shows: Digital Sisterhood Network’s Feminism Online Project and Feminist Magazine. Last night, Feminist Magazine co-hosts Celina Alvarez and Christene Kings interviewed me during their show on KPFK 90.7 Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles. Calling in from México, I was thrilled to talk to Celina and Christene about my work with young people in high school.

One of the points I made was that the reason why students are attracted to feminism is because they can use its tools in their everyday lives: “What I do in the classroom not only focuses on gender and sexuality but also race and class . . . Students get excited because it’s about them . . . they face sexism, they face racism, they face classism, they face homophobia, transphobia, all of it, and feminism is the perfect launching point for those kinds of conversations. They want their education to be personal but they also want it to be useable, and I think that feminism is one of those things that you can teach that is so useable and young people just grab it.”

In case you missed the show last night, here’s the archive: my segment starts at 28:24 and ends at 42:18.

Earlier in May, I was also invited by Ananda Leeke from the Digital Sisterhood Network to be her guest for the entire hour (just press play). I was able to talk at length with Ananda about the Fulbright research I’m doing in México on LGBT youth in schools as well as my work in schools in the U.S. During the course of the show, my student and fellow Twitter fiend, Steven Susaña, joined the chat section of the program. Steven took my feminism course last fall, and since then, has been a committed feminist activist and male ally. It was so wonderful to have him as part of the conversation about teaching and learning feminism at the high school level.

Throughout both of these interviews, I was reminded again and again how important feminist media is and how important it is to lift each other’s work through our blogs, op-eds, radio programs, television appearances, and the like. We have to be the ones to invite each other to be guests on our blogs and programs if we want to change the landscape of voices. We have to be the ones to invite a different conversation for a different world.

Top 10 Media Moments for Young Feminists at LREI in 2010

In just one trimester, the students in my feminism course launched their voices into their communities and the feminist blogosphere. Here, they hold copies of "Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists." (photo Ileana Jiménez)

This past fall, the students in my Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists course at the Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (LREI) took the work we do in this class to a whole new level. They not only launched their feminist class blog F to the Third Power but also launched their voices as young high school feminists into their communities and the media.

I am particularly proud of the myriad ways in which these students have leveraged their feminist blogging and their work as activists to make an impact on the issues they care about such as street harassment, sexual assault and rape, the sexualization of girls and women in the media, and what it means to be a male ally. From blog posts to speaking engagements, my students are definitely becoming the inspiring voices of today’s feminist movement.

Below is a round-up of their top 10 moments in the spotlight:

1. In October, students launched their own feminist blog, F to the Third Power with tremendous help from Feministing bloggers, Chloe Angyal and Miriam Pérez.

2. Within weeks, Courtney Martin at Feministing quickly discovered my students’ blog. Shortly afterwards, Gabriela Resto-Montero from DNAinfo.com also wrote about my students’ blogging and their commitment to activism.

3. Cameron Diggs, a student in the feminism class, writes a guest blog post for Feministe about her award-winning human trafficking video.

4. When Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback, which uses mobile technology to fight street harassment, visited my class, she invited students to share their personal testimonies on the Hollaback website. By invitation from May, my feminism student Grace Tobin testified at the November New York City Council hearing on street harassment and was later interviewed by CBS and the New York Post. She wrote a blog post about her experience doing both at F to the Third Power.

5. Street harassment activist and scholar, Holly Kearl, features Grace Tobin’s testimony on her important Stop Street Harassment site as well as links Grace’s blog post from F to the Third Power. Ms. Magazine blog also quotes Grace in a post about her testimony. Continue reading

Video of Feminist Teacher and Students Speaking at TEDxYouth 2010

Several weeks ago, the students in my feminism class, Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists, spoke at TEDxYouth at the Hewitt School. We shared our various stories about how we found our feminist voice. The video of our talk has been picked up by nist.tv, one of my favorite new websites that features feminist videos.

During the first half of the talk, I shared stories about how I came to my feminism as a queer Latina high school and college student and later, as an educator. During the second half, the students told their powerful stories as well. Their stories range from launching a movement against the sexualization of girls in the media, to becoming a male feminist, to sharing one’s story about street harassment to impact policy. Set aside some time to listen to this next generation of young feminists. They are coming to change your world.

Young Feminists Speak Out at TEDxYouth

Students from my feminism class spoke at TEDxYouth at the Hewitt School (photo by Ileana Jiménez).

After much planning and rehearsing, half of the students in my Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists class and I finally got up on stage at TEDxYouth Day held at the Hewitt School in New York. The theme of this year’s TEDxYouth was “Be the Change,” and all talks were live-streamed globally. During our 16 minute talk, each of my students and I spoke about how we came to our feminist voice.

For two students, seniors Taylor Brando and Ian Tsang, their feminism emerges from watching the women in their families overcome challenges.

Brando said during her talk: “I came into my feminist voice by witnessing day in and day out the hardships the women in my family faced. They would constantly be put down or quieted, for no reason other than they were women. Most women in my family would try to get their voices heard, but nothing truly came of it. The biggest exception, however, is my mother. She always has been and always will be my main supporter. She is the one that showed me that women don’t need to be weak and defenseless. My mother is the whole reason I started working on feminism. Because of her, I want to help other women learn that they can be independent and speak their own minds. I want all women to be like my mother: independent and not afraid.” Continue reading

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: Sex+Gender: Reading Dangerous Language in High School

“My name is Lola Lorber, I’m a freshman, and my preferred gender pronouns are she, her, and hers.”

Lola Lorber

This is how we introduce ourselves on the first few days of classes at Oberlin College. To some it may sound weird, funny, or redundant; but at Oberlin, it is the norm.

I am proud to say I believe in sex positivity and freedom of speech. I’m a vegan, and I like to laugh. I’ve recently gotten into stand-up comedy because I like being able to say things into a microphone and make myself loud and heard. I am proud to make people laugh. I am proud to be an LREI alum (Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School).

The first elective course I ever took in high school was a memoir writing class my junior year. In this class, I discovered my voice, my identity, and my love for telling stories. In the fall of 2007, we were an intimate class of ten students consisting of a mix of juniors and seniors, and one teacher, Ileana Jiménez (also known as Feminist Teacher). We met almost every day in a hidden corner of the library–and it was here where our lives were shared and merged with each other’s. My peers would read aloud their pieces to the class revealing their true selves. With assigned readings from published memoirs and writing prompts given to us by Ileana, we were all immersed on a journey of our own words. I quickly became familiar with my humorous and sincere voice and I knew that I would continue to embrace it in my future. 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

New Series on the Impact of Teaching and Learning Feminism(s) in High School

This week I am launching an ongoing series of guest posts from former students reflecting on their experience of learning feminism(s) in high school. The inspiration for this series came from my students, who each day teach me that they too want to be a part of feminism as activists, artists, and academics.

When I founded this blog at the close of 2009, I wanted to begin a conversation with feminist educators in K-12 schools about the work they do in their classrooms as feminists. Within a month of starting the blog, I posted a letter that a student of mine had written to President Obama calling for implementing a feminist curriculum in our K-12 classrooms.

My student’s letter created a response from a variety of bloggers, including a post at Feministing by Courtney Martin and one from Anna North at Jezebel. Needless to say, I was honored by this affirmation of my student’s call to action and my work as a feminist educator.

But even with that wonderful response, I still wondered: Am I making a difference in my students’ lives? Is learning feminism in high school making an impact? And if so, would the voices of my students inspire other educators to make change in their classroom and in their schools? Continue reading