The kids are all right. Well, they will be if we give them what they are asking for – a feminist education.
The Stokequality feminist group – newly formed by sixth formers at Stoke Newington School, East London – has filled a gap in the curriculum that, sadly, most students are desperately lacking. So far, they’ve held school-wide assemblies, heated debates and their very own “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt campaign.
When the group invited guest speakers to the school – including Laurie Penny and Suzanne Moore – many teenagers were surprised to find feminists were not “man-hating” and were, in fact, “normal people”.
“They don’t adhere to the stereotypes you would think,” said one seventeen-year-old boy, “it made me feel that anyone can be a feminist.”
At present, secondary school students across the UK will likely only learn about feminism when studying the Suffragettes as part of their history curriculum. They might – possibly – broach the subject in some form as part of a Sociology A-Level. But, for most students, they won’t be given the empowering tools that feminism offers until they come across it at university – if they decide to go, that is.
Stoke Newington head teacher, Annie Gammon, admits with regret that she “didn’t have the language to articulate” the sexism she experienced until further education. Psychology teacher – and co-founder of Stokequality – Noor Hasan, says: “There are so many things I have learned as I got older that I wish I knew when I was younger”. Even the school’s sixth formers wish that they’d had a feminist education from an earlier age: “I hope that the girls who are in year seven will grow up seeing things like our feminism t-shirts and knowing that rape is not right,” says a seventeen-year-old student called Weyland.
I hope so too. It’s a chilling tale when a debate about rape reveals the absolute defeatism of a cluster of teenager girls: “It’s just going to happen. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
For the girls and boys at Stoke Newington School, talking about feminist issues won’t always be easy, but I’d much rather the country’s soon-to-be adults had the opportunity to share their views at school. Only through open discussion can the naïve and the naysayers be challenged, and allowed to grow into the feminists of tomorrow. No woman – whatever age – should feel that rape is inevitable, or that, as was also voiced by some students, the solution to stopping sexual assault lies in avoiding short skirts.
The key to encouraging sexual equality can be as simple as removing the seemingly harmless taboos held by younger teenagers. As Babatunde, 16, says of the year sevens: “They don’t know what is right yet, they are innocent, but if you don’t get it in now to change the views, then later it will be a big issue.”
The kids are asking for a feminist education, and Stokequality is helping young East Londoners to reap the benefits. Young boys are already beginning to feel empowered to stand up to their wolf-whistling friends, and young girls are developing the sense of self needed to navigate what is still, in many ways, a mans world. It might seem small-scale, but the sensible attitude of one Hackney school can affect the lives of hundreds of students. I hope that others will adopt this new approach: not only did we all wish we had it, but the kids are asking for it.