I just watched this video from TedxWomen. It’s about embarrassing your daughters in order to teach them how to have agency and resilience in life, at work, and in relationships. Claire was a little hard to watch, because you remember what being in grade 6 was like, but Rachel put Claire’s very real struggle into context. We are taught to be modest, wear pink, say nothing.
I want to be president. I am the best. I win.
Those are not options for women these days. And if they are, they’re certainly not promoted by mainstream media. The people that do promote these ideas in the turning minds of young women are educators like Rachel, and educators that I’ve had. For example, a simple high school politics teacher.
I swear on my future grave that I will never stop writing about how inspiring this man has been for me.
What was, and remains more frustrating to me is that my father wasn’t supportive or inspiring. Not that he wasn’t at all. He encouraged me to do what was logical, but not to exceed my means. Assuming that this isn’t just my over-dramatized sensitivity to familial discord, I was really disappointed when he didn’t think I could be an artist in high school. My mom didn’t either, and that stung, no doubt, but I remember my dad’s discontent more emotionally.
Now, after watching MissRepresentation, reading countless sociological blogs, and just getting mired in the world of women’s choice, power, and success, I’m disappointed with my dad. Every time I mention the word “feminism” to him, he smirks, laughs, and shrugs it off.
Why do you do that? If you are a man, out there in cyberspace reading this, and you do this, why?
Feminism is made to be a dirty word, but it isn’t. And it doesn’t mean that women are evil bitches who want to make men feel pain. It has to do with equality, not overpowering someone else. It has to do with providing equal opportunities, and not only that – but planting SEEDS OF THOUGHT in the minds of young girls that they can be whoever they want to be – presidents, engineers, astronauts, mothers, graphic designers, volunteers, organizers, leaders, screenwriters. When the representations of women in positions of power – instead of in positions of doggy-style degradation (and I don’t exactly mean porn here, more like reality TV etc) – is made available for women and girls to soak in, maybe more of them would think they could be president.
That is what I realized as I was listening to Rachel Simmons’ speech; that is what my politics teacher taught me, and several of my most empowered, wonderful, fascinating and curious best friends, in high school.
The man is nothing spectacular – rugged, coy, smart as a whip, funny, deep blue eyes, and sensitive in the heart – okay, he kinda is. From the very first day I walked into his classroom, I knew that his goading, his pushing and pulling and taunting (all done in good humour) was meant to push us farther, to allow us to reach further, and achieve more. Here was an ordinary North American man – a man with regrets, with education, with soccer skills (so he claimed) – and he taught all the women in his classroom that not only did they HAVE a voice, but they needed to USE IT, too. In fact, he made it necessary for us to use our voice, to learn to out-argue the boys, the teachers, and everyone else that wanted to cross our paths.
He is, and was, a true feminist. Sure, he had his moments with the boys – but that doesn’t negate his feminism. I always felt like for all the attention he gave the boys, all the rough-housing and snarky comments, he really believed that our voices were there, they were important, and it was important for others to hear what we had to say. He took us seriously and respected our concerns. He made us feel every bit of the intelligent human beings, and more, we were taught to be shy about.
In Rachel’s talk she mentioned that by grade 9, girls rarely raise their hands in class because it doesn’t look good in front of other classmates to show off what you know. But why shouldn’t you show it off? If you are the smart one, be the smart one – do not be afraid, do not be timid, do not be afraid of offending someone’s skewed perceptions of social order.
In my high school politics classroom I learned that I can argue a mean debate, and win. I learned that it is okay for me to be wrong about something (this being said, perfectionism is still something I struggle with). I learned that I want my voice to be loud, that I have strong opinions, and that there are people who will listen to me, process my ideas, and reply accordingly. I learned that people shouldn’t just brush me off as being emotional when I was being passionate. I learned that being passionate is a strength. I learned that I have skills, that I can use them to my advantage, and that I love fighting for (writing for) what I believe to be true.
And this, this is what my politics teacher taught me all those years ago. And I never realized it until this day.
So, thank you Mr. M. From me, your daughters, your current, past, and future students – thank you.