Want to make your teaching more inclusive and feminist but not sure where to start? Here are our five ways to begin that journey…
#1 Make women visible
Don’t know where to start? The first step to a feminist classroom is easier than you think… make women visible. In a world that has centred men, particularly white, cis, able-bodied men, it is radical to make visible women and others from minority identities in your classroom. Making these voices heard, and these faces visible, serves to disrupt the assumed narrative that our world has progressed to this point simply because of a specific, relatively small section of society. By delving beneath the surface we very quickly see the multitude of identities and genders that have made vast contributions in science, politics, literature, art and our world today.
Amongst other things, making women visible has two very important consequences. Firstly, it provides highly necessary role models for young girls to aspire to. Being able to recognise people who look like us in jobs or positions helps us to picture ourselves there one day. And secondly, listening to other people’s perspectives and experiences develops empathy and broadens what your pupils look for and see in the world around them. If you want some inspiration or some visuals for your classroom check out these posters of women in STEM from Nevertheless.
#2 Call out gendered language with no exceptions
In creating an inclusive education, language is key and is the bedrock on which more further inequality is built. It is very common to hear concerns about gendered language be dismissed as political correctness gone mad or unnecessary policing. Unfortunately, letting sexist or biased language slide takes the first step towards normalising and treating inequality as acceptable. So when you hear language being used that has a bias towards a particular sex or gender, call it out. Ask your pupils to identify why you have called it out and explore its negative gendered impacts together.
Matt Pinkett (co-author of book Boys Don't Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools) talks about the need for ‘militant tenderness’ which is the conscious effort to tackle the hyper-masculinisation of boys by society. Pinkett advocates that one of the methods through which we can achieve this is by paying ‘merciless attention’ to our own language as educators, and that of our students. Sign up for the Bold Voices Newsletter and watch out for some quick activities you can do with your students to explore gendered language and its impact.
#3 Be transparent about what you don’t know
It is absolutely okay to not have all the answers when talking about gendered issues, feminism and equality. These are complex topics that can be triggering, personal and controversial. They are also topics that students often respond best to if you are able to be more open and vulnerable with them about how you feel and the fact that you are unsure about something. Know that there will often be times that your students know more than you do about some of these issues, always a great opportunity to learn from them. By teaching students that their experiences of these issues are valid we give them more confidence to speak up for themselves and to make their voices heard.
Remember that all social justice work is a scale, the work is never done or finished and each time you demonstrate this to your students you are providing an excellent pathway to model. As Liz Kleinrock (known on Instagram as Teach&Transform) says, ‘Anti-bias work is not a book or a curriculum. It’s a lens we need to look through when planning lessons, assigning projects or books, facilitating discussions, really any time educators come into contact with students, families, and colleagues. It doesn’t come naturally. We need to constantly practice and reflect in order to identify and catch our biases’.
#4 Include the boys
To understand that the benefits of equality extend to both boys and girls is critical. This means including discussions about masculinity, male mental health and societal expectations of boys in the classroom. Discussions about the place of men and boys in a rapidly changing society are ongoing and necessary. Reactions to the Gillette Ad released at the beginning of the year demonstrate how highly contentious the issue of masculinity is at the moment, and highlight the need for engagement with the topic, particularly with young people.
This recognition goes hand in hand with the understanding that feminism exists to rectify the unequal balance of power between men and women that is built into the structures of our world. So although the inclusion of boys and men is crucial, this mustn’t be achieved at the cost of diluting our understanding of the problem needing to be solved. Ensuring that boys do not feel like the problem, but rather part of the conversation and the solution, is crucial.
#5 Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Tackling our biases, being critical of the language we use, deconstructing inherent power structures are all ways we can personally start to dismantle inequality - but they are all uncomfortable. To create a world in which men and women are equal is to dismantle the inequality that permeates the roots of our society. This is not easy work, and it is very often not comfortable work. However, each time we embrace the uncomfortable we move a little further towards the end goal of eradicating inequality.