Illustration by Haysol Chung
After a long day at work, exhaustion and excitement dance in circles around my head. I tutor at a local middle school, and the enthusiasm of the students keeps me going in the middle of the week. However, sometimes I am so focused on the academic aspect of tutoring that I forget about the other knowledge I can impart. A couple of months ago, my coworker told me about an incident where she had to explain that gendered colors are a social construct. Her story sparked a realization within myself; although some kids may be familiar with the concept of feminism, they may not know all aspects of the new fourth-wave, especially since a bulk of their knowledge comes from their parents and teachers. Additionally, they are still struggling to break away from internalized gender norms that have been in place since birth. Still, their keenness and young age provides a sort of blank canvas for the new generation of feminists; it’s easier to influence them as they form their beliefs. Thus, based on my experience, I have come up with the four C’s of teaching feminism to middle school kids: contextualize, clarify, converse, and connect.
1. Contextualize Their Home Life: Knowing the background of the kids of whom you are teaching feminism is essential. Where are they in terms of the socioeconomic ladder? Are they upper, middle, or lower class? What do they know about feminism? Who are their female role models? By learning the answers to these questions, you have a solid idea of where to begin the conversation. For example, if you are talking to someone using ableist language, talk about the importance of intersectionality, trans visibility, anti-racism, anti-ableism, and anti-classism. On the other hand, if you talk to a child who has not been introduced to the movement, begin with basic definitions and ask about their female role models and experiences with sexism. Remember that at any age, feminism is not standardized, as it stems from a personal interpretation of lived experiences. Treat the kids that you talk to with care, keeping in mind the importance of feminism within the context of their lives.
2. Clarify Any Misconceptions: Even if something comes up in a casual conversation, feel free to voice your own opinions, no matter how trivial the situation seems. The tiniest of prejudices builds to create a system of sexism, so never feel bad about dismantling the construct of gendered colors, or eradicating generalizations like “boys are better at math than girls.” Pointing out any train of sexist thought will prompt kids to reevaluate their way of thinking. Usually, they go from questioning small injustices to questioning systematic ones. A couple of years ago, I babysat a girl in 7th grade who wanted to join the science team but was on the fence because all of the other members were boys. She said, “There’s no point anyway, guys are better at science than girls,” but I could tell by the sigh in her voice that she was disappointed. At the time, I was learning about Lise Meitner and Rosalind Franklin in biology, and showed their pictures and biographies on the internet. “So there are women in science!” She exclaimed. She looked relieved as she scrolled down on the laptop. “Why don’t they teach us about them in science class, then?” Deciding to clarify the girl’s misperception therefore paved the way for conversation and enabled a feminist realization.
3. Converse, Don’t Lecture: You may become furious at some kids for their gaps in knowledge and want to go off on a rant, which is a mistake I have made in the past. In these times of anger, take a few moments and think about how you learned about feminism. Did someone sit down and lecture you, or did you have a conversation that allowed you to see things differently? I know that I usually listen better when people treat me as an equal, ask me questions, and answer any lingering thoughts I might have. Having a conversation will not only help the kid you talk to understand sexism and where it comes from; but also will help you understand the other point of view and explain your own feminist perspective.
4. Connect to Real-Life Examples: Talking in the abstract is great for concepts like Schrodinger’s cat, but feminism permeates every person’s life. More importantly, connecting feminist principles to applicable examples helps kids better understand how it enhances their life. During Thanksgiving break, I talked to my ten-year old cousin about the importance of racial representation in feminism. She was confused until later that night, when we watched Zendaya’s show “KC Undercover.” I watched my smaller cousin’s eyes widen after my older cousin and I talked about how Zendaya was a great role model, and after my aunt pointed out all the African-American art in KC’s house. Instantly, I knew that racial representation became more relevant in my cousin’s life because she had a real, visual example of it.
In my general experience as a feminist, I mostly talk and think about how I can encourage my peers to be feminists. Only recently have I begun to contemplate the ways I can teach the younger generation about feminism; however, it is equally, if not more, important. I hope that the 4 C’s will help the older generation inspire the new and aid in the future creation of the fourth wave of feminism.