Education is the key to success. And if we want the feminist movement to be successful, we need to educate people on the matter. My dream would be for feminism and feminist theory to be a mandatory national curriculum for everyone, just like math and history are. At the very least, I would love for it to be incorporated some way into a teacher training curriculum.
Feminism can relate to and work well with many subjects and the fact that we aren’t teaching it to our youth is so appalling to me. Feminism is a collective of core values that ideally everyone should possess; it is a fight for everyone to actually follow these values. With that being said, I don’t understand how this isn’t being taught everywhere!
I can use a recent example about this. For my history course this year, I am taking “International Studies: Ism’s and Social Movements.” As I was explaining the course to my friends, one said something along the lines of, “I wonder if they’re going to talk about Feminism.” I immediately shut this idea down, not even fully thinking about it. I said, “No, this course is more about radicalism and communism, etc.” My friend challenged my idea as to why feminism couldn’t belong in such a course.
In the Spring 2011 edition of Ms. Magazine, an article titled “What Would bell hooks Say?,” bell hooks told her interviewer, “One of the worst things to happen to feminism is that people perceive it as a lifestyle that some people choose and not a politics.” That is definitely what I was subconsciously doing in believing that feminism couldn’t belong in that history course. But this belief needs to be eradicated.
I am very lucky to have had this opportunity to learn about feminism and understand society through the lens of a feminist. However, I can’t disregard the fact that that’s not how I always was.
I’m embarrassed to reveal that in the beginning of this course I was very ignorant of what feminism really stood for. I was one of the people who believed that feminism was solely a movement advocating and fighting for equity between men and women. I thought feminism was just a group of dramatic lesbians who exaggerated over everything and turned everything into an issue of sexism. (I’m shaking my head at myself, too).
Sadly, this is what the world sees feminism as. We need to show them that it is so much more than that!
In this course, I’ve learned so much about feminism and I’ve really become very passionate about it. One of the first things we learned about was intersectionality.
Like Audre Lorde says in “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions,”: “I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me.”
All systems of oppression arise from the same belief, as Lorde says, “a belief in the inherent superiority of one [group] over all others and thereby its right to dominance,” i.e. heterosexism, “a belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving over all others and thereby its right to dominance.”
At some point, all of these systems of oppression intersect each other and because of this you cannot fight solely against one system. The Combahee River Collective said a really powerful statement in their essay, “A Black Feminist Statement.” They said, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression.”
In societal hierarchy, women of color are all the way at the bottom. In other words, they are the group that faces the most discrimination and therefore has the most intersections of these systems of oppression.
To make the Racial Hierarchy picture even more complex, we can add sexual orientation to the picture, adding more systems of oppression in doing so. For example, a black lesbian woman is more oppressed than a white woman or a black man, because if we only focus on race, sex, and sexual orientation, the black lesbian woman faces racism, sexism, and heterosexism while the white woman would only face sexism and the black man would only face racism.
Other systems of oppression would complicate this even more, but you get the point. Either way, women of color are at the bottom of the hierarchy and because of this, if women of color became completely free, then all other systems of oppression would be eradicated too, in turn freeing everyone.
If everyone understood and learned about these principles, the world would be such a pleasant place to live in.
I would like to end with this quote from bell hooks from her chapter “Feminist Education for Critical Consciousness” in her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics:
“Public education for children has to be a place where feminist activists continue to do the work of creating an unbiased curriculum. Future feminist movement must necessarily think of feminist education as significant in the lives of everyone. Despite economic gains of individual feminist women, many women who have amassed wealth…we have created no schools founded on feminist principles for girls and boys, for women and men. By failing to create a mass-based educational movement to teach everyone about feminism we allow mainstream patriarchal mass media to remain the primary place where folks learn about feminism, and most of what they learn is negative. Teaching feminist thought and theory to everyone means that we have to reach beyond the academic and even written word.”