Why Others Recommend It
Shannon Mills, a teacher at Parry Sound High School in Parry Sound, ON, designed and
developed an innovative Women’s Studies course under the province’s Interdisciplinary
Studies curriculum and taught it to a group of lucky high school students in the 2005/2006
school year. In this excerpt from an article she wrote for the OSSTF Update, Mills reflects
on the progress of the course and her students’ reactions.
A Room of One’s Own: Women’s Studies in High Schools
By Shannon Mills
A semester of ‘surfing the Third Wave’ of feminism alongside a diverse mix of
adolescents—some timidly dipping their toes in the water, others eager to dive full
force into the most challenging breakers—has served to strengthen my personal belief
that a women’s studies course is essential for today’s teens. At a time when young
women are bombarded with pornographic messages gone mainstream, in a society
where raunch culture is cited as “the new feminism,”in a decade when even prominent
feminists recognize that the women’s movement is experiencing a dangerous backlash,
it is more important than ever to provide students with a curriculum which equips them
with a sense of integrity, entitlement, and empowerment. (. . .)
I know all too well the frustration of attempting to establish a balanced gender
perspective in the classroom, having revised my senior-level history course repeatedly
over the last five years. It disappoints me to realize that the high school curriculum
continues to reflect what one of my professors aptly termed the “add-women-and-stir
methodology.” Women’s issues are still relegated to the sidebars of textbooks; women’s
concerns continue to be presented as tangential topics within the bulk of the core
curriculum. In my classroom, despite my best efforts, Michelangelo still eclipses
Gentileschi, Napoleon continues to trump Wollstonecraft.
An entire semester devoted to the study of issues affecting women historically,
politically, and globally gives teachers the rare chance to dig deeply into topics which
the traditional curriculum only grazes. The design and delivery of a women’s studies
course for high school students has been both an exhausting and exhilarating
opportunity for me. To hear my students reaffirm the belief that it should have an
important place in high school leaves me hopeful that other teachers will join The Miss
G__ project in its quest to make women’s studies a reality in the Ontario curriculum.
(Originally published in the OSSTF Update Vol. 33 No. 7, February 15, 2006.)
The following is an account from a student who took Ms. Mills’ course last semester in
which she reflects on the course.
I would recommend the women's studies course to other students because I
found that the course opened my eyes about what important events women had roles in,
during history, that is not usually mentioned in our ordinary History textbooks. It also
focuses on issues that are present in our society in the present, that not everyone notices
at the first glance. Women's studies allowed us to learn about the influence of women
in history, as well as let us know that the world is no longer a male dominated place.
Women have rights, and they earned them.
The course allowed us to have fun, but serious events and discussions in class,
and we were able to address women that made a difference. I had many great times in
the course. I would have to say that some of my favourite times in that class were the
discussions, presentations/projects where we could dress up, learning about media
influence, the white ribbon campaign and the final exam, where we were able to create
a dinner party.
My perspective of feminism has strengthened since taking the course, and I
notice many more events and things that that I would not have before taking the course.
People now see me in the hall and ask how the course was, and what we were planning
to do next for the course. They seem to want to know what is going to happen to the
course, since I have been so involved in advertising it. I have become a 'feminist'.
The course has definitely changed my life outside of school. I especially notice
it in advertisements and television. I was never really one to analyze commercials and
certain advertisements but since the course, I have to say that I drive my family crazy
sometimes when certain commercials appear on television. It has also influenced me in
school, because I feel more involved, less shy, and I also analyze things that happen in
the school with couples. In my school work, I have been doing many projects about
strong women, and what the world would be like if it was female dominated, like it was
male dominated quite recently.
Please tell these people that it would be a bonus to allow other schools,
teachers and students the opportunity to take the course, and offer it in Ontario. I think
that many people will benefit from taking this course in many ways, and I will do
whatever I can, to make this dream, a reality.
Please send us - and your MPP and the Ministry - your reasons, and we'll post them.
1. because we go through our mandatory formal education
careers without ever encountering a critical study of gender
construction and socialization, and most importantly, its implications
2. because studies and experience tell that young women
encounter a drop in self-esteem once they reach high school age
3. because studies and experience show that young men feel
the negative effects of constructed masculinities as well
4. because too many girls feel the need to say things like
"I hate girls," usually in order to "get the attention" of boys
5. because homophobia, especially in the form of bullying,
is having a very real and very deadly impact on the lives of high
school age youth
6. because in high school we never encountered a fair and
appropriate introduction to the very real contributions and histories
7. "because I can't understand my history if I don't know hers"
8. because not enough is being done to combat sexism and
sexual harassment in these formative years
9. because, despite efforts, sexism and sexual harassment
remain prevalent in high schools
10. because violence against women is a global epidemic, and "pepper spray won't solve the problem," as one supporter put it
11. "because I learn what it means to be a woman from Seventeen magazine"
12. because anorexia, bulemia and other eating disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in teenage girls and boys, related in part to the mass of restrictive and negative body image messages with which this age group is bombarded on a daily basis
13. because, despite how far women have come in the educational and professional spheres, in January 2005, Harvard University president Lawrence Summers suggested that "innate ability" may be the reason women are severely under-represented in the upper levels of science and engineering.
14. because young boys and men are never really provided with a safe space to analyze and discuss "masculinity" and the standards and strictures it imposes on their lives
15. because the government cannot fully address the reasons why many boys and young men are now having difficulty in traditional curriculums without addressing the construction of gender and its implications
16. because, on average, for every nine men holding executive positions on the boards of the largest public companies in North America, there is only one woman
17. because our experience in high school workshops has shown us that high school aged women and men want a space in which they can talk about gender and sexuality
18. because starting at a very young age, our society teaches girls to be afraid to walk alone at night or to travel alone, but does not pair this with teaching both boys and girls about the ways in which different cultural understandings of the role of women in society and of gender can lead to the violence and abuse girls are taught to fear
19. because studies and experience show that students do better in school when they are exposed to successful role models of their own gender, and while the current curriculum exposes students to the stories of many 'great men', it does not adequately provide students with the stories of the many (equally great) women
20. because the current curriculum has no way of examining the complex ways in which sexism, racism, heterosexism and other forms of discrimination are intimately related and linked
21. for the unnamed Miss G___
Your turn: why do we need Women's & Gender Studies in high schools? (be sure to tell your MPP, too!)