If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Teaching Feminism

Angel is taking his first "Gender and..." course this semester. The class meets on Tuesday nights. I'm teaching my "Gender and...." course this semester. My course meets on Tuesday nights. We're in completely different fields and I'm teaching a graduate level course but we've swapped stories a few times. Its been interesting to hear his perspective--as a student, as a man, as my son. I read a draft of his final paper and enjoyed it immensely. Not only is he developing as a writer but it involved his first stint at research and he had some good insights.

Today he called to tell me something he learned in class last night that he thought I would find interesting. It seems his teacher was covering feminism and Angel was shocked to find out that feminists are portrayed negatively by much of society. She showed them clips of people describing feminists and told them a personal anecdote about being left at the table and stuck with the bill on a dinner date after disclosing she was a feminist. Angel has since then polled some of his female friends to see if they identify as feminist and has again been shocked and a bit dismayed upon hearing their reactions. Now Angel is the sole male member of the only feminist organization on his campus and is close friends with the president but I don't think he was polling those friends. I believe he was talking about his sorority sisters. He goes to a pretty conservative school so he heard some harsh reactions.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it all. Of course I am thrilled that he is enjoying the class so much; that he is interested enough to talk about it with others; and that he finds it so hard to understand why feminists have a bad rap. What I don't really get is how he managed to reach the age of 20 without learning of it before. I'm not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing (and probably it is neither) that he's been sheltered from this knowledge his whole life. He grew up in a very liberal environment. He grew up the son of a feminist mother who hangs with a feminist crowd and honestly I've received very little flak over my lifetime on my feminist positions. So I guess he has had very few opportunities to learn about it.

It does make me think about what my students (including the undergraduate 'Women and...' course I teach in the fall) and what bells I may be ringing in their heads. The longer I teach the more I realize how much I incorrectly assume something is general knowledge. I think this happens the most when I "teach feminism."


Annie said...

What I seem to be discovering, and am shocked and saddened about, is that so many of today's young women- teens and twenty-somethings- even those young women who appear to be strong, intelligent and independent thinkers- don't identify with being feminist, and seem not to be aware of their rights, or their strengths, not only as women but as human beings. Do you find this to be true with the young women you teach?

I'll never forget being in a writing class, and having the instructor, a seemingly enlightened thirty-something woman, telling the class, if you don't choose a male protagonist for your stories, you may not be published, and two of the young women in the class, both talented writers, seeming to agree with her, one of them stating, "I just don't find women to be interesting."

I'm glad Angel has been exposed to feminist views from the beginning. I've tried to do that with my son, but my husband's joking influence, unfortunately, has had a negative impact. Though my husband's actions have always supported me, his statements leave much to be desired.

Psycgirl said...

I think it's wonderful that that is his attitude - it means to me that you have raised him very well :)

Drax said...

Angel has since then polled some of his female friends to see if they identify as feminist and has again been shocked and a bit dismayed upon hearing their reactions...

I think these young women might be responding to a a "bad word" with "bad associations," I think they may be more fem-centric than they or Angel realizes.

I think.

Maggie May said...

I think he sounds WONDERFUL.

Brigindo said...

Annie - Yes I do find that resistance to identifying oneself as a feminist among my students. The course I teach at the undergraduate level makes very clear where women's rights are in relation to men's and highlights women's strengths. I am continually amazed at how much of an eye-opener my class is for young women.

Drax - That is exactly what I thought too, until Angel told me exactly what one young woman said. It was something so degrading to women that Angel lost a great deal of respect for her.

Feminist Mom said...

This anti-feminist attitude has been around from the very start, frightening women, especially young women, into denying any interest in feminism. The media (influenced by whom I can only guess) went out of their way to portray feminists as boot-wearing, hairy, braless, ugly, unappealing, no doubt lesbian (and that may have had the strongest effect) women who couldn't attract men. That image, I think, still underlies the resistance to feminism. Despite the attempt by young feminists today to counter that image, I think it's still deeply embedded in our culture and the fear of being so labeled is one reason, at least, why young women still refuse to want to be seen as feminists.

Julie said...

Maybe our reactions are shaped by where (and how) we were raised? I never heard the word "feminist" until I went to college, and I'm not that old. When I later learned feminist theory, it felt like the same concepts I had already been taught by my elders. Instead of applying labels or theories to it, they had applied actions. When I was growing up, every woman I knew was strong, independent, and intelligent. Many worked in roles that are defined as "male only," but I never realized it at the time. My culture has a deep respect for elders and, in particular, the older women.

But we were an isolated culture. We didn't watch much television, because there wasn't much access. When I went out into the world, I was shocked at how society disrespects and discards older women. It still shocks me.

amethystlune said...

wow. great post. it's what feminist mom says and what julie says and what the rest of you had mentioned. the word is the label that we don't want to wear because of the past and the associations with it. angel is shocked the way julie was shocked. both were 'sheltered' in living with strong confident intelligent women and figured that is how every women should live. that's awesome. :) we need more ANGELS in our lives!