Confessions of a Teacher

The F Word: Feminism in 2020

The F Word: Feminism in 2020
I’ll never forget the moment I explained feminism to a freshman boy.
In my first year of teaching, a precocious student asked me why I used “Ms.” in my name. 
My partner and I are committed to each other without the institution of marriage and childless by choice. But, I also can’t deny that I like being one example of a woman who doesn’t fulfill those traditional roles. Especially when teaching is so often associated with the supposedly feminine attributes of caretaking and self-sacrifice. For many of my students, I might be the only adult they know who isn’t married. Or, I might be the only woman who doesn’t view motherhood as the ultimate goal.
I told this student a condensed version of the feminist movement and the power of language. Women fought for “Ms.” because men don’t state their marital status in their name, unlike women’s titles of Miss or Mrs.
He nodded attentively but noticeably shifted when I said the f word. Feminism.
“Wait, Ms. Schaake, you’re a feminist?”
“Well, yeah, MJ, I am. A feminist just means that every gender should be treated equally and have the same opportunities and quality of life.” Click To Tweet
He paused, considering, then said brightly, “Oh! Then, I’m a feminist too!” 
Supreme Feminism 
I started teaching in 2016, so my teaching career has been shaped by the Trump presidency. From pussy-grabbing to degrading female members of congress, each day of these past four years has been more baffling, depressing, and insulting than the last. 
Now, in what is hopefully a departing action, Trump has pushed Amy Coney Barret through to the Supreme Court. This is a blatant example of partisan, hypocritical, and self-aggrandizing politics. 
As soon as she was nominated, right-wing pundits claimed that her seat is a victory for women. They deemed any critique of her policies or the corrupt appointment process as “sexist” as if trying to dog whistle real feminists into backing down. 
But supporting a woman who aims to dismantle the rights of women isn’t feminism. It’s ignorance. Click To Tweet
I’m not proud of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education just because she and I both identify as female. The actions she has taken to widen the education opportunity gap in this country is willfully negligent and woefully out of touch.
If you aren’t an advocate for equality, then you aren’t a feminist. If you actively work to dismantle legal protections for those who need it most, you aren’t a “win for women.”  If you don’t use your power to listen to the needs of the marginalized, then you aren’t someone worth celebrating. 
The fact that Amy Coney Barret has earned her own acronym (ACB) does not mean she is on par with RBG or AOC. Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a champion of women’s rights and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is breaking barriers for minoritized groups, the environment, and the working class. Grouping these women together, even in three-letter nicknames is insulting. 
Apples and Oranges 
On the issue of abortion, RBG explained, “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well being and dignity. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices” 
Conversely, Amy Coney Barret said Roe v Wade is not a super precedent, and “Court watchers embrace the possibility of overruling, even if they may want it to be the exception rather than the rule.”
AOC recognizes that marriage rights for the LGBTQ+ community are just one crucial part of the continued fight for equal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. In 2019, she explained, “pride is about honoring the community workers, the people who work in the clinics, the community organizers, the people who work with LGBT youth, the people who are fighting to make sure it’s not just about marriage equality but about quality of life for all people in the community, everybody,”
Amy Coney Barret, on the other hand, sidestepped questions about landmark cases deciding LGBTQ+ rights.
Assuming all women should automatically love and support all women in positions of power is limiting and harmful. It presupposes that women don’t have deductive reasoning skills. This flawed logic assumes we all must simply vote blindly along gender lines, regardless of policy or morality.
Amy Coney Barret’s nomination is not a win for women. It’s a loss for the democratic process and equal protection under the law.
Lessons Learned? 
As with all teachers, I wonder where my students end up after they leave my class. Curious MJ graduated in the chaos of 2020, but by then, I was at a different school in another state. He probably doesn’t think of his ninth-grade English class at all. 
But, I don’t care if he can recall a single book we read or a lesson I taught. Instead, I hope he remembers, even vaguely, the day he learned the true meaning of “the f word.” I hope when he sees the news and hears “feminist” tossed around as a dirty word or used to justify immoral power plays, he questions it. 
I hope he remembers the day he decided he was a feminist too. 

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