Part 1: Teaching Feminism in High School
I just finished a sequence about gender equality and feminism with my high school students. At first, the kids were sceptical, but the classes ended up being a success! Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the UN was the main focus of the chapter, but the ideas of gender stereotypes and feminism were first introduced via two fun, yet insightful BuzzFeed videos.
On the teaching front, the experience was both difficult and thrilling. We started with the “I’m a woman, but I’m not” video from Buzzfeed.I then asked each of my students to make a similar sentence that applied to them personally – some of the answers were very interesting! Here are some examples of what they said:
“I’m a man, but I don’t think I am better than women.”
“I’m a woman, but I’m not talkative.”
“I’m a man, but I’m not violent.”
“I’m a woman, and I love playing football (soccer).”
“I’m a man, and I love shopping with my girl friends!”
The exercise helped them see how similar they all were, which was a good introduction to feminism. I then asked them to explain to me what they thought feminism was. As it turned out, they did not really know what to say, but some of them did think that it was a woman-only thing and that is was about making women superior to men, a view which is, unfortunately, often conveyed by the media …
It seems their opinion changed, however, after we studied Emma Watson’s speech. It was really hard for French kids to grasp everything Emma Watson was saying in English (without any subtitles), especially as the speech was fairly long, but once they got it, their reaction was very positive. Of course, specialists in women studies or feminism might argue that Emma Watson’s speech does not entirely serve the feminist cause as it relies heavily on male involvement (which leads us back to the point of women needing men) and it insists too much on the fact that men don’t have the benefits of equality. I would not disagree. I do think, though, that it is a good place to start because it is simple enough, which is even more important when you’re teaching English as a second language.
At the end of the sequence, the students’ final task was to write and give a speech about gender equality, and I was glad to see some of the girls really took the assignment as an opportunity to express themselves. The two most impressive speeches I heard, though, did not simply focus on the traditional roles of men and women in society. The first speech was about female sexuality, slut-shaming and rape culture. The second was a boy’s statement that the only way to really change things for the better would be to give children a real, egalitarian, stereotype-free education. This, friends, made my day because I felt like I had really helped them grow and develop their thought process (while teaching them English of course haha).
Teaching feminism in high school is possible and essential. And where I teach, I find that language classes are one of the only places where it can be taught. In fact, the same is true of minority rights and discrimination in general because our language classes are the only ones where students can really discuss these topics and express themselves as language classes are communication-driven. What do you think?
I’ll see you soon with Part 2: studying feminism 🙂