26 September 2017
Last week we visited St Mary’s Ascot school to deliver a talk about The Big Leap, the challenging transition between secondary school and what comes next; university, a gap year or work. As we walked into the Rose Theatre, we were greeted by a group of bright and engaged young women who participated in the talk and stayed around afterwards to ask questions.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the session was a conversation we shared with two students who had set up a Feminist society at their school. They had some burning questions. “How do you get students to engage with Feminism these days?”, “Some of our friends don’t care about Feminism, how can we get people to understand how important it is?” I asked them if Feminism was ever a subject of conversation within the school’s gates. “Do you have lessons about Feminism?” “Are you encouraged to be Feminists?” “No”, “No,” and ‘No” were their replies.
This is a problem in schools. Feminism is something we don’t bother talking about. In fact, my own education is a good example of this. I came across the “concept” of Feminism at university. It was a dark, murky subject that I knew next to nothing about. It seems shameful to admit it now, but that’s the truth. Suddenly there it was: Feminism. It was something academic, something to be studied theoretically as part of your degree but still not something to be practiced or talked about in daily life.
Slowly, I began to engage in conversations about Feminism. Some of the early conversations were highly frustrating. I spoke with some women who were ‘strong’ Feminists, some women who believed Feminism was outdated and a majority of our male counterparts who dismissed the concept entirely. When I think about these conversations now, I feel infuriated. To not ‘believe’ in Feminism? What does that even mean? Is Feminism a kind of cult or religion? Don’t see the point? In what? Equality? Women? Over the course of university, as I drifted in and out of different circles, I met people who challenged and opened my perception of Feminism. Feminism was something I could talk about regularly with boyfriends and girlfriends. It was no longer a mystery, a taboo topic shrouded in academia.
Both sexes are guilty of turning a blind eye to Feminism. One of the main problems: the subject is not taught addressed or references at all in schools. A lot of people still associate feminism with lesbians, doc martens, hairy armpits and bra burning era. If we were all taught- at an early age- that Feminism means equality pure and simple. If we were taught that Feminism leads to both men and women leading statistically happier, more prosperous lives. If we were taught that Feminism is working towards a world that is free of gender stereotypes (again for both men and women) then people might begin to think differently about it.
It makes no sense to live in a world where boys and girls are embarrassed to associate with Feminism. Men and women in the 1960s didn’t fight for gender equality just so that we could go back to living in silence and accepting ‘Love Island’ gender narratives. It makes no sense to ignore equality. If sexism, inequality and misogyny didn’t exist, maybe we could overlook the shocking shortsightedness of an education system that doesn’t think Feminism is a relevant thing to be talking about. But sadly, they do exist and we can’t overlook it.
As the conversation continued, the two St Mary’s students became more and more passionate. They talked about setting up a Feminist Festival, inviting speakers into the school and giving talks to some of the younger years. I was impressed by their energy and zeal. It’s important that we start talking to our students about equality, stereotypes and gender narratives from a young age. Talking about Feminism should be more commonplace. The subject of equality and how we work towards it should be on everybody’s lips. In fact, I would really like for the next generation not to get to university and find themselves talking about feminism for the first time. By the time students hit university they’re 18+ and a lot of their attitudes, insecurities and behaviors are already set. These discussions and debates need to be happening from an earlier age. Feminism, or equality if you’d rather, can’t be something that we’re embarrassed to talk about. We should be thinking about it on a daily basis, and instilling our kids with the confidence and understanding to speak up for equality.