What does the F-Word Really Mean? Exploring Feminist Issues with High School Students
With topics of feminism and the #MeToo movement all over the news, it’s obvious that women have stories to tell. It’s also obvious that your students are being exposed to the idea of #MeToo and feminism, whether it’s coming from the news, online videos, popular music, TV, or their peers. No matter where you or your students stand on the word feminism, there are voices speaking out that can’t be ignored in the classroom. This comes back to the important question teachers must reflect on everyday: “What am I telling students about what is and isn’t important, about whose voices are and aren’t important, based on the books we’re reading in class?”
Recent surveys have found that feminism is on the rise, but still around half of millennial women don’t consider themselves feminists. The reasons include that women feel that the feminism movement has been taken over by far-left activists, some women believe that modern western women aren’t oppressed, they don’t identify with the mainstream movement, and they don’t seeing themselves reflected in the current movement—especially true for women of color (Edwards).
The question is, where are our young adults obtaining information about what feminism is? How much do they really know about the true plight of the modern American woman? If we want our students to have informed stances on the feminist movement, we need to let women speak and be heard. We must make these voices available to students so that no matter where they land on the issue, we are raising informed citizens who can add to the discussion. Teachers have the responsibility of helping students navigate this complex issue. By exploring a number of resources, including fiction and nonfiction texts, and by providing the space for honest discussion, students can begin to understand the #MeToo movement and issues relating to feminism.
Thus, I have compiled a list of books for high school teachers who wish to explore feminist issues with their students. These titles have been chosen with modern feminism in mind, with the hope to include a variety of voices and perspectives. The interest level on each book is YA-Adult, though many of these books discuss tough topics and may require trigger-warnings. Please research these books and use your own discretion when deciding if each book is a good fit for you high school classroom.
Here are some great fiction and nonfiction titles to get you started:
The title #MeToo published by The New York Times Educational Publisher provides a great overview for curious young adults who may not fully understand the #MeToo movement. The book starts out with a discussion on the start of the #MeToo movement which began more than 20 years before the first #MeToo Tweet, and then moves into the international response, the effects, and criticism.
In the nature of the #MeToo movement, Girls Write Now: Two Decades of True Stories from Young Female Voices is an anthology of teenage female voices across the U.S. speaking out. The book also includes wise essays of advice from large feminist names including Roxane Gay, Francine Prose, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Janet Mock, Gloria Steinem, Lena Dunham, Mia Alvar, and Alice Walker. These young voices bravely discuss issues of race, gender, poverty, sex, education, politics, family, and friendship.
The fictional character Vivian Carter represents a young feminist in the novel Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. Vivian has had enough of the obviously present sexism in her small-town Texas high school, and she decides to start a feminist zine to blow off steam. When other girls respond, Vivian finds herself leading a girl revolution.
Anna Mainwaring’s novel Rebel with a Cupcake tackles this issue of body image. Jesobel Jones feels confident in her body and in the food she chooses to eat—she doesn’t allow body shaming to bother her. Her mission: to swim against the tide, to prove that not all girls have to hate food and their bodies. However, after an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction and an invitation to a party by the boy of her dreams, Jesobel begins second guessing her motto. Within the book, Mainwaring tackles a number of feminist issues surrounding the invisible rules girls often follow.
Here are some additional recommendations:
Beyoncé in Formation : Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Natas Tinsley. ISBN 9781477318393. 2018.
Broad Band : The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans. ISBN 9780735211759. 2018.
Don’t Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life by Peggy Orenstein. ISBN 9780062688903. 2018.
I Have the Right To : A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope by Chessy Prout. ISBN 9781534414433 . 2018.
Our Stories, Our Voices : 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America by Amy Reed. ISBN 9781534408999 . 2018.
This Will Be My Undoing : Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins. ISBN 9780062666154 . 2018.
Edwards, Ashley. “About Half Of Millennial Women Don’t Identify As Feminists. Here’s Why.” Refinery 29.
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