I have been really inspired this last week by posts from two of my favourite bloggers: Summer Turner‘s “Miss, is it true you’re a feminist?” and Jo Facer‘s Women through the ages. Jo posted her fantastic scheme of work to explore feminism in her all-girl’s school, and Summer explained how important it is to stand up and be counted as a feminist teacher. I completely agree. This is me, standing up to be counted. I am a feminist.
As soon as Emma Watson launched the #HeForShe campaign back in September, I signed up. Her passionate, often personal, and powerful speech vocalised everything that I believe to be important about gender equality. In the sign up, the campaign asks for a commitment to:
- Express zero tolerance for discrimination and violence against women and girls
- Believe in equal access to social, political and economic opportunities
- Understand that taking a stand for women and girls is taking a stand for humanity
- Speak up when you see physical, emotional or sexual harassment
These were not difficult commitments for me to make personally, but reading Summer’s post made me realise how important it is for me as a male teacher to make them professionally. It is vitally important that the students I teach in the schools I lead see that gender equality is an issue that affects men and women, and that it is male attitudes that need to change for the benefit of both genders.
I remember witnessing a conversation in a school where a female teacher was telling a girl off because her skirt was too short. The rationale was not “you are in breach of the uniform policy” but rather “it’s too distracting for the boys in the class for you to wear that.” It was only years later that I realised why this conversation made me so uncomfortable. This kind of conversation legitimises the male gaze and the objectification of the female body, encouraging the girl to feel ashamed of the impact it would have on uncontrollable young males. This will not do. Of course, enforce a uniform policy, but more importantly challenge the boys in their attitudes towards young women. Don’t allow attitudes where the objectification of the female body is taken as a given. Encourage girls to be confident, not ashamed; as the new #thisdoesntmeanyes campaign spells out: “what I wear and how I behave are not invitations.”
It is not just with students that my feminist commitment applies. It is a scandal that, in a profession with a 74% female workforce, a higher proportion of men make it to senior leadership positions than women. I am one of those men. It is my responsibility as a school leader to encourage and develop female leaders, to redress this balance. Sexist attitudes are endemic, ingrained and often almost overlooked, as Ros McMullen has described. This cannot stand.
I do think things are changing. I can see it in the students I teach – and those that I have taught. As Jack Howard says in the video above, “we’ll be the last generation to say sexist and homophobic things, and our grandchildren will say ‘why was this ever allowed?'” Young people are prepared to engage with the ideas in feminist discourse and high profile campaigns like #HeForShe, #ThisGirlCan and #LikeAGirl help introduce this. Schemes like Jo Facer’s Women Through The Ages can build on that introduction and create a better future, where gender equality benefits all of us. Sophie from Over17Mirrors also provides a handy guide for teen feminists everywhere:
“Feminism is about not limiting people’s opportunities.” My #HeForShe commitment is to live these values in every aspect of my professional life – because I’m a feminist, and it matters.