Last year, I wrote a post about why feminism is important, and why I wish so many young women wouldn't denounce it.
To recap: I believe that as a sex, women are routinely marginalised on a daily basis; on the street, on TV, in the home. I believe that this can and should be rectified, and I'm horrified that so many young privileged and educated women don't agree. So I search for inspiring stories about young women fighting for their rights to bolster my spirits. As a member of Wolf Whistled, a young feminist collective, I am equally as amazed and heartened by my fellow feminists as I am amazed and heartbroken by misogyny. The scales are always tipping in favour of one or the other.
I also often meet older feminists who are surprised to see women my age as involved with the fight for women's rights as they were with second wave feminism, as if they thought the buck stopped with the late 90s phase of imagined postfeminism that spawned Sex and the City. I've got into many a debate about Waves. What Wave are you? ask older feminists. Oh I don't know, what Wave are we on now? Third Wave? Fourth Wave? Honestly, I'm tired of Waves. The only waving I want to do right now is goodbye to the patriarchy.
Feminism is a multigenerational effort, and it's easy to get caught up in talking about waves of feminism, and what kind of feminists we are, when we should be explaining the issues faced by women to younger generations. Well, I come bearing good news: some have had their eye on the ball this whole time, and in London's schools, there's a new wave worth talking about - let's call it a feminist tidal wave. This morning I visited Stoke Newington School in Hackney, famed for embracing diversity, which lead to its groundbreaking work with the LGBTQ community. The school has been asked to partake in a training session for Ofsted inspectors on that very subject on April 9. But it will not stop there. The next frontier for the school? Feminism.
Headteacher Annie Gammon explains that certain members of staff had previously raised concerns about how "boys talk about girls, occasional inappropriate touching; the idea that girls' bodies are public property", but it wasn't until two teachers approached her saying they had spoken with sixth form students who wanted to address the issue head on that something began to be done. They set up Stokequality, the school's first feminist campaign group. Firstly, they started a petition urging local shopkeepers to stop stocking lads mags. Then, they arranged for high profile feminist speakers to come in and speak to the group. Now, all of a sudden, on International Women's Day, they have a huge chunk of staff and students wearing their own take on the famous 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirts; they are showing Eléonore Pourriat's short film Oppressed Majority in assembly; they are splitting sixth form into groups to discuss women's rights. It's pretty impressive.
I wish there had been something like this at my school; that ten years ago, teachers had bothered about the girls in their care feeling oppressed and threatened, not only in school, but society at large, enough to do something about it. Noor Hasan, the Psychology teacher who co-started the feminist movement at Stoke Newington with her colleague, Daniel Carpenter, arranged for me to speak to three students: Isabella, 19, Dan, 17, and Charlie, 17. I was completely engaged as they eloquently discussed topics ranging from maternity leave to female genital mutilation. Each one of them identifies as a feminist; an incredible testament, in part, to Hasan and Carpenter's efforts.
Gammon notes that sexual objectification of women and girls has become a routine part of daily life, and as such, she explains that the school's project is not something that will last for a year, but will be ongoing. Although early days, she hopes that the school will become a 'beacon' school for feminism, in much the same way as it did with LGBTQ rights.
There is still a way to go. Dan wore his 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirt the other day at school and was told by another boy "you're not a feminist - you're a faggot." He acknowledges that people who have this reaction tend to be "so ignorant, they don't even know what they're talking about."
This comes in the week that the NUS announced that they would be bringing Everyday Sexism's Laura Bates on board to discuss our country's pervasive 'lad culture' - a positive move, undoubtedly, but a little late in the day. By the time NUS reaches misogynistic students, they are already young men, capable of turning rape into a business model. Isabella, Charlie, and Dan discussed ways of tackling these attitudes. We universally agreed that change will only be achieved by introducing the concept of equality into schools from a much younger age. "Maybe from year seven?" Hasan wondered. Dan, Charlie and Isabella all insisted younger.
So the teachers are working on it, all the time, and with the help of their students, which is even better. And anyway, for all of the problems these movements undoubtedly face in the beginning - to see teachers working so hard to educate children and young adults about gender inequality whilst they're still at school? A+, more of this please.
You can join in the debate about feminism in schools on Twitter with @EllieSlee, @MissHasan_SNS and @StokEquality. You can sign Stokequality's petition to stop local newsagents stocking lads mags here.Suggest a correction