By Marielle Byhouwer
‘Having a daughter changed my perspective. I did not truly understand the pain and frustration of the obstacles girls and women face until my daughter, and I, indirectly, faced them together.’
These are the words of my father. I am a biracial, middle class woman. My mother was adopted from South Korea as a baby and my father is white. As a white, middle class, heterosexual male, my father is among the most privileged individuals in our society. However, as the father of a biracial girl whose appearance was more dominantly Asian than white, he had more personally experienced different acts of racism and sexism that I encountered growing up.
It’s no secret that women face discrimination and inequalities in American society and all over the world. Violent acts of racism, classism, sexism, etc. are far too prevalent in our society, yet schools have a tendency to neglect to stress the importance of feminism, diversity and equality. It is 2016. Hillary Clinton is making her way as the first woman nominee to run for president in U.S. history and yet most high school students cannot name a single leader of the Women’s Rights Movement that made this moment in history possible.
Women’s Rights Education. I did not receive any education regarding the Women’s Rights Movement until I was in 7th grade and then again later in an AP history class in high school in which our text books mentioned the movement for less than a page. What is worse is that the page of my history book was biased; it neglected to mention any women of color and the boundaries they faced. Why is this? Why is it that, even though we are so aware of the racism and sexism that poisons our society, we continue not to educate young boys and girls about the problem?
These are questions that frustrate me. As a woman that is both white and Asian I understand both racism and sexism. I understand that when people look at me they see a girl that is not white. I understand that people will neglect the Caucasian side of me and only recognize my Asian side because it is more dominant in my appearance. People will ‘choose’ my identity for me simply when they look at me. And I understand that often times, our textbooks forget to mention people like me or people of color for that matter.
Women the World Over. Today, women all over the world are fighting different battles against sexism and for equal rights to those of men. More often than not, these women are fighting for what applies to multiple layers of their own identity, regarding their race, class, religion, etc., and not for what might apply to others.
Intersectionality and Fighting for the Rights of All Women. In order for women to fight for women, and not just women who look or think like them, they must understand intersectionality. This is a loaded term that basically describes the many different layers that intertwine to make up a person or a group of people, including race, gender, class, religion, sexuality, etc. This theory can be tracked back to the 1960s and 70s with the multiracial movement, one that is also neglected by history classes (Sadeghi-Movahed 2013). For those who define themselves as women, then this categorization is what connects them to a larger group of people; one that consists of different beliefs and backgrounds. Girls and women need to understand this concept in order to fight for women, not just for women who look or think like them.
What Educators Can Do. To eliminate sexism, racism, classism, etc. educators must take steps to teach mindfulness and respect through feminism and intersectionality. Educators can do this by:
- Explaining the meaning of one’s identity as a more simplified way of explaining intersectionality
- Teaching students about the Women’s Rights Movement by introducing leaders of different races
- Encouraging boys to see the importance of feminism and to respect all girls as their equals
- Calling on girls of all races and backgrounds in the classroom
- Teaching the importance of diversity
- Stressing equality
- Emphasizing the importance of self love and positive body image (everyone’s bodies)
By introducing feminism and intersectionality to girls, and boys for that matter, school can push their students of all different backgrounds to come together to work towards making a difference for their future. By helping students to truly understand racism, classism, sexism, etc., schools will help to aid bullying and help their students to fight these systems of oppression. And at the very least, the education of feminism and intersectionality will make students better people.
Sadeghi-Movahed, N. (2013, September 2). Multiracial feminism: Acknowledging adversity through color and culture . Fempowerment