Later this month, Victoria will become the first Australian state to offer feminist theory as an elective.
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To call high school a mindfuck is an understatement. Those years spent crammed in with a bunch of other hormonal puberty vessels can be some of the most stressful of our lives. But being a feminist in high school is especially frustrating.
In recent years, publications and groups like Rookie, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Radical Brownies, and internet activists like Jazz Jennings and Amandla Stenberg have provided a new wave of role models for teens. But there is no denying that the school day remains a contentious place for many young women and men.
Casual misogyny is insidious in schools; you know the message—girls are sluts, guys are heroes. If you're too big you're a pig, too small you're anorexic, virgins are frigid, and anyone else is a whore. This template of narrow archetypes means teens trying to engage in conversations around body rights and gender equality are often faced with a limited and hostile audience.
In 2013, this climate lead Briony O'Keeffe—a teacher at Melbourne's Fitzroy High School—and a group of her students to form their own feminist collective, Fightback. Originally Fightback was a casual lunchtime group where students could get together to discuss feminism and vent their frustrations over the bullshit they met in the corridors. Soon the group's following spread beyond their school. Its Facebook page has over 1,200 likes and has become a hub of conversation and a place to share articles and projects.
This year the group started a successful Kickstarter to fund a student-designed feminist resource kit. The kit was created as a free curriculum available to teachers who were interested in introducing gender discussions into their classrooms, but are unsure how to do it.
But the group's biggest victory will come on November 26 when Fightback's feminist curriculum will be made available in Victorian schools. Designed to correlate with the Victorian curriculum, it's split over 30 lessons. Topics covered include objectification, gender equality's ties to domestic violence, media representations of gender, statistical breakdowns around the pay gap, and female visibility in sport.
The lessons are designed to be inclusive of female and male students with Briony saying, "We're trying to get young men and women to think a bit more critically about the sorts of sexist behaviors they might either engage in or see on a daily basis."
The group's success echoes the efforts of a group of Canadian students at the University of Western Ontario who fought for eight years to have gender studies offered in their high schools.
Alongside the introduction of the curriculum later this month, Briony is preparing a statewide tour to encourage other high schools to offer the course.
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