1. Freewrite: At the start of the lesson, the symbol for radical feminism (a fist inside the female sign) will be drawn up on the board. Ask students to take five minutes and do a freewrite response to what they see: Do you recognize this symbol? What does this symbol represent to you? How would you describe or define it in your own words? (5 mins)
2. Share Out: Let students know that today we will be talking about radical feminism, a political philosophy for which the drawing on the board is one symbol. Ask a few students to go around and share what they wrote for their freewrite responses, and gauge where the class is at in terms of familiarity and comfort with what may be a new subject. You may also want to take this time to answer collectively any questions about the symbol itself. (3 mins)
3. Introduction/Vocab Check: “‘Radical Feminism’ is a way of thinking, living and acting which is about fighting systems which oppress people through separation and hierarchy. ‘Hierarchy’ means a system or an order which is based on placing persons or groups of people on a higher level, with more rights and powers than other people. Though radical feminism was born from various struggles led by women, it is a philosophy which seeks to challenge all systems of oppressive hierarchy, not just gender.” Write brief definitions both for “Radical Feminism” and “Hierarchy” on the board, and feel free to define any other words with which students are struggling or need more clarity on. Have everyone add all of these definitions to guided notes, or into their notebooks. (10 mins)
4. Brainstorm: “To make what we are talking about more concrete, let’s come up with some examples of systems of separation and hierarchy together. Gender is one example which radical feminism points out. How is gender an example of a system of separation? How is it one of hierarchy?” Start the list off with gender, and give students a few minutes to think together about how it is a reflection of hierarchy. Then go around and see what other examples can be added to the list. If student are having trouble coming up with ideas, point to the immediate environment as inspiration:
– the classroom
– a job
See what ideas students can generate on their own, but this may be an area in which suggestions and guidance from the teacher may be helpful. (12 mins)
5. With a Partner: Ask students to work in pairs, with each group selecting one of the items from the brainstorm–or adding their own–and breaking it down in the same way the large group did with gender: How is this item an example of separation? How is it an example of hierarchy? Who does it place on top of who? Why? Ask students to write as many notes on their item as they can. (8 mins)
6. Closing/React: Bring the collective back to the board, and ask: “Now that we have identified some examples of hierarchy in our everyday lives, how do we begin to challenge them? As feminists, what steps or action can we take to fight the ways these hierarchies show up around us?” Return to one of the items on the list (gender may be a good one since it was already discussed, but focusing on the classroom as an immediate example may also be powerful) and quickly brainstorm some concrete actions that can be taken to start breaking down the hierarchies of that system in everyday interactions. “Using language which respects all gender and sexual identities”, or “Letting students decide homework policies” might be some examples. (12 mins)
7. Homework: Ask students to come up with at least five different ways that the example they broke down with their partner can be challenged. Encourage them to come up with concrete actions that can be taken, just as was done at the end of class, and to be ready to share some of those ideas when they come back to class the next day.
Ideas for later lessons returning to radical feminism:
Radical Black feminist Audre Lorde once said: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” What does this quote mean to you? What do you think Lorde was speaking to, or trying to say with this quote? Knowing what we know about radical feminism, how does this quote relate to that philosophy?
We have now made feminist critiques of our classroom, and of our school. Now that we have generated possible ways of challenging hierarchies in our classroom and school, how can we go about initiating those changes together? How can we start to break down hierarchy in our classroom today? What actions can we take to begin challenging them in the larger school structure?
*While this lesson probably makes most sense with middle or high school age students, it could be adjusted to fit the needs of a younger group.