Feminism resources for schools: I’m not cross, just very disappointed

Many feminists are very NEGATIVE about the society we live in and always see the BAD in everything. […] They want to generalise their ideas about males and females to the whole of society.

AS Sociology resource website

I am a feminist. I am also a miserable sod. Usually I assume these two things to be only loosely related, but perhaps I’m wrong. In any case, I’m blaming the menz.

I’m not a sociology teacher. I don’t know how you’d teach a Key Stage 5 sociology course. I am, however, quite surprised to learn that in some places it is being done through the medium of 1970s stereotypes (my own specialism is in languages, hence I eagerly await the day when intercultural understanding is covered by “French people wear ONIONS round their NECKS” and “TWO world wars AND one world cup” – no idea what’s going on with the capitals there, but if it’s THE latest thing in pedagogy, I’m going WITH the FLOW).

While I’m not an expert in sociology, I do know what it is like to be a feminist, as do millions of other women. Feminism is quite interesting, really. Partly it’s to do with imagining stuff – picturing other ways of being – but it’s also to do with change. Finding ways to avoid harm and ways to do good. And also having the odd barney about intersectionality or Naomi Wolf’s vagina. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of reading (at least, I bloody hope not, because I’m guessing Take A Break doesn’t count). For me, it’s about asking questions about how we respond to others – and also how we educate them.

As a feminist, I am interested in fairness. It wouldn’t strike me as particularly fair if I were to sit around picking holes in another person’s educational resources as though I could just whip something up on the side in between marking essays, planning lessons and crying over the existence of Michael Gove. I couldn’t. It is not easy to teach complex ideas concisely. Many feminists disagree over what feminism means. But there is so much out there – so much to inspire and interest students, and to get them asking questions – that I fail to see the value in closing their minds. The history of feminism is fascinating (the bits I’ve read, at least, when not engrossed in the Brainwaves Roadshow). Current trends might appear fragmented and confusing, but the ideas being discussed – ideas which might be linked to race, violence, work, money, objectification, class, sex, biology – are incredibly important to young people about to move into adulthood. These young people will have to negotiate a gendered world and find their place in it. If the very notion of gender inequality is presented as something other – a minority cult belief – you short circuit deeper analysis of the details of how we interact with one another. Inequality and gender difference are not simply things you either believe in or you don’t. It is not the purpose of a sociology course to force students to decide where they stand, but it ought to enable them to see debate as something vibrant, nuanced and relevant to real lives.

Is presenting opinion as fact – telling students that all feminists have a negative view of the world, for instance, and or that they have no interest in class – the route to an A*? I have no idea, although I suspect not. If anything, such a focus on drilling conservative, pre-digested “fact” into young minds strikes me as rather Gove-esque. But spec change hasn’t happened yet. Seeing as lefty, wussy, morally relativist teachers are still in charge, why not make the most of it? Get your students to form their own opinions. Talk to real, live feminists. See if some of your colleagues or even your class are feminists themselves. Compare the anti-feminist narrative with the lived reality. Compare the overlap and bleeding together of different trends. Look at why the word itself is so contentious and misrepresented in sociological discourse. See what feminism hasn’t achieved – and allow your students to ask why (clue: it’s not because we’re all too sodding miserable. Well, it might be. But once again, I blame the menz).

Perhaps all of this sounds idealistic. After all, this isn’t Dead Poets’ Society (which, in any case, is far too full of men). But there needs to be some degree of responsibility in how students are taught about movements which have changed, and will continue to change, their lives.


17 thoughts on “Feminism resources for schools: I’m not cross, just very disappointed

  1. That opening quote is bloody astounding! Imagine teaching that to the women of tomorrow. I feel a bit sick and very sad indeed. Although as I’ve just written on my own blog I’m already in a muddle over what feminism means so perhaps I’m not the best person to comment…

    1. I think it is hard if you’re providing your own resources not to put your own spin on things but it’s such a missed opportunity when there’s so much out there already. I bet there are gender studies depts in HE with people genuinely willing to advise, perhaps even viewing it in terms of outreach / widening access.

  2. I’m a Sociology teacher and I’m disgusted by the simplicity and stupidity of ‘resources’ like this. It’s hard enough trying to captivate & motivate teenagers who at the best of times struggle to discuss gender disparity without feeling ashamed or silly. Utter tripe like this belittles the debate, it keeps the girls in my class clammed up and gives ammunition to those boys who can’t see past the stereotype of ‘scary’, dungaree-clad women

    1. It tells them what they may think and feel is merely what “the feminists” believe. I don’t know much about resource provision for these subjects – but my general impression is that when teachers create their own resources it’s because they want to and have a specific interest in how the subject’s delivered. Otherwise, surely there is enough material elsewhere? Surely it would be quicker to hunt down pre-written content – through forums, contacts in other schools or TES – rather than make up stuff like this? I am just surprised someone goes to the actual effort of creating something so flawed. Or are there loads of resources which are just like this?

      1. I create my own as the textbooks are actually not that good. I often use a variety of bits and bobs from different texts etc- it certainly not to put a specific slant on things.

  3. It all depends on the age group you’re catering for. There are more online materials for GCSE lessons than A level but, in my opinion, there aren’t a huge number of good sociology resources full stop. I teach a lot of high ability students and I have difficulty finding resources that go beyond the basics and examine the nuances within sociological theory.

  4. I teach AS Sociology feminism and I guarantee it is not like this.
    Unfortunately the exam spec does not allow us to discuss the many nuances of feminism but one of the first things we do is discuss and break down stereotypes of feminists as well as discussing why they exist. Link to website would be good- it is likely that the teacher is not a specialist though!

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