In 2016 we have access to an endless supply of information and resources, but we still aren’t really getting the all-inclusive education we need.
From talking with my teenage friends (both male and female), it seems that a lot of people who clearly support gender equality are wary of calling themselves feminists. I agree that the label has taken on a lot of negative connotations, primarily driven by incorrect and distorted media portrayal.
Everyone knows the traditional feminist stereotype: bra-less, angry, man-haters with an aversion to shaving body hair. This is an outdated generalisation and hopefully society is starting to realise that. With famous feminists such as Roxane Gay, Emma Watson, Amandla Stenberg, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, it should be obvious that there is no all encompassing stereotype, and there is also no such thing as a perfect feminist.
Amandla Stenberg, Image from www.jawbreaker.nyc
The issue is simple, but the discussion is becoming complex and sometimes convoluted. Our best asset is education, because essentially, if you believe in gender equality, you should call yourself a feminist by definition alone! In the words of Beyoncé; “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”.
Other than a few sporadic instances in school, I don’t really remember ever being taught about equality – specifically in regards to gender. Although progress is being made there still remains a significant lack of education about gender equality.
As young adults, gender equality is one of the most important life lessons, but still it’s not being covered in class – instead we’re having to learn about it the hard way.
The new feminism curriculum “Fightback” (developed by Fitzroy High School’s group The Feminist Collective) is an awesome step forward in education. The course includes discussion of the objectification of women, debunking the typical feminist stereotype and myths, domestic violence, gender representation in the media and the gender pay gap among other things. The curriculum will now be made available to all Victorian schools, which is a huge success, but the question remains; how many students will it actually reach? As an elective at Fitzroy High School, only 3 boys to 10 girls signed up to the initial class, which acts as a clear indication of the need for the compulsory teaching of gender equality in schools. It’s particularly crucial for all boys’ schools, some of the whom need this education the most. It’s an unfortunate reality that many students simply won’t sign up.
In order to move forward we must not only begin teaching gender equality in some compulsory form in all schools, but we must incorporate feminism into all other subjects! The Women’s Equality Party in the UK recently proposed that “history books be audited to see if there are points where women’s contribution to the world could be included where it’s previously been washed over”. Women’s suffrage and the equal pay protest should be incorporated into History, and in Science and Maths we should explore the work of female scientists such as Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Emmy Noether. Discussion should be extended to all other subjects including English, Drama, PE, Music and Art, all without forgetting that feminism MUST be intersectional. As often looked up to as all-knowing and respected figures, teachers openly identifying as feminists would also be a massive step forward in breaking down social walls and encouraging the next generation of feminists!
It’s particularly important we teach boys (lacking the direct experience of being a girl) as well as girls, the struggles faced in both developing and developed societies. How in Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden from driving, how globally young girls are forced into female genital mutilation and how in the USA, American women serving in Iraq or Afghanistan are more likely to be raped by a comrade than killed by an enemy.
Young girls should have the chance to explain to their male peers why we might not feel comfortable travelling alone in the dark, how fine the line is we walk between being called “frigid” or “sluts” and how we know they can sometimes find it really difficult to understand that “No” does not mean “Yes”.
If young people aren’t taught about gender equality, their ignorance may pass into adulthood and manifest into even more fixed mindsets.
The solution is clear and it lies at the foundation of the problem, more schooling of gender equality in primary and secondary education. In Sweden, 16 year olds are distributed a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. Why can’t this initiative be extended to Australia? No more sticking to the status quo, people! If we want to continue making advances in society as fast as those in technology and communication, we must embrace these changes to our education system!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, image from www.bbc.com
When explaining the gender wage gap to my 14 year old brother he asked, “But why are men paid more?” I answered simply with, “Because they’re men”. His incredulous reply? “But that doesn’t make any sense!”
Sexism isn’t born, it’s learnt. So let’s start from the root of the problem and enact lasting social change.
Because yes little bro, in 2016, it doesn’t make any sense.
Rosie is currently completing VCE and is passionate about science, politics and social issues.