Calling all Feminist Educators:

Since retiring and becoming a twitter tragic over the last 2 years in my retirement what has struck me most is the extensive amount of debate and focus on feminist issues: gender justice; gender injustice; the importance of and the irrelevance of feminism in social media.

But there is one place where feminism debate and discussion seems to be alarmingly thin on the ground, especially in Australia – school education! From the perspective of an outsiders like myself it appears to be a feminist free zone.

Current debates on social medial  cover ranges the following:

  • Robust academic discussion on: the nature of patriarchy, the relationship between patriarchy and class and race oppression, transgender issues, the importance of intersectionality, women, peace and security issues; and women and development
  • Media studies and feminism: the Bechdel test, feminist films, rape tropes in film, advertising
  • Human rights and legal discussions on sexual assault, domestic violence partner murder, gender and the law, gender and the language of violence against women. This includes the powerful hashtag #whyIstayed
  • Feminists mothers, sometimes disrespectfully referred to as ‘mommy bloggers’ writing about how appallingly little has changed for women once babies come on the scene, sexists toys, sexists practices in nursery schools, in children’s TV and movies, sexist clothes, the sexualisation of little children and yes even sexist schooling practices and the ignorance of schools re issues of transgender and gender fluidity
  • Economic discussions on the impact of social and economic policies on women – especially on particular groups of women. This has also given rise to important pieces about neoliberalism or as Naomi Klein calls it unconstrained capitalism
  • Women of Colour (WOC) and Indigenous feminists voices including the viral hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen: writing on their exclusion from the feminist mainstream debate and the silence of feminism around racism, policy violence, shooting of young black men and the lack of understanding of the complexity of issues for Indigenous women grappling with lateral violence that is off the scale in a context where police are not trusted for good reasons and services are poor, racist or simply non existent.
  • Sexism in gaming and gamer culture and the murderous violence, viciously sexualised threats and vitriol directed to anyone who dares to expose it
  • Feminist and antifeminist celebrities – Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Ellen Page, Lena Dunham, and more recently Emma Watson
  • Antifeminism outbreaks from young women #Idontneedfeminism
  • Sexist bullies in the media – especially sexism directed to Julia Gillard . This of course gave rise to extensive debate about the effectiveness of feminist attempts to turn the tables on sexism through things like #Destroythejoint, #cavalcadeofcleavages, #slut walks
  • Attacks from faux- feminist that are really about something else – eg how can you complain when women in Afghanistan
  • #everyday sexism

Now this is not even a complete list – I could go on for some time. But you get my point. The debate about feminism in social media is alive and well and in my view quite exciting if ephemeral and lacking in vital contextual information.

This absence within the school education policies. programs and debate has been the case ever since the mens rights movement highjacked the gender debate in the mid 1990s.

Yet. there is ample evidence that in spite of the nearly 20 year lacuna around gender justice in Australian schools, masculinities and femininities continue to be shaped, contested, enabled and constrained by the experience of schooling. In fact from an outside perspective the gender shaping that takes place in schools appears to have gone backwards (I am quite happy to be proved wrong about this).

The official and hidden school curriculum  actively constitutes, confirms and legitimises gendered identities, dreams, desires narratives and relations. Yet research, discussion shared engagement by teachers about how they work to acknowledge and address appears to be extremely sparing outside the world of academia.

Although I constantly search – I have been unsuccessful at unearthing any real significant or extended debate about feminism and schooling apart from

  • The small number of feminist educators in the US – most of whom work in elite private schools and have the luxury and freedom because of this to run courses teaching feminism
  •  Examples of young women – again at non public schools who have established feminist clubs and the back lash that has resulted.
  • Occasional outbursts about sexism in school dress code. These are important because it has always been about girls and dress code – never boys and the arguments made by the girls have implied that the dress code has been justified in terms of girls being too sexual and a distraction for the boys
  • GLBTI students and their right to a safe and supportive environment – a most important and welcome development
  • 2 isolated articles on the almost total dominance of male authors in the English curriculum at 2 relatively progressive schools
  • A flurry of interest in a campaign to address sexual harassment in France by having schoolboys wear skirts to school.
  • A research article that claimed that boys and girls received unequal amounts of pocket money for the same chores from their primary years on.
  • Some quite well thought out Violence and sexual assault programs – mainly in Victoria focussing on the development of respectful relationships.

Now by my standards, that is pretty meagre pickings and not enough to fill more than one or two at the most issues of the old journal The GEN – don’t know how many readers recall this publication.

It is also a pretty limited set of feminist concerns. Violence against women is important but it is not the only issue of relevance to feminism. And engaging with the issue of violence in a sanitized and feminist free context is next to useless.

Why the school/gender gap?

Now up until a few years ago, my understanding about this would have been that the boys education backlash managed to kill off the more significant elements of gender equity practice and policy because they were able to use girls greater educational success – (when moderated for class, race, region etc) to mount the case that boys were the new disadvantaged group.

But I have had the opportunity to reconsider this recently and I am now  not satisfied with this explanation. There must be more to it.

We do need address this gap. Your thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “Calling all Feminist Educators:

  1. It starts in primary school and even younger where parents buy sexualised clothing for their young girls because they look ‘cute’ dressed up as adults, or as a joke e.g. with writing on T-shirts the children wouldn’t understand. My 9 year old daughter wants to wear her best friend’s clothes – a clingy black mesh miniskirt like a popstar or hooker would wear. Parents need to have conversations about sexuality and clothes even for girls at this age, and let them be kids as long as they can. I think this issue underlies all the other gender problems- that girls are viewed as sexual objects and learn to view themselves as such. This disempowers them for later choices about sexuality.

  2. Working with pre-service teachers, I have found that neo-liberal conceptions of each to their own and we are responsible for our own success/failures to be a far easier conceptualisation for these future teachers to take on, than to really pay attention to the impacts on and challenges through the recognition and acknowledgement of systematic systems of oppression and dis/advantage. Julie Bishop’s recent comments http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/29/julie-bishop-rejects-term-feminist-as-not-useful-in-women-in-media-address that received a lot of critical comment, seems to epitomize a divide – I was going to say generational, but that is not it – that I am trying to understand. For me to attempt to bring in a critical discussion and/or reflection on the role teachers have as educators to consider and address notions of social justice, there are things we need to talk about. It is much simpler for pre-service teachers to recognise there will be a range of diversity and particular needs in their classes, than to see the larger systematic re-enactments of dis/advantage in which they play a major role. Julie Bishop, politics aside, is a ‘successful’ (neolib) woman to be admired, and the education discourse seems to be able to have little over all impact on this.
    Meg, like you, I want to do something about this, but enough of my students don’t like it, and don’t see any need to challenge or change what they believe (feminism and politics have no place in their own learning to be teachers) and that as long as they are ‘nice’ and teach their students what they need to know, then it is completely up to them whether or not they ‘succeed’ in the long run. So yes, we do need help, input, and I personally want to find ways to revitalise the critical passion in more of our teachers.
    (I am presenting a paper on this at the TASA Sociology Conference in Adelaide next week – please feel welcome to check out our WordPress site: https://tasasociologyofeducation.wordpress.com/ and I look forward to coming back here to see what others have to say)

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