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Should Feminism Be Taught In School?

A UK based academic says feminism should be taught in schools. As a feminist blogger, I couldn’t agree more. Dr. Jessica Ringrose at the Institute of Education in London has made the rounds recently, suggesting that feminism should be taught in schools to combat the increased sexualization of girls in the media and to give girls role models outside of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Ringrose suggests teaching girls about historic feminist leaders, like suffragists, to balance out all the tripe they’re getting through pop culture. While I’m all about teaching feminism to younger girls (hell, start them in kindergarten!), as others have noted, I think we’re better off showing girls what kinds of amazing feminist action is happening right now. These days, there are feminist blogs, organizations, and activists all over the place, but they just don’t get the media play that vapid gals do. That’s part of the reason I started Feministing four years ago, to provide a forum for feminists to speak their minds and to show that young women are politically engaged and active. What better way to demonstrate that feminism can change the world than showing girls the very women and organizations who are already out there doing it?

Generally, American women don’t learn about feminism when they’re girls. Take me, for example. Like a lot of young women, I always believed in feminist values. After all —w ho doesn’t want equal pay and an end to violence against women? But there was no way, I thought, I was going to call myself a feminist. It was enough of a social stigma to care about politics and be a loud, opinionated girl in high school. I knew that adding the “f-word” into the mix would generate a world of trouble. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Once I had my first taste of feminism in a Women’s Studies class during my junior year of college, I was hooked. Finally, I could put a name to the feelings I had about the way women were treated, and I didn’t have to be ashamed of it. Without a doubt, I was a feminist, and I wasn’t ashamed to say it. Nearly ten years later, feminism is what I do. It’s my life, my career, and my passion, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. My only regret is that I didn’t find feminism earlier, and that other women are missing out on all the fun.

Too many women in the U.S. won’t be exposed to feminism until college — and that’s only if they take a women’s studies class, and only if they’re fortunate enough to go to college. That’s a shame. If younger women and girls are exposed to feminist ideals — that it’s okay to speak your mind, that you’re more than what you look like or what the opposite sex thinks of you, that being politically and socially engaged is a good thing — they’d not only avoid a ton of personal turmoil, but they’d also be more likely to be out there making the world a better place for other women. That’s why I’m looking forward to the day when an organization like Canada’s Miss G__ Project, which lobbies for high school women’s studies classes, comes to America.

After I took my first women’s studies class, I joined my school’s teaching collective, which meant I got to teach other undergraduates an introduction to feminism course. While I had an incredible time teaching it, sometimes I wondered if it made any difference. On the last day of class one of my students — a quiet girl around my age — came up to me, almost crying, and told me that the things she had learned in the class had changed her life, and that she planned to bring some of those lessons back to her sorority. She gave a me a big hug and walked away. I think about her a lot, and how I wish the same moment of truth for younger and younger women. The only question is: How can we make it happen?

Jessica Valenti is the founder and editor of Feministing.com, and the author of “Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters” and “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know”.

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