International Day of the Girl: Teaching the School, Teaching Myself

On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, my high school feminism class hosted an assembly at our school to mark the second-ever International Day of the Girl. This assembly gave our peers a taste of what our class is like. Two of my classmates explained that feminism is not just “the equality between sexes,” it is much more.

On the first day of class, we were asked to answer the following questions: What does feminism mean to you? What are your associations with feminism? What are your definitions of feminism? How does feminism matter today? Why are you taking this course? What do you want to learn about? These questions were shockingly hard to answer. I had always considered myself a feminist because of how I grew up, but I didn’t even know what that really meant. I made it my goal to figure out what being a feminist really means.

Over the past month we have learned about the history of feminism. We read articles by Gloria Steinem, Bonnie Thornton Dill, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Rebecca Walker, Jasmine Burnett, Sojourner Truth, Ileana Jimenez, and many more inspiring feminists. We watched a variety of video clips and the documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words, and we also went to see Slut: the Play.  I feel that the only way that feminism can continue and progress is to be educated on what women have already accomplished. It is truly inspirational.

At our International Day of the Girl assembly we showed a speech given by Malala Yousafzai at the United Nations on her 16th birthday. Malala Yousafzai is a 16 year old girl who was shot in the face about a year ago, by the Taliban, because she promoted her support of education for girls. Her cousin Shahid Khan said Malala “has been a voice for peace, love and education.”

In this speech she tells the United Nations that the way to stop war is not with war, it is with education. Later that week after our assembly, our class watched the full interview of Malala on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart asked her why she was trying to protest the Taliban and she said, that you can’t wait for the government to make the change for you, you have to change it for yourself.

She also talked about how the Taliban are scared of education and more specifically, scared of women being educated. Malala believes that if all women had an equal education to men that women would be more powerful than men. After watching the Jon Stewart interview, our class discussed how inspiring Malala is. 

During our assembly, after screening the Malala speech, the majority of my classmates read pieces from their intersectionality personal narratives. Intersectionality is a concept and theory which was first coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989: “It is a concept that is used to describe the ways that oppressive institutions such as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia are so connected that you cannot examine or look deeply at these aspects separately from one another.”

Our assignment was to explore our own lives using intersectionality as a lens. When I first started writing my essay I started describing different parts of my life, and when I went back to try to connect all the different parts together, I saw that Judaism had done it already. I had never been aware of how big of a role Judaism has played in my life. After making this discovery, I went back and rewrote my essay with a Jewish perspective.

When planning for the IDG assembly, our teacher, Ileana Jimenez, asked people to read excerpts of  their essays to the school. I chose to close the assembly with a small speech, in which I quoted Audre Lorde. “My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you” and “the transformation of silence into language and action is always acting self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger.”

"The transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revalation." -Audre Lorde (photo credit:  Lexie Clinton)
“The transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revalation.” -Audre Lorde (photo credit: Lexie Clinton)

After the assembly and seeing the school’s positive respond to it and all of the essays I wish that I had read mine. I originally did not want to share because I thought no one would want to hear my story. Who wanted to hear about some Jewish girl and how she dealt with the world? When my feminism teacher told another student “your story is important, everyone’s story is important” I agreed, but I then contradicted myself when I believed that my story wasn’t important.

When Jasmine Burnett came to our class to talk about Womanism, she asked us, “who would you be if you could be the ultimate you?” This simple question was hard to answer at the time, but I think I have an answer now. If I could be the ultimate me, I wouldn’t be so afraid. I would have read my essay to the entire school. Unfortunately, I am not the ultimate me right now, but I think I am getting closer.

Since I was not able to share with my school part of my essay I will share part of it now:

Judaism has influenced my perspective on everything. Since my bat mitzvah, when I was 12, I have been an adult in the eyes of God and the Jewish people. In the Reform movement you may also be confirmed at the end of tenth grade. Through the confirmation process, I attended classes and went on many trips that made me realize that being Jewish did not just mean going to Hebrew school until your b’nei mitzvah. I have now participated with NFTY-NAR and also with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC).

I have also participated in two L’Taken Social Justice seminars. This program is a three-day weekend trip to Washington, D.C. Reform Jewish high school students come from all over the country to learn how to use Judaism to make social change. Throughout the weekend, we heard lectures about important current issues such as homelessness, mental illness, ability, reproductive rights, America’s relationship with Israel, and the Israeli government. We visited the MLK memorial and spent a long time at the Holocaust museum.

We also got to choose two programs about current issues. I have attended programs on LGBTQ policy issues, the separation of church and state, and reproductive rights. At the end of the weekend everyone chooses a topic they feel passionate about and writes a speech that we will use the following day to lobby at the Capitol. There is nothing like talking to an elected official about something with which you feel so connected. I am so lucky to have discovered this lens. In everything that we absorb over the course of the weekend, we learn from a Reform Jewish perspective. This first trip with the RAC was when I really started to find my Jewish identity.

This was also the first time I discovered how passionate I was about reproductive rights. When learning about abortion laws, we studied sections of the Talmud: “If woman’s labor becomes life threatening, the one to be born is dismembered in her abdomen. . . for her life comes before the life of the fetus. Once most of the child has emerged it is not to be touched, for one soul is not to be put aside another” (Mishna, Ohalot – 7:6).

After studying this text and others like it, I felt proud to be apart of a community that gives women the right to their own bodies. This quote moves me: “Women are commanded to care for the health and well-being of their bodies above all else” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah).

I had never been more proud to be Jewish. Knowing that my personal opinions and beliefs were very similar to what the Talmud says are very reassuring. Reflecting back on these RAC weekends, I really can understand and relate to Bonnie Thornton Dill when she writes, “intersectionality is a tool for social justice.”

I lobbied on Capitol Hill in support of reproductive rights as a Jew, a teen, a woman, and all the other parts of me. Intersectionality is a way for me to express all parts of me at once.

15 thoughts on “International Day of the Girl: Teaching the School, Teaching Myself

  1. I like that you say the only way feminism can continue is by educating ourselves on what women have already accomplished because it is “truly inspirational.” You also talk about Malala and how education is the way to stop war. It is not a coincidence that this thread of being educated and promoting education leads to much better futures and facing issues of war or feminism. Connecting those two ideas I am able to see how education intersects with these issues and how important it is to be aware of them.

    It is also very interesting how you say you did not want to share your story because you thought it didn’t matter and because you were afraid. It is great to see how you relate this to womanism and wanting to be the ultimate you, which you have not yet achieved but are “getting closer.” I really appreciate this personal statement.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I was captured by one of your first reflections, on the fact that “the only way that feminism can continue and progress is to be educated on what women have already accomplished.” I think that the memory of the past can be very educational and I find it is essential to clarify the bond between past and present action, enhancing there is much that still needs to be accomplished!
    It’s inspiring to read of your enthusiasm, as a young woman, in support of reproductive rights. I agree with you that “there is nothing like talking to an elected official about something which you feel so connected with”; this is surely what is indispensable to bring one’s ideas and beliefs forward to surprise the audience and resist its opposition.
    It’s wonderful to see that you’ve made the celebration of the International Day of the Girl a moment for such a personal and deep reflection. I was very surprised when you explained that “when I went back to try to connect all the different parts together, I saw that Judaism had done it already”. The fact that you can identify an element of union among the hues of your life at the intersection is very interesting; the prevalence of your creed in your life seems to be a source of great connection to awareness and active participation. I think this is a very strong message, for all readers, and it’s definitely a great sign of your progress towards the “ultimate” you.

  3. Dylan, I loved how you related your Jewish background to intersectionality and how it has played a role in your identity. Through this feminism class it is amazing to hear about different perspectives and I agree, everyone’s stories are important! I appreciated the fact that you are very passionate about your religion and it is nice that you are able to find where you stand at the intersections of Judaism and feminism. I hope you continue to share how you found a midpoint between the two!

  4. While reading your blog post, I started to see how our experiences have been similar and different. You start off the post talking about how you always called yourself a feminist but never knew what it meant. I thought this was interesting because I never even heard the word feminist or feminism before until I came to EI. I knew it had to do something with women/girls because it sounded like female. I wanted to hear more about how you called yourself a feminist. Where did you hear and learn about the term? Did your parents teach you to be a feminist? When did you start calling yourself a feminist? Also, I like how you are honest in your post and say how you did not want to read your essay and how you contradicted yourself. Similarly to you I did not want to read my essay but after reading it I felt good about myself. It is hard and I do understand why you did not want to speak up. One day we will both be unafraid to speak up.

    – Yari

  5. I think the reason I like this post is because you bring up an interesting idea of perspective which is exactly what I wrote about as well. I can totally understand how you would feel that your story didn’t need to be heard because it’s about privilege. I’m glad that you then realized why that was a contradiction and that it was the very reason your story needed to be shared. I also really enjoyed your story about Judaism because being Jewish myself it is very interesting to understand how the world of feminism is connected to Judaism. Well Done.

  6. Your piece is really inspiring for me because rarely do I hear the perspective and the influence the Jewish religion has on people, in particularly girls. I also was fascinated by Jasmine Burnett’s question which I didn’t realize affected other students as it affected me.

  7. I feel like our stories relate, but are also very different. When I started writing my intersectionality essay, one of the first ideas that came to my mind was also Judaism. I also think that my Jewish background has had a big impact on my identity. I also wish that you had shared your piece at the assembly, as it has very powerful messages. I understand your worry, as I was also very fearful to share my story. Ultimately, I was glad that I shared my story and I’m so glad that you were able to share yours here. I hope that you continue to write, learn about your identity, and become the “ultimate you.”

  8. While reading your post, I found that I could easily relate to many of the feelings and realizations you experienced. That first day of class, I, too, was surprised at how limited my knowledge of feminism was, not yet aware that it is about much more than “the equality between sexes.” Similarly, I was also extremely reluctant to read my essay at the Assembly. Even after being told, “your story is important, everyone’s story is important,” I still believed that no one would want to hear my story, that it wasn’t good or interesting enough. Yet after the assembly, I no longer felt this way. I really admire your answer to Jasmine Burnett’s question, “If I could be the ultimate me, I wouldn’t be so afraid. I would have read my essay to the entire school. Unfortunately, I am not the ultimate me right now, but I think I am getting closer.” I completely agree with you, and I think realizing this, in itself, has already brought you one step closer to becoming the “ultimate you.”

  9. Dylan, I really like how you used Judaism as your lens for your intersectionality piece and it seems that it has inspired you, and has made you very proud. However, I would have to disagree with the part where you say, “the only way that feminism can continue and progress is to be educated on what women have already accomplished”. I think that it’s very important to raise awareness about the change that has been made, and who it has been made by, but we also have to focus on how much there is still left to go. Feminism is still important because we are still not there yet, but we will get there someday.

  10. I connected to your piece when you spoke about the thought process in creating your intersectionality essay. For me, starting to actually consolidate what my story was going to be centered about was difficult. I wanted to write about something that was interesting but also something that would be entertaining to my audience. Later on in the process of writing my paper, the topics that I wanted to touch base on became clearer and I realized that this paper was for me. It had to be something that meant I had a personal and emotion connection to. My audience liking what I had to say was a bonus.

  11. You really do a great job of outlining what we have done in class so far and I think this is a great post to start our classes string of writings because it is both informative and personal. I like how you use Judaism to talk about intersectionality because I think the quotes from texts you studied, that are very pro woman, show people like me a constructive side to religion that I honestly have not been very exposed to because of the household I grew up in. Lastly, I love how you end your post with the line “Intersectionality is a way for me to express all parts of me at once.” It is powerful and for me incapsulates the whole reason why we discuss intersectionality in the first place.

  12. Dylan, I’m so glad that you shared part of your intersectionality essay in this post, I loved reading those excerpts from the Talmud about womens reproductive rights, and how women should take care of themselves first, totally rad! I can totally relate to the struggles that you had writing your intersectionality paper. I am so inspired by you finding your voice through jewish feminism, and can’t wait to read your future posts.

  13. “Intersectionality is a way for me to express all parts of me at once.” Dylan this line is so powerful. Not only do you acknowledge that people have multiple parts of their identities, but you also say that everyone of a person’s unique parts need to be expressed. There are lots of people that do not know what intersectionality is or that the concept even exists. I think your post encourages people to explore the concept of intersectionality and apply it to their lives, as you did your life and Judaism.

  14. Dylan I agree 100% with your view of what intersectionality is. I think it is amazing that you have identified yourself as a feminist your entire life, and hadn’t had a definition of what it truly was until now. I think that can a test to the fact that, you have found a voice through this class. Being able to acknowledge all the different aspects of you is again, powerful, because it allows to send your best self forward. I think it is also amazing how you have been able to include Judaism into your views as well. Power, darling, power.

  15. Dylan, I am so glad that you shared this! What I find so intriguing about this post is how confident we can be to tell people what is right and what they deserve, when we do not reflect on what we deserve and what is right for us, the sacrifice most women take daily. I am glad that you finally decided to share your piece on intersectionality because it is most vital to who you are, and the more people are comfortable in sharing who they are the more they will be their truest selves and speak their troubles and raise their voices. I loved your passion for your religion despite the daily prejudices received through various mediums. I believe that you have done what many have not and claimed something that really makes you you, and gives you life and pride. It also doesn’t hurt that Judaism has some feminist ideals!

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