Fighting with the Sky

Where would I be?

Posted on: February 8, 2010

As some of you may know, I majored in Women’s and Gender Studies in college.  How did I come to this decision?  I’m not really sure.  I didn’t really wake up one day and suddenly realize that that is what I wanted to do.  It was more of a gradual understanding.  My interest in Women’s and Gender Studies academically started in my Introduction to Anthropology class the second semester of my freshmen year.  My professor had a way of discussing feminist issues in an academic context that drew me in, even though it wasn’t specifically a Women’s and Gender Studies course.  I owe my career in Women’s and Gender Studies to Kim Mills, that anthropology professor that I learned so much from.

But what if I had been exposed to academic feminism and women’s studies earlier than the second semester of my freshmen year of college?  I went to a high school in a pretty Christan, conservative community.  Feminism was a dirty word so much to the point that, even though I held feminist beliefs, I NEVER would have called myself a feminist and my mother never referred to herself as a feminist even though I got most of my feminist beliefs from her.  How would I have turned out differently if I had taken a women’s studies course in high school?

I don’t even know if I would have had the guts to step out of the box and take a women’s studies course in high school.  I don’t even know if I would have given it a second thought as something of possible interest.  I was a completely different person in high school.  But that doesn’t mean that women’s studies and academic feminism should not be a part of high school (and even middle school) curriculum.

My high school, of course, had the obligatory “special sections” in units including history about specific women or looking at one or two female authors.  But this in no way could be considered feminist or women’s studies.  It’s what schools do to avoid being seen as prejudice or exclusionary.

Women’s studies classes can offer high school students a way of expressing social justice interest and ways of looking at how different forms of oppression intersect.  Women’s studies is not just about looking at the history and interests of women.  It’s about looking at the world as different intersecting forms of oppression and what can be done to address these issues.

There has also been debate as to whether high schools should have specific women’s studies classes or if feminism/women’s studies should be integrated into the entire curriculum.  I believe that, ideally, feminism should be integrated into the entire curriculum…if it’s done right.  Specific women’s studies classes are a good way to start.  They kind of test the waters for the acceptance of working women’s studies into the entire curriculum from teachers, students, parents, administrators, and anyone else who could possibly have an opinion.

Working feminism/women’s studies into the entire curriculum has some obvious benefits (getting maximum exposure, etc.), but it also has some drawbacks.  We have the issues of non-feminist teachers.  While, I believe that everyone should be a feminist, we can’t force anyone who is not.  Forcing never got us anywhere.  It just makes people mad and resentful.  And forcing a non-feminist teacher to teach a feminist curriculum would probably pass that resentment onto the students, which is not helpful at all.

I don’t know how my life would have turned out differently if I had been more exposed to feminism in high school through a women’s studies class.  Maybe I wouldn’t have seen women’s studies as something new and exciting when I got to college and I would have ended up majoring in something else.  Who knows.  But even though I am happy with the way that my life has turned out, I think it would have been better to have women’s studies classes in high school!!

Further Reading:

Ashley’s Teaching Feminism series at Small Strokes

Equality 101: I wish my high school had offered a women’s studies class

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