If we are having two separate days for workshops, then I would like to start with a bit of feminist political history, which will not be a brief overview.
1) I will ask what students are aware of with regards to feminist history and political victories and losses. I will write these down on a blackboard or some other way to visually reinforce their perspective and when I add to it. Then I will continue with something like:
Most historians consider there to be three waves of feminism.
The first wave of feminism, at least in the United States, began in the 19th Century with and focused primarily on concrete goals such as women being able to own land, have co-parenting rights, to inherit property and money, and the right to vote. This movement reached its peak when the 19th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 allowing women the right to vote.
The second wave of feminism started around the 1960s and ended around the 1990s. This movement sought to attain more concrete equality and rights in society. Women were not allowed to have financial independence if they were married because they still needed the permission of their husband for things like getting a credit card ( Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974) . Laws were enacted that helped resolve many of the issues brought up to include the ability to divorce and much of what now is a part of family law like child support and alimony. They also sought equality in the workplace (Equal Pay Act of 1963) and also reproductive rights (Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut ended state bans on contraceptives for those married ). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act made it illegal to fire someone solely because they were pregnant.
The end of this era is considered the failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have made any laws that discriminate against women in this country null and void. The passage of the ERA needed 38 states to pass the amendment through their state legislatures by a pre-determined time, which was extended until 1982. In that year there were fifteen states that still had to pass the ERA through their states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. Twenty-one states have added their own ERA language to their state constitutions. Minnesota is not yet one of them, but there is an organization that is trying to change that: MN CAFE (Constitutional Amendment for Equality).
2) I will then ask what students perspective is on power and will write these down. The definition of power I will be working with is “the ability to act or have influence over others.”
I will then stop to ask students how they think that any of these rights for women were attained via power.
I will right down responses and then add other forms of political actions to include:
-forums -media outreach (letters to the editor, blogs, social media) -boycotts -marches -protests -petitions -sit-ins -occupations
Then I will ask if students see issues today with women’s rights that could be addressed today.
Depending on how the conversation goes, I could bring up sexual harassment as a contemporary issue. This term was defined during the second wave and is still pervasive in our society. Presidential candidate Herman Cain has several allegations against him from several different women regarding sexual harassment, yet his poll numbers did not drop to the extent that Rick Perry’s has after his debate gaffe. He continues to make Anita Hill jokes and refers to minority house speaker Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy.”
I would then ask, is this an issue that you as students feel can be addressed?
Students could bring up issues in their own schools. A recent study showed that sexual harassment is pervasive in K-12 schools. Some statistics from it:
• 33 percent said a peer had made unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures.
• 30 percent experienced sexual harassment by text message, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means.
• 18 percent were called gay or lesbian in a negative way.
• 13 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys were touched in an unwelcome sexual way.
• 4 percent of girls and 0.2 percent of boys reported being forced to do something sexual.
With only 9% of those being harassed actually making it known, there is a lack of visibility of the problem.
I will ask students, how this issue could be addressed?
While bullying is being watched more closely, sexual harassment should also be. Teachers should be more proactive in their classrooms. Students should also be able to report when anything is happening anonymously for fear of retribution.
If school administration cannot be lobbied to facilitate changes towards a safer classroom environment, parent organizations and school boards should be approached.
3) While so much attention is spent on national politics, local politicians tend to be more ignored. Few even know who their elected officials are. You can find this out by going to the Secretary of State’s poll finder located at: http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/Default.aspx There you can find out who all of your elected officials are – at least based on which ward and districts you live in. You can find out your state officials on up by visiting votesmart.org and entering your address there as well.
Local officials tend not to be contacted very often – except by lobbyists. Anytime you donate to a political cause, say an environmental group, you are also supporting their lobbyists. Then again, when you visit Cub Foods you are not only supporting Super Valu’s lobbyists but also whatever associations they belong to. Yet, these lobbyists are not who elected your officials. So when constituents write letters or schedule a time to see them at their office – they take it very seriously.
If you go with one or two others from your district or ward and are seeking action on a specific issue or bill, this can show them that you are somewhat organized and become more so. Further, it’s advised to revisit your elected officials and let them know you are still concerned about an issue and are pleased or displeased with their actions on it. Not only do politicians need to be lobbied but they need to know that they are still accountable to you after you walk out of their office. Many different issue groups coalesce around an issue only to never show up at the capitol again or seek to meet with their elected officials on at least an annual basis. Getting involved in organizations that reflect your values and perspectives can help your cause while also giving you more insight into current issues.
Yet power isn’t simply about the institutions of government. We inhabit social circles that form our families, religious institutions, and our community. I will ask students if they can think of some feminist issues that our elected officials cannot explicitly change.
I can think of some that have already been mentioned like sexual harassment and name calling. Words like “bitch” and “hoe” are used all too often in our society and you can’t simply make them illegal.
We are currently in the midst of a historical ” third wave” which likely began in the 1990s. Words that are used in derogatory manner are trying to be reclaimed (slutwalks). Rights that have been previously won are also sought to be retained and strengthened. Challenging gender identity and what it means to be a feminist are also a part of this movement. Including other movements against oppression towards those who are LGBTQ and people of color are also a new addition to the movement. This makes it difficult for contemporaries to understand what is happening in the movement.
So, we can take a closer look at the things we watch, listen to, and purchase. Many of the images we are seeing today in commercials tend to stereotype both men and women. I do not watch tv, but I heard about and then chose to watch on YouTube an ad for a new brand of Dr. Pepper for men only. Essentially it was a ridiculous action-filled ad that stressed how macho guys are and how women need to find their own place and own soft drink.
Do you feel advertising and our media limit what is considered manly or womanly?
Since so much is happening in the world, it is difficult to say how things will change – but they always have and will. How would you like to change things?