Feminism doesn't need a rebrand, it just needs to be taught earlier

8 Dec 2013

* December Article of the Month *
 

Last month, I saw a very well written and highly cogent article in the Guardian on the future of feminism in the UK. The author made the point that currently feminism has a great deal of stigma attached to it and consequently girls are hesitant about declaring themselves as feminists; that feminism essentially needs a “re-brand”. 

I completely agree with the idea that, as the author puts it herself, ‘anyone who doesn’t think feminism has an image problem can’t see their nose in front of their face’. However, I’m not so sure that feminism needs changing; far from it- I think that there is a much simpler solution to the problem, at least in the short term. 

 

I am, I’d say, a fairly stereotypical heterosexual man. I drink beer; I spend my weekends watching football and until a conversation with my younger sister over the summer, hadn’t really paid much attention to feminism. I was aware of it, but reasoned that being a man, it didn’t really affect me. 

However, since then, I’ve begun to think about it more, and although I wouldn’t yet describe myself as a feminist, the ideas around feminism have started to interest me more and I’ve begun to think about why feminism is not only important for women but for society in general, in terms of how we look at our world. For me, it is not feminism which needs to change but how people view it and implicitly, how we teach it. With that in mind, I believe that feminism should be taught in schools. 

I’m not suggesting that feminism should be a subject in its own right. Certainly, if that was to become the case and the subject was optional, the stigma currently attached to feminism would likely mean that only those interested in it at the moment would want to study it and thus none of the problems relating to the stigma around feminism would be solved as a result. 

But in my view, feminism is the very opposite of a single-issue subject. It is important when we look at both contemporary literature and literature of past eras; it is important when we look at our historical past (and I’m not just talking about the Suffragettes here or chapters throughout history which explicitly involve women, I’m talking generally about any point in history and how it affected women at the time and what the repercussions are today); and perhaps most importantly of all, it is important when we look at politics, the way we are governed and the way in which our society works.

For although this article is centred on feminism, this is for me a wider question of how to engage young people politically. Can young people uninterested in politics really be blamed when they do not have the subject taught to them in schools until they are practically adults?

The same goes for feminism, education in the UK is of course geared towards giving students the foundations on which to shape their ideas about the world, but the focus on exams and results which has prevailed for years means that young people aren’t encouraged enough to think for themselves and explore ideas and develop interests. 

So I’m Michael Gove: what do I do? Well, I’d bin the tragic heavy-framed NHS specs and stop wagging my winger magisterially when giving a speech, for a start. 

But then I’d experiment with the idea of setting feminism (perhaps not under that title but something less obvious) as a core History and English module in Year Nine. Everybody has to take the module, and after a term of studying it, they still find themselves disengaged with feminism or uninterested, then fine. They don’t have to study or think about it ever again. But the key problem for me with feminism’s image today and how young people, in particular, see it is that they don’t really know enough about it. That’s how it was for me up until recently, and I blame my education for that, as well as a pretty characteristically male pig-headedness. 

Giving young people a grounding in the subject would at least give them a chance to think about the ideas involved. Those who find they’re interested in it to an extent to which they’d like to study it further would have the option to study it as a core module for English and/or History for GCSE, and for A Level after that. 

I’m still learning about feminism, but to paraphrase legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, feminism is a very simple idea, complicated by people who should know better. And for me, all things start with, and are made much easier by, education.

By Alex Shilling

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