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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Silencing in Schools from 10 Things

I've been thinking a lot about silencing techniques recently. This post is about a specific instance of silencing a feminist on TV. It happens a lot, but there is a specific recent occurrence that I want to discuss.

I started watching
10 Things I Hate About You on ABC Family because the movie was such an integral part of my early teen years, so I wanted to see how ABC Family handled turning it into a television show. While there are many things about the show that I don't like (which I'm not going to go into now), there is one thing that I really like: Kat. She was my favorite character in the movie and is very easily my favorite in the TV show too.

Kat's discussions on the show often revolve around feminism and environmentalism and she isn't afraid to call people out on their privilege (but doesn't usually reflect on her own, which is a shame) and their hateful language. This is why she's my favorite character. But I feel like her main purpose in being a feminist on the show is to provide a couterpoint for her shallow sister, not just for the purpose of promoting feminism in a the ABC Family viewing population.

I was shocked (ok, maybe not shocked, but it really stuck out to me) while watching this weeks episode. For an assignment that involved writing a paper on a moment that changed your life, Kat wrote about the day that she first started reading Simone de Beauvoir's
The Second Sex and became a feminist. I think that's a great paper topic. But her teacher told her it was unoriginal and that people in the space station could see she was a feminist so Kat should write about something else. Wow. Yes, people can see that she's a feminist, but being a feminist is a large part of her life, so it would make sense that she wrote about becoming a feminist as a moment that changed her life. To call that unoriginal is insulting, especially considering that a lot of the other people in the class did not write about such insightful things and are not feminists. Kat rewrote the paper about the first day that her dad bought her tampons. Her teacher was pleased and said it was good as long as it didn't end with "and then I became a feminist."

While silencing feminists is not a big surprise in television, this scene made me think about silencing in schools. In college, I can't think of any instances when I felt silenced. But I thinkt hat mainly had to do with the school that I went to and the classes that I took. I went to a very liberal, small school and I took classes mainly in Women's and Gender Studies and Sociology. People there had open minds and were open to other's opinions. So I started to think about my experiences in high school, which were very different that those of college.

I went to high school in a conservative, Christian, white, upper middle class suburb. I definitely fit in in some ways. I'm white, heterosexual, fall into the middle class spectrum (although compared to my high school class mates, I was very very low middle class, even though that's not true in wider society). But I am very liberal and not that religious, so it was hard for me to fit in in that way. So I was usually the one with the differing opinion in classes during high school. But I didn't usually voice that differing opinion because I knew that it would not be respected by some teachers and fellow students.

Silencing people's opinions (not just those of feminists) in a school setting, especially high school, can be very damaging. Schools should be a safe setting for people to express and form their opinions, but that is often not the case for a lot of people. High schoolers can be cruel, but when the silencing comes from the teachers, I think it can be even worse. Like in
10 Things I Hate About You, if teachers make you change papers or shut down voicing opinions in class because "everyone already knows you're a feminist," students might have an even harder time learning how to express their opinions.


Unknown said...

Wow, I am definitely going to have to start watching this. Thanks for the heads up.

JessMess said...

Hi, first time posting. I really like your blog.
This comes up with my family all the time. If I begin speaking about a feminist topic that's important to me in reference to the conversation, they have to stop me and say, "Whoa, whoa, the feminist is starting up" thereby silencing me and rendering the rest of what I have to say irrelevant. Like you said, my opinion wouldn't be respected. So why do I keep bringing shit up? Being a feminist is part of my identity and I won't give any of that up even if someone tries to silence me.

Linda said...

Hey there, first time poster.

I haven't seen the show, but I definitely relate on being silenced. It was my second semester in college in my Medieval Romance Literature Class (I was an english major). The topic was anything we wanted and I wanted to discuss something to the effect of anti-feminist actions taken by 'leading women' in quintessential medieval tales such as King Arthur and Sir Gowan. I spent more than a week researching and when I presented my paper in class, I was rejected. The reason being: feminism didn't occur during the Medieval period and my feminist beliefs seemed to seep in too much in my essays.

I was shocked and hurt. I had always (and until that moment, unknowingly) found a feminist angle to my 'choose your own topic' research papers.

I stuck to my topic and even checked with other professors to see if it was well-written (without letting them know the dilemma). Yeah, I got docked down a grade, but I don't regret the decision. Just because something didn't exist at a certain point in time, doesn't mean that you can't use a feminist lens.

Sorry for the novel... it's just something that has always stuck with me.

JessMess said...

Don't apologize, Linda! It was good hearing about your experience. I've heard too many horror stories about silencing in academia. I bet your prof was a man, too.

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