Each year students in the United States graduate from high school never having learned about the historical contributions of women or the continuing inequality of women in the United States today. Most of those students have completed twelve years of social studies classes that did not include the study of women or other minoritized groups but rather focused on the contributions and discoveries of white men of European ancestry. Therefore, many believe that women (and other minoritized groups) have never contributed anything, other than children, to the development of the United States. Girls are not given the opportunity to see strong historical women and will turn to pop stars and reality television personalities for role models. Boys believe that it was men who carried the load of creating the nation and it prevents them from fully understanding gender discrimination. Each student who graduates from high school should be exposed to gender issues and the history of American women and the way to do this is to, at a minimum, require a woman’s or gender studies course as a requirement for graduation. Women’s studies courses can empower girls, decrease teen pregnancy and bullying, combat gender stereotypes that affect not just girls but also LGBTQ students, end rape culture and can open the door to the understanding of intersectionality, privilege, and oppression.
As a women’s studies teacher I see the impact learning about the contributions of historical women and discussing the current issues facing women has on my female students. However, the course I teach is an elective so only a small number of students are given the opportunity to learn about gender and the role of women in the development of the United States, and the vast majority of those students are female. Boys do not sign up for the course and when scheduled by their guidance counselor will quickly drop the course to pursue more “gender acceptable” courses like technology education or history courses dealing with the study of war. I strongly believe that requiring all students to learn about the history of women, gender roles, media awareness, rape culture, body image, and healthy relationships would benefit both male and female students. I believe that this would start to change the culture of our schools and the United States that puts white men in a position of power over women and other minoritized individuals and sees women as nothing more than sexual objects to be used for the pleasure of men. Children are bombarded with images promoting gender roles, the sexualization of women, and anti-gay and anti-women terminology in popular culture. At home and school, they receive strong messages about what is acceptable behavior for males and females. All of these messages are detrimental to raising strong girls and is also harmful to boys who are constantly receiving the message that they have to be men and that it is bad to show feminine emotions or characteristics, as well as children whose gender does not fit into the gender binary. “Practically from birth, girls are trained to hate being female, to hate having sexual desires, and to hate other girls. We are constantly pitted against each other and taught to be, as Miss Representation calls it “fighting fuck toys.” We are taught that women are natural enemies.” Boys are also taught to hate their female side and boys who show feminine qualities or enjoy “girl stuff” are often subjected to bullying which is “a specific kind of bullying with the taunts about sexuality designed to tear down boys by associating them with girls and people who are gay…” Many of the social issues that are present in middle and high schools have root in gender issues “Schools struggle to combat bullycides, cyberbullying, and mean girls (and mean boys), all of which are ongoing at alarmingly high rates. These concerns involve homophobia and transphobia, sexism and misogyny, racism and classism; feminists have offered rich analysis about these interlocking systems of oppression for over 40 years” and they can be addressed in a required women’s studies course. Despite the successes of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s, there are still people who strongly believe that men should still receive special privileges simply because they are men. A 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that “people around the world say they firmly support equal rights for men and women, but many still believe men should get preference when it comes to good jobs, higher education or even in some cases the simple right to work outside the home.” Women’s Studies curriculum in secondary schools can help students question privilege and oppression and will open the door to more analysis of studies like that done by the Pew Research Center. Currently, Women’s Studies classes are more common at the university level than in K-12 education and “for many students, it is in their postsecondary education that women’s issues are studied for the first time…women’s studies often provide a perspective that is foreign to most students because they have been conditioned and taught to view historical, economic, and sociological events primarily from the position of men… Unfortunately, the opportunity to consider a different perspective is still only available to a select few, because most academic programs do not require women’s history or studies.” K-12 curriculums need to be revised to include the study of women and gender and incorporate specific women’s studies courses at the secondary level.
Women’s Studies courses provide a safe environment to explore issues related to women, gender roles, gender identity, sexual orientation and the intersectionality of race and class. Most Social Studies courses fail to included intersectionality as well multiple perspectives of historical events and social justice. “Women’s studies classes can offer high school students a way of expressing social justice interest and ways of looking at how different forms of oppression intersect. Women’s studies are not just about looking at the history and interests of women. It’s about looking at the world as different intersecting forms of oppression and what can be done to address these issues.” Girls need to see themselves reflected in their studies before they reach college to provide them with positive role models and to counteract the ways girls are marginalized by public schools. “Research demonstrates that the conscious integration of women into the social studies curriculum, the use of sex-equitable materials, and offering women’s studies and women’s history courses can all have positive effects on students’ attitudes towards gender roles, equity, and personal empowerment.” 
All students, regardless of their gender identity or biological sex, will benefit from taking a women’s studies course. Girls will become more confident and proud of being a woman when they learn about the historical contributions of women who helped develop the United States and when they are given the ability to discuss the issues that they face every day. “If younger women and girls are exposed to feminist ideals—that it’s okay to speak your mind, that you’re more than what you look like or what the opposite sex thinks of you, that being politically and socially engaged is a good thing—they’d not only avoid a ton of personal turmoil, but they’d also be more likely to be out there making the world a better place for other women.” Additionally, the skills girls gain in a Women’s Studies course will make them better leaders, more confident and will encourage more girls to enter traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, mathematics, and engineering. Boys who take Women’s Studies courses also benefit because it makes them more aware of the various modes of gender discrimination and asks them to look at American history and pop culture through a feminist lens while doing this they become more respectful of women and therefore better men. If the goal of Women’s Studies courses is to change men and the patriarchal society than men must be included and “rather than simply constructing men as the oppressors, it allows us to explore the varieties of masculine experience, both hegemonic and non-hegemonic. This more complicated view of men is in keeping with Women’s Studies’ attempt to account for the diversity of human experience. By thematizing the harms associated with both hegemonic and non-hegemonic masculinity, both more and less privileged males can better see that they have a personal investment in addressing gender issues.” This allows for more in-depth discussion of manhood and allows for more than one interpretation of what it means to be a man and allows for discussion of how masculinity impacts women. Both male and female students want to understand the relationship between the binary genders and this also allows for the exploration of other gender identities. Including discussions on masculinity and male gender roles allows for a more in-depth discussion of homophobia because “proving that one isn’t gay is a ubiquitous and painful experience for adolescent and college-age males. Opening up this painful experience as a socially constructed male rite of passage, helps straight students, male and female, better recognize their investment in addressing homophobia and understanding why they should work, in solidarity with gay men and lesbians.” Males need to understand that gender equality is actually good for men too. It will free them from strictly defined gender roles and allow them to embrace their whole selves and be a complete human being rather than a stereotype of masculinity. When boys have the opportunity to see women as more than an object of their affection or a trophy to win it will help to end the culture of violence against women and LGBTQ people that is so prevalent in the United States today, particularly on college campuses. “When kids are armed with their own voice, their own autonomy, their own sense of self and space in the world, bullies become irrelevant. Girls stand taller because they learn they don’t have to accept what’s been assigned to them; boys stand taller because they know being a man has nothing to do with wearing a “tough guise” and, in fact, is the exact opposite of being a bully, be it toward girls or other boys. Being a man means being strong, indeed, strong enough to stand up for what is right for themselves and others. Not only that but also to allow others the right to do the same.”
The curriculum for a required Women’s Studies course at the secondary level must include discussions of gender and gender identity, gender roles, the intersectionality of race, class, age, sexual orientation and other categories with gender, privilege and oppression as well as the history of the suffrage and feminist movements, social literacy and media awareness. It must ask students to think critically about how gender is defined and how gender roles are promoted in our society. Once students understand gender, gender identity, privilege, oppression, and intersectionality than the class can move on to learn about the work of women to achieve equality and where work still needs to be done. A more in-depth study of current issues facing women, men, and the LGBTQ community will allow students to apply their knowledge to real-world problems. “A curriculum might cover; public spaces, including catcalling, attitudes to dress and the threat of sexual violence; online spaces and harassment; sex and relationships, including domestic violence and yes, affirmative consent; and work, including discussions of equal pay, work-life balance, discrimination and unconscious bias. And it couldn’t hurt to remind students that women’s rights to vote, own property, study, practice professions, and control their own fertility were won by a series of colossal struggles.” Students must be taught to analyze images that are presented in media and popular culture that shape “our notions about beauty, relationships, and sexuality” Students also need to practice the skills of analytical reading, persuasive writing, debate, effective communication of ideas, critical thinking and application of skills and knowledge to real-world scenarios within the Women’s Studies course.
The inclusion of a required Women’s Studies course at the secondary level will be beneficial to both female and male students on many levels and may address many of the social issues faced by today’s teenagers, including sexual violence, teen pregnancy, and bullying. The course will provide male students the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of their female peers and will challenge them to think about masculinity and how our cultural definition of what it means to be a man is, in fact, harmful to women. This will encourage them to make their own definitions of manhood that do not include the oppression and sexualization of women. Female students will finally be given the opportunity to learn about the contributions of women in the development of the United States and to feel that they are not alone in their struggles against discrimination, strictly defined gender roles and negative cultural images of women. Girls will be stronger and boys will be better men for having taken a Women’s Studies course.
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