We Need to Teach Feminism to End Global Violence
Today, Ileana Jiménez, founder, Feminist Teacher, shares ways to design feminist curricula, which she believes can, "stop the violence that exists both in ourselves and between each other."
By guest blogger Ileana Jiménez
For those of us in the global feminism-in-schools movement, we believe that transformative social change can only come about by re-imagining school as one of the most important places to begin dismantling institutionalized violence.
Recent examples of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia—including gun violence and police brutality in the US; the "Brexit" vote in the UK, (which has been largely attributed to anti-immigrant sentiment); the policing of women's and girls' bodies, such as the banning of burkinis worn by Muslim women in France and the banning of natural hairstyles worn by black girls in South Africa; and the racist rhetoric of the US presidential campaign and beyond—only further confirm the need for curricula that asks students to examine, speak out against, and prevent multiple forms of violence.
Feminist teachers have always addressed violence, both interpersonal and systemic. We do this work by using an intersectional feminist lens for designing our content and teaching practices.
Rather than rely on a yesteryear version of feminism that examines only sexism, intersectional feminism takes into account how systems of oppression interconnect simultaneously, such as racism, classism, and homophobia. When Kimberlé Crenshaw, black feminist legal theorist and scholar, coined the term intersectionality in 1989, women of color feminists had already been writing about this concept. Crenshaw's term provided theoretical traction to a range of fields, including women's and gender studies, and it has increasingly made an impact on how schools function, from curriculum design to school policy. For social justice teachers, intersectionality provides a powerful framework that allows us to move from theory to action with our students.
Today's young feminists, including boys and young men, embrace intersectional feminism in their everyday lives. A term that was once only used in academia, the students we teach are learning about this theory as early as middle school on their Instagram and Tumblr accounts. They use this term when talking about everything from school dress codes to rape culture. As we move into the school year, let's leverage this exposure that our students have to intersectional feminism and redesign our classroom content and practices.
When we begin this work with students, we must provide a respectful space for them to share their experiences with violence such as Islamophobia, police brutality, as well as sexual and street harassment. Once they share their stories and reflect on their impact, students can then move into a place of action, whether that's writing online, organizing a campaign, or educating their peers. As Angela Davis said at the 2014 National Women's Studies Association conference in Puerto Rico, "Intersectionality is the most productive form of feminism." It is productive because it not only allows us to address multiple forms of oppression but also allows us to take effective action. Our students know this intuitively.
Designing an Intersectional Feminist Curriculum
Inclusive to its core, intersectional feminism in the classroom centers the voices and histories of those who have been erased within a global master narrative that valorizes white, male, heterosexist privilege and authority. The content we teach must itself be by and about those left out of this narrative, such as women and girls, people of color, queer communities, indigenous groups, immigrants, refugees, religious minorities, and the disabled. By centering these voices and by analyzing the root causes of marginalization on economic, political, and social levels, students begin to understand the violence they see happening in our schools and families, our streets and communities, and various theatres of war.
In considering how to create an intersectional feminist classroom, three key ideas should be applied to curriculum design and practice. While this list is not exhaustive, it is a starting point. To design your classroom content, your work should be:
In a feminist classroom, students analyze how marginalized groups experience various forms of oppression simultaneously. They also learn how intersectionality can be used as a source of strength and as a foundation for change and transformation socially and politically. In my classroom, students read a range of intersectional feminist texts by theorists and activists both classic and contemporary such as Sarah Ahmed, Gloria Anzaldúa, Jasmine Burnett, Ana Castillo, Brittney Cooper, Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Chandra Mohanty, Cherríe Moraga, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, and more.
As an English teacher, I teach literature in connection to other disciplines. In my feminism elective for high school juniors and seniors, I experiment with different texts in different years. Students read introductory women's history texts such as A History of U.S. Feminisms followed by Sojourner Truth's speeches, Audre Lorde's essays in Sister Outsider, and plays such as Ntozake Shange's for colored girls and Suzan-Lori Parks's In the Blood. They read everything from Angela Davis's autobiography to Rachel Lloyd's commercial sex trafficking memoir, Girls Like Us. They watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDx talk, "We should all be feminists," and read Yael Farber's play, Nirbhaya, about the 2012 Delhi gang rape.
They have Skype chatted with Richa Nagar, author of Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India. They've watched Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's Saving Face about acid attacks in Pakistan. I've taken them to see the film He Named Me Malala and to the UN for International Day of the Girl. They watch bell hooks speak at the New School both online and in person in New York. They take notes on Anita Hill's documentary, Speaking Truth to Power. They read Crenshaw's #BlackGirlsMatter report, which teaches students the importance of studying research in education, law, and sociology in relation to black girls and school-pushout. Then they witness Crenshaw in conversation with other global activists speaking about violence against girls and women.
Then the students blog about it all on their site, F to the Third Power.
As leading girls' studies scholar, Lyn Mikel Brown, points out in her book, Powered by Girl, rather than working separately, today's feminist women and girls are combining their passions and expertise to make the movement stronger. As activist teachers, we need to partner with our students in the public arena and share our practices with other fellow colleagues and students.
For example, I recently presented alongside one of my students, Jessica, at the UN Girl Up Leadership Summit, where we led two back-to-back, standing-room only sessions about intersectionality. We were excited to see at least fifty girls in each session. Jessica shared her work as a young feminist #BlackLivesMatter blogger and I talked about how I use a variety of texts to discuss #BlackLivesMatter in relation to #SayHerName, both a hashtag and report that remembers and honors women of color in the US who have been killed at the hands of police brutality.
Jessica and I modeled that teachers and students must do intersectional feminist work together. And feminism is not only for girls. The boys in my classes have also presented with me on toxic masculinity at local schools and have even appeared in the media to talk about the importance of having young men in the feminist movement.
As students and teachers, we are not separate silos, as others might want us to believe and even act. Instead, our vision for change must model that we can do transformative work together. In designing curricula that blends academic content, student experience, and an analysis of systemic oppression, feminist teachers are taking on a tremendous, and I would argue, globally competent, task in our classrooms. Only when we combine these practices, will we be able to stop the violence that exists both in ourselves and between each other.
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Photos courtesy of the author.