Australian High School Girls Campaign For Feminist Curriculum

fitzroy-highschool-feminist-collective

Typical high school girls don’t use their spare time to champion the cause of the greater good. Not because they aren’t able, it’s because it is normally a time of immense growing pains, insecurities and peer pressure. But perhaps this is why a group of high school girls from Melbourne, Australia are trying to flip the script.

Fitzroy High School has hit the news recently because some its students are trying to implement curriculum that will empower girls and aid them in a crucial time of their lives.

The group calls themselves the Fitzroy High School Feminist Collective, and with the help of one of their teachers, they successfully raised money via a Kickstarter campaign to create a simple curriculum designed to educate secondary school students the dangers of sexism and objectification.

They originally only asked for $3000, but raised over $12,000 showing the school how important this type of curriculum is. It’s not until most students get to college or university that they are able to delve into women’s or gender studies, and learn about the effects of the advertizing industry.

“The purpose of the class has been to create a safe space within which to explore a broad range of subjects related to gender inequality, and to enable an activist approach to tackling sexism and misogyny amongst teenagers,” states the campaign.

The idea came about after reading John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ because some of the students voiced their disapproval at the portrayal of women in the book. The specific part in question was where the author describes the character Curly’s wife as “not a person, she’s a symbol. She has no function, except to be a foil.”

The group of girls were inspired to think more on the topic of defending the rights of women as the discussion deepened.

“We sort of stumbled upon the fact there were quite a few of us interested in feminism,” Stella Bridie, 15, said in an interview with ABC news.

Instead of waiting for someone else to teach about issues they were concerned about, the students and their teacher, Briony OKeeffe, came up with their own resources that would bring the message home.

“It’s all about educating people our own age what feminism is – we’re trying to get in young because if you learn bad habits when you’re young then it sort of carries through into adulthood,” Nia Stanford, 16, said.

“We thought if we got it into schools then it would be a really good way to educate everybody.”

feminist-collective-sexism-stings

They have gotten the support of the Australian Education Union for this project. The collective designed two posters, one addressing sexism, the other, objectification of women’s bodies. They have also created an outline of objectives for the class that will equip anyone to teach it, via a USB filled with the resources.

“The idea started off as ‘let’s change our school’, then the schools in our area, and now it’s like we may as well try for the entire world – go big or go home,” said Zsuzsa Gaynor Mihaly, 15.

“I guess it’s just trying to make something that’s good enough to be accepted into the curriculum, and then get it into as many curriculums as we can.”

One of the reasons they believe their campaign is important is because of the ‘Women Against Feminism’ Tumblr. The students involved feel there is far too much negativity surrounding that page and this is seen by the backlash they have gotten in their own community.

“I started really coming out with feminist ideals and discussing them with my friends and getting really negative backlash – sometimes online or in person and generally getting a lot of bad reactions to being a feminist,” Stella said.

“That’s when I realized people my age don’t think feminism is relevant any more, and they just think it’s a bunch of man-hating angry women.”

It’s sad that the negative connotations of such an important movement (clearly it is still resonating with future generations) are getting more publicity than the women and men who are genuinely trying to make a difference. The Feminist Collective teacher thinks the resource they are offering is sorely missed from Australian education systems.

feminist-collective-how-objectification-affects-the-body

“There’s certainly reference in the Australian curriculum standards to looking at women in history, but there’s not really a strong focus on it, and it could be left out depending on the knowledge and passion of the teachers leading the class,” she said.

She says the resource will break down negative stereotypes and make feminism accessible to young women and men.

“You certainly don’t need ten years in feminist theory to identify as a feminist and that’s something I think these young women have discovered –  you don’t need any qualifications other than wanting respect and equal rights.”

We feel it’s important to highlight stories like this to reiterate the point that feminism is not what all the haters think it is. Sure, there are extremists and radicals possibly giving it a bad name (as with any movement, belief, religion etc), but that doesn’t mean the empowering and positive messages shouldn’t have their light of day also.

After all, who in their right mind wants to allow attitudes of sexism and objectification continue from generation to generation?

You can see more of what the group is doing on their Facebook page, as they continue to gain momentum in Australia and hopefully elsewhere. This is the type of content that should be mandatory in all schools, because both boys and girls are affected by advertizing. If they were equipped with the right type of teaching to fight against sexism in society and take a stand against objectification, perhaps we will start to see less of this type of media and entertainment being peddled to our youth.

Anyone can be an activist, just like the Feminist Collective from Fitzroy High School. All it takes is caring about something, and taking action.

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Week 2 // Activity One – Persona Development – Communication Design Strategy

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.