What I learned when my brother became a feminist
I was born to be a teacher. Right now, I’m studying education at university, and I’ve never felt happier. That being said, sometimes I can’t help but panic about the way that children/students hear and remember every word you say when you’re a teacher. I have many vivid memories or ideas that were provided by a primary school teacher fifteen years ago, and some of them are wrong and unpleasant. I don’t want to be that teacher for someone—something I realized when my brother discovered feminism.
Feminism is something that I first learned about in high school. After I’d dug through articles and books and blogger testimonies about what feminism truly meant, it felt kind of weird to me that people would identify as feminists at all. Isn’t it to be assumed? Isn’t it kind of obvious? Apparently not. I wondered why.
Even now that I’m an adult and he is a full-fledged teenager, my brother and I are very close. Somehow feminism worked its way into a conversation one day when he was 13, and when I mentioned my feminist views, my brother’s face uttered the most quizzical look I’d ever seen. “You’re a feminist? You’re not really that much of a feminist.” I got a little defensive, saying I was most certainly a feminist and that this was nothing new. That’s when my brother explained: “A feminist is a girl who thinks she deserves equal or better rights than a man. My teacher told me that he went to school with a feminist, and he said they get angry and yell a lot and hate men. You don’t hate men—you dated one! You’re not a feminist.”
It took, I will estimate, less than two minutes to explain feminism to my brother. I told him that a feminist is a person who believes in equality of the sexes, and nothing more. I told him that both boys and girls could be feminists, and that in no way did it mean you had to be angry or hate men. Then I asked him if he believed I deserved to be paid the same amount as him. His response, of course, was yes. By the end of the conversation he even went so far as to say, “I guess I am a feminist.” Simple. As. That. He is 15 now, and has formed a great understanding of feminism. I have taught him about consent, pay inequality, and other issues that we face, to explain to him why it is relevant, all of which has shocked him but helped him to understand why people do get mad sometimes.
“It isn’t fair,” as he’s said. And it isn’t.
As simple as it was, it really opened my eyes about my responsibility as a teacher, and if anything, made me feel better about it. I may be anxious about teaching the wrong thing to a child who will never forget it, but I was able to teach my brother about feminism, accurately and successfully. This teacher that gave him a negative impression about feminism also gave that impression to 24 other students in my brother’s class alone, and who knows how many other classes, and maybe his own children. As innocent as their outdated view on feminism might have seemed, these kinds of things are what create the stigma and stereotypes about feminism that we all fight to shut down on a daily basis. Students in this class may grow up with the idea that feminists are angry women with only bad intentions against men, and even if and when they learn the difference, that idea will still linger in the back of their minds. I realized that as a teacher, it is going to be my responsibility to explain things in a way that is socially correct and accurate. If a student asks me what feminism is, it is my job to give that student the right information that they need, in an unbiased way, so that they can base an opinion off of that.
Being a teacher is not all about pushing a curriculum and reluctantly doing hall duty. It is about sharing, letting students share, and about providing students with the knowledge they need, and a positive attitude with which to explore the world. When feminism is presented as equality and nothing more, I believe that any person can relate to and, at least, understand it. I think that this understanding needs to be established properly in order to benefit the feminist movement in the future, and I think an important piece of that lies in the hands of teachers.
Kathleen Hanrahan is a 19-year-old from Newfoundland, Canada, currently studying at Memorial University. She dreams to someday be a primary school teacher, but in the meantime enjoys playing piano, watching romantic comedies, and spending way too much time on Lookbook. Kathleen is a dedicated member of the Taylor Swift Defense Squad.