Saskia Bamber discusses the importance of teaching Feminism in A Level Politics, and why it’s about so much more than just the classroom.
The government was recently subject to criticism regarding their decision to remove feminism from the syllabus of A-level politics. This provoked an outcry from the public and various media outlets for not only excluding the women’s rights movement from a position of importance, but implicitly suggesting that women’s rights are no longer an issue in the UK, effectively marginalising over 50 per cent of the population in the process.
While this may not seem like a huge deal when you consider that there are far more grievous abuses than this experienced by women outside of the relatively safe Western bubble, it is representative of a greater issue with the lack of accountability from those in power, and recognition of the female experience. With women being taxed for the privilege of menstruation (okay the government has said that the VAT on tampons that makes them a luxury item is set to be removed, but it still involved protest and a hefty amount of free bleeding to make that happen!), women being prosecuted in Northern Ireland for having abortions, and girls being taken overseas to for FGM with next to no prosecutions; women’s rights should be seen as the priority they are, rather than a special subject or side issue that the people in power ‘will get round to.’
If this isn’t a reason to prioritise feminism in the A-level politics syllabus I do not know what is. Admittedly the women who are represented in the current content are not representative of the diversity and broad spectrum that is the female experience; so much so that, even if the A level syllabus retains the writings of feminists such as Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and Mary Wollstonecraft, it will still need a large overhaul as it drastically lacks the intersectionality that the feminist movement so desperately needs right now. The first two authors mentioned are both central tenets of second wave feminism, a branch that has come under serious scrutiny as the epitome of white, cisgender and predominantly middle class privilege. As for Mary Wollstonecraft, despite the fact that she is considered by many to be the original feminist who was in many ways way before her time, she has been dead for over 200 years. Although she remains an inspiring visionary who fought for what she believed in, in an era where domestic violence and spousal rape was legal, she still possessed the most ubiquitous advantage of white feminism: socioeconomic advantage.
The fact is that there is very little in the school syllabuse that teaches its students about current feminism, what is turning out to be an inclusive and exciting movement that encourages us to challenge what has come before and what is going on around us. We live in a crazy messed up world full of contradictions and hypocrisy, yet we cannot just wait for a messiah to show up who will solve every issue of gender inequality, race discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia with one wave of their magic wand like a Jesus/ Fairy Godmother hybrid. Change takes time; it is a process that does not happen overnight, occurring slowly. That being said, it is a constant, happening slowly but surely. And it starts with giving students the diverse and varied education that will teach them a more holistic approach to representation and feminism, helping them develop an appreciation for things like privilege and the importance of being an advocate for ending inequality.
This doesn’t only apply to Politics, although it is probably one of the more important subjects for this multiplicity to be present in, given that it is the study of a) ‘the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power’, and b) ‘activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organisation’.
Basically, it’s all about power, and when certain groups are denied an equal share in that power it leads to exclusion of their interests in legislative, judicial and executive terms. Discrimination, whether deliberate or not, is never benign in its effects. The most recent example of morons who have little to no understanding of how the decisions they make impact the lives of groups that they are actively discriminating against are the contracts being enforced on junior doctors. In the Equality Analysis on the new contract for doctors and dentists in training in the NHS it more or less explicitly says that the contracts will disadvantage women, particularly those who are single parents, but it’s ok because ‘any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. In essence, the people in power simply do not care about those they are elected to represent, because power corrupts.
Whether this discrimination is deliberate or not does not matter, because the result is the same. Minimising the rights of different groups through legislative loopholes and bureaucratic ‘aims’ is allowed to happen because many people are uninformed and unaware of the minutiae that will have an impact on their lives. Apathy is a powerful thing, and it develops because people feel disenfranchised and powerless, so why should they make the effort to vote or become politically involved? As I mentioned earlier, the change will not come by waiting for an all-encompassing figure that will carry us all with them. It comes by being both informed and passionate, and by being willing to be a part of that change.
So why should we care about feminism being on the A level syllabus? The answer is very similar to the question of why we should care about the civil rights movement, or the stonewall riots. It is because these issues still matter, they continue to inform and shape the world we live in. A world where a fifteen year old girl was subject to an assassination attempt (by the Taliban no less) for campaigning for and asserting her right to an education is not an equal one. The feminist content of the Politics A level may be pretty limited and undecidedly white, but it that is not reason to cut it altogether, effectively marginalising over 50 per cent of the population. These flaws in turn show that the key is to make that syllabus more intersectional and centred around women like Malala, along with her fellow activists (both past and present) who tirelessly campaign for the rights of women and girls worldwide. The fact that we still need to campaign and fight for equality in order to end the human rights abuses of women and girls everywhere epitomises why this is so necessary and that we all need to act in order to hold our governments accountable for what we elect them to do – represent.
Illustration by Lille Allen