Australian high schools are now teaching feminism to their students – this is what we want being taught to our teens
“I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” No, those aren’t the immortal words of our Secretary of State for Education, or unlikelier still, our Prime Minister, but American pop sensation and philosophiser Whitney Houston. She’s got a pretty solid point. Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. And they are the one’s who can usher in a more progressive, more inclusive, more equal society.
The thing is, misogyny is still standard in schools here. According to recent stats, 81 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 have seen or experienced sexism in the past week. That translates to: girls are sluts or frigid while guys aren’t. They’re fat or they’re anorexic. They look like girls or they’re automatically a lesbian or “dyke”. They might still have parents who reinforce sexism while they’re at home.
But Australia are one step ahead of this. Later this month a feminist curriculum will be made available to schools across Victoria. Topics covered include objectification, domestic violence, media representations of gender, statistical breakdowns around the pay gap, and female visibility in sport.
A feminist curriculum isn’t just for girls. Boys need to be in on it too. Ideally, this idea would be translated across to our schools – primary school and up – ASAP. We had a thought about our dream academic instruction so the government don’t have to.
THE EVOLUTION OF FEMINISM
Learning objective: What is feminism? What is equality? It’s also important to know the former has changed a lot over the years. Your first feminist “text” might be The Female Eunuch, like mine was, but that doesn’t mean Greer’s book is a bible I still refer to now. Time has moved on, and some of her ideas – about trans women, for example –should stay in the past.
Children will be shown the simple evolution of feminism. From the women who threw themselves under horses in the name of women’s rights and through second and third waves of feminism through to current progressive ideas. We’d look to the past to appreciate the efforts of those who came before us, and know that we’re still on a journey to equality.
SEXY SEX ED
Condom on a banana? Separating the girls and handing around maxi pads? Yeah, not going to cut it anymore. Get them all in a room together and tell them about sex. Teach them about vaginas so girls actually know their own. Teach them that sex isn’t just penetrative hetero sex. Teach them that sex is normal. And not wanting to have sex is normal. And most of all, teach them all that no is no. That stiffening muscles and not responding to your touch means no. That being too drunk or high means no. That unless someone actually says they want to, it’s a no.
The feminism of the future ain’t trans-exclusionary. Grab the fucking Crayola and glitter and separate sex and gender and show them all the shades inbetween. Learning about trans issues will ensure the schooling environment can be trans-inclusive and non-trans people can be good allies at school and in the wider world.
Shit doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Anyone can face multiple threats of discrimination when their identities overlap a number of minority classes, such as race, sexuality, age, ethnicity, and so on. These issues all interlink and often can’t be cleanly separated. Study riot grrrl and how black women’s interests were sidelined. Do stereotyping exercises in small groups. Practice making safe and inclusive spaces and question what might undermine that for certain groups of people. Gold star for the first kid to recognise the invisibility of their privilege.
ALT HISTORY LESSONS
When I was at school, History A-Level was studying British 18th century prime ministers, uncritically. Pitt the Younger, Pitt the Elder, Sir Robert Peel. Guess what? They were all Tories trotting around in wigs, imposing the death penalty on the unemployed and colonialising other countries. Essentially, history at school boils down to a load of white blokes doing great stuff and doing really bad stuff.
Feminist history lessons put women in the forefront. Tell the stories of the women who got left out of the stories. Maria Stewart who helped kick off the fight for African-Americans against racism. Marsha Johnson who threw the first brick at Stonewall. Explorer Mary Kingsley who hung out with cannibalist tribes in West Africa, while wearing a petticoat. Female scientists, inventors, doctors, teachers and artists – and definitely no boring British prime ministers. Unless it’s to slate their actions, of course.