Is There a Place for Feminism in the Classroom?

President of HEI

Dr. Mary Landon Darden is President of HEI, LLC. She served in education administration for 20 years and last served as a university center dean in San Antonio, TX. Darden is the author of a book co-published with the American Council on Education and Rowman and Littlefield titled Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America.

I picked this up from my sister in law when we were discussing how to talk about feminism in our college classrooms. Write the word the word “equality” on the board and ask the coed class I taught: “Who believes in this principle?” Almost without fail, 100% of my class of 15 students would raise their hands.

Then, I would take a few steps to the side and write next the word “feminism” and asked: “How many of you believe in this principle?” I would often only have one or two hands go up.

Then, I would draw an equal sign between the two words as several people gasped. Feminism is defined as: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

Technically, we should all, male and female, be feminists. How could we not? Unfortunately, much unhelpful baggage has been attached to this word, probably from people who either do not believe, or do not want women to have those equal rights and opportunities.

There are some that say that equal rights and opportunities are not deserved, because men and women are not equal. In fact, men and women are surprisingly equal in both intellectual and physical abilities, with a few very slight variations. One exception to equal abilities, is that of upper body strength. Men win here. Men have, on the average, approximately twice the upper body strength as women. This makes it difficult for men and women to compete against each other in sports involving upper body strength.

However, when it comes to some other areas, women are generally more agile, flexible, have an average 7% more innervation in their hands than men, and are very slightly (one study showed about 1% difference) more intelligent than men. This difference might have been greater had the opportunities for women been equal.

Intelligence can be broken down further and there can be some subgroup variations between the genders, but I think we can say that women have at an equal IQ level to men, if not better. These, it might be argued, balance the scale with the upper body strength deficiency.

There are, of course, a number of things that women can do that men cannot, but I think that an argument has been made that their actual grounds for equality, even though – in my opinion – equal rights and opportunities should not be grounded in equality of ability, but rather in the fact that we are human beings and, therefore, all deserve the same human rights and opportunities.

So often, cultures oppress women, as well as other societal groups. Too often, people turn their head as women are paid less money, given fewer opportunities, denied of human rights, or worse.

This cultural problem must be rooted out by early and consistent education, by teaching all boys and girls to be feminists. Cultures are among the most difficult things to change. Only through thorough, systematic, and continuous education and socialization will we be able to fully turn the tide on sexism and many other “isms.”

I encourage all teachers to do what my sister-in-law (the other Dr. Darden) and I have done, begin the conversation about feminism.

And, then continue that discussion throughout each child’s (and young adult’s) education; expanding it to include all human rights, the tragic history of of human rights violations, and the hope of someday raising our society and culture to a level that truly welcomes and treats all people as equal.

Question: Have you ever tried to initiate a conversation about feminism or equality in the classroom? How did it go? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

This post has been updated.

President of HEI

Dr. Mary Landon Darden is President of HEI, LLC. She served in education administration for 20 years and last served as a university center dean in San Antonio, TX. Darden is the author of a book co-published with the American Council on Education and Rowman and Littlefield titled Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America.

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