Sharpen Your Pencils: Back to School, Feminist-Style

By Elissa Heller, Membership Specialist

Ah, the dog days of summer, when brain rot has totally set into our nation’s youth and they can no longer remember how to solve equations or identify the theme of a 19th century poem. But, a new school year is fast approaching, and it’s time to get back into that school mindset. Among the many things kids will need to relearn, they should certainly review how to be a feminist at school. Here are some important issues to keep in mind as you, your daughter, or another girl in your life gets ready to go to back to the classroom.

First, girls can and should be encouraged to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Not only is this good for girls, who are just as capable as boys in these areas, but bringing half of the population into these essential fields can only improve the quality and creativity of scientific work in this country. According to the American Association for University Women, girls’ performance in STEM actually worsens when they come up against negative stereotypes of girls in math and science. Girls also tend to judge their abilities in STEM more harshly than boys, further decreasing their likelihood to pursue these subjects. Make sure the young women in your life know that STEM is not just for boys. The more they hear it, the more likely they are to believe it.

Another stereotypically “boy” arena for grade-schoolers is the sports field. However, since Title IX was passed in 1972, girls have been guaranteed the same opportunities as boys in all school programs and activities. Now every child has the ability to be part of a team, get exercise, build confidence, and learn how to lose gracefully. To evaluate whether your school is in line with Title IX, consider these questions used by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights: “Is there unmet interest in a particular sport? Is there sufficient ability to sustain a team in the sport? Is there a reasonable expectation of competition for the team?” If the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” then the school is not in compliance. Contact the Office for Civil Rights if there’s a problem with the way your or your child’s school is managing girls’ and boys’ sports.

You may not know that Title IX also deals with sexual violence. This legislation requires schools to take steps to address any cases that they know about or reasonably should know about, regardless of whether a criminal investigation is being pursued. An important part of this policy to be aware of is that schools must use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard when judging alleged cases of sexual violence, meaning that the incident only needs to be more likely than not to have occurred in order to merit a guilty verdict. Schools are also required to have a Title IX coordinator and must make this person’s name known to all students. Find out who this person is, and if your school doesn’t have one, make sure they know that it’s the law.

A great way to kick off the school year would be to host an event at your school for NOW’s annual Love Your Body Day! Even though bathing suit season is coming to an end, girls are still likely to feel self-conscious about their bodies. The mainstream media shoves images of over-sexualized, unhealthily-thin, and un-realistically Photoshopped women in our faces, as though these women represent the norm. NOW’s Love Your Body Campaign asserts that women and girls are valuable for who they are and what they do, not whether they conform to the media’s narrow portrayal of beauty. The Love Your Body website has lots of great ideas for how to make peace with your body and celebrate the holiday on Oct. 17. Be sure to order some free Love Your Body posters while you’re there!

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