In Favour of keeping feminism on the A’level syllabus

Just imagine the possible impact if every young person, in every school, learned a few vital facts about feminism. Laura Bates

EYE happen to be good friends with the son of my A’Level Politics teacher. A few Christmases back it occurred to me to pass on my regards along with a cheeky admonishment enquiring why he had never got round to covering anarchism when enlightening us on the spectrum of political ideologies.

It was a cheeky question with a serious point because, as a consequence, I ventured out into the world with an extremely ill informed and stereotypical concept of what anarchy really means. It was only years later that my understanding was significantly reframed after I stumbled upon an opportunity to consider the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

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His response was to propose that if I really needed to be taught about anarchism then I had already failed to understand it. As I’m sure you’ll agree, I thought that was a pretty good comeback and a much more entertaining response than some mumbled excuse blaming the restrictions placed on him by the examination board syllabus of the day.

I doubt that the current syllabus is much (if any) better at promoting libertarian thoughts about order without power but it was confirmed last week that feminism will, at least, become (remain?) a compulsory area of study for all A’ level students of Politics.

This nearly wasn’t the case mind you after the Dept for Education announced last November that it planned to drop the current section on feminism whilst retaining some elements (such as the suffragettes) within sections about pressure groups.

Some saw this proposal as measured whilst others were horrified and inevitably as quick as you could say change.org petition, Sophie Walker was demanding it’s reinstatement on behalf of the Women’s Equality Party’s yet untested mandate, Labour MP’s were tabling an emergency Commons debate (bravely overcoming the alleged low level misogyny of their new leader) and the Minister for both Women and Education had duly announced a u-turn.

The political history taught to our children is already hugely biased in favour of men’s achievements and institutions,” “The plan to shoehorn feminism, one of the most important and ongoing political forces in modern history, under the banner of ‘pressure groups’ is both insulting and misguided.” Sophie Walker

Caitlin Moran (who for my money is one of the more convincing champions of 21st century feminism) reckons that you can consider yourself a feminist if you have two things, namely a vagina and a desire to be in charge of it.

It’s not necessarily an unreasonable (or unrealistic) entry criteria but it does inevitably put the (binary) boys (with willies) at a disadvantage when it comes to this area of study.

This is one reason why, at a time when boys are struggling to keep up with the girls at every single level of educational attainment, it may be unnecessary to place undue emphasis on a political ideology which, arguably, has very little relevance to most people growing up in modern Britain.

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Obviously some people will be horrified by that last statement but before anyone demands my immediate imprisonment (I’m looking at you Kate Smurthwaite) let’s at least pause to consider the facts supporting this proposition.

The facts WE need?

Not unreasonably, the central aim of the current A’level syllabus is: ‘to develop an informed understanding of contemporary political structures and issues in their historical context, both within the United Kingdom (UK) and globally’.

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Succinctly then, this particularly covers a list that establishes the origin and meaning of basic democratic rights (and responsibilities); the structure, role and powers of the UK, EU and USA; the holy ideological trinity of socialism, liberalism and conservatism and the historical / contemporary manifestations of these movements on the ballot ticket.

In this context, it’s not unreasonable to argue that the central principles of feminism have actually been such a successful political proposition that they have by now been adopted by every single aforementioned political structure, mainstream ideology and related political party.

Which is why I for one struggle to comprehend how the Women’s Equality Party are realistically going to stand out from the pack, apart from inevitably promising (nay demanding) quotas for everything from democratic representation to popularity awards and, of course, special treatment for their members in general.

Even so, and for a number of different reasons, I wholeheartedly support the notion ‘feminism’ on the syllabus.

Whilst I abhor the idea of introducing mandatory state sanctioned quotas into democratic processes, I am fully supportive of most initiatives aimed at encouraging more women to take an active interest and part in politics.

It seems reasonable that the opportunity to study feminist issues might be considered as something of a positive action measure or gateway to encouraging more girls to take an interest in and engage with mainstream contemporary politics. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t begrudge the subject a little bit of special treatment.

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The other two key arguments for keeping it follow directly from two of the other central aims of the syllabus itself which are to develop:

1) an informed understanding of the influences and interests which have an impact on decisions in government and politics; and

2) the ability to critically analyse, interpret and evaluate political information to form arguments and make judgments.

Understanding Modern Feminism

Similar to my (lack of) experience with anarchism, I spent a significant part of my adult life entertaining a relatively naive and simplistic view about what feminism actually means.

Fair enough I was always generally aware of a few unattractive disgruntled radical outliers but in general I just embraced the entry level concept of it’s meaning which is that a feminist was someone who wanted and worked for equal treatment / opportunity for women and against sexism and misogyny.

Of course I now know (like most ideologies) there are so many different waves and types of feminism, some of whom wouldn’t have a man about the place if they can get away with it (and they often do) and are prepared to peddle outrageously inaccurate narratives if it suits their perception of ‘the sisterhood’.

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Which is one reason why I for one encourage a more informed and critical spotlight on the increasingly influential modern wave of ‘networked feminists’ and along the way hopefully establish a clear definition of what ‘feminism’ actually means to modern role models like Emma Watson and Beyonce.

It’s the year 2016. Women can and have become Prime Ministers, Presidents, Heads of State, astronauts, refuse collectors and (whisper it) full time parents. This partly explains why less than 10% of modern Britain’s actually identify themselves as feminists.

But the other reason that so few people relate to the word (and recently voted to ban it) is because (as anyone watching this week’s BBC Big Questions will attest to) those unattractive disgruntled radical outliers do somehow manage to get a disproportionate amount of attention and consequently can have a disproportionate amount of impact on government decisions that affect us all.

A spoonful of what’s good for you is good for you

Of late it has seemed almost impossible to get through a week without witnessing someone in the mainstream media repeat the mantra that ‘feminism is good for everyone’.

The most hilarious thing about this phenomenon is that the message is invariably almost always delivered in the most patronizing school mistress manner. Depressingly the messenger rarely seems interested in convincing anyone why ‘feminism is good for everyone’ and always assumes some self determined authority to admonish anyone (especially us blokes) who doesn’t already understand this irrefutable fact.

The fact is that if modern feminism really was for everyone then we wouldn’t need WE and we certainly wouldn’t need a democratically selected (apart from the short-list) MP telling us that every day is International Men’s Day only to clutch her pearls in feigned horror when her constituents offered their feedback.

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The fact is that modern western feminism isn’t for everyone and we have a duty to give the next generation of political thinkers the right to consider why that is and what can be done about it.

Mature debate

EYE is probably most closely aligned to the school of equity feminism but, based mainly on my combined love of women and equality, I feel increasingly comfortable being perceived as an anti-feminist these days.

In recent years we have witnessed the rise of such a strange hybrid of middle class, professional, first world faux-fems who have virtually no political mandate or desire to seek one and yet are obsessed with demanding state intervention.

They exist in perpetual victim aggressor state demanding special treatment based on dubious grounds whilst ignoring, blocking or no platforming anyone expressing a remotely different opinion to their own.

Most crucially they are as detached from the reality of millions of women earning minimum wage on zero hours contracts as they are from the possibility that ‘brand feminism’ is becoming toxic and it is the behavior of people like them who are largely to blame.

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Which is why school children should certainly be encouraged to critically analyse and evaluate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to feminism in all it’s relevant manifestations, be they good, bad or downright ugly.

Critical Thinking

A key aim of the syllabus has to be to encourage and nurture critical thinking and the ability make sound judgments based on solid arguments.

As long as teachers keep their political bias at home then no one should be afraid of exposing our children to the F word and more of a critical spotlight should help to dispel some of the myths and pseudo social science that some of it’s more divisive arguments are based on.

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You don’t need an A’level in economics to know that the equal pay gap is a myth and hopefully our next generation may come to understand this and, more importantly, be allowed to say it without getting marked down or no platformed as long as they can show their working out.

Who knows, perhaps if we spent less time talking about such a dubious concept they might start to focus on real income equality like the rapidly widening gap between the rich and absolutely anyone they are sharing a class room with.

Meanwhile the next generation of genuine feminists would also benefit by being given the opportunity to hone their confidence when it comes to formulating arguments when engaging in open and honest debate.

I has never actually met a man who doesn’t believe that women deserve to (at the very least) have exactly the same human rights and opportunities as us blokes. The opposite can’t be said for some feminists and the sooner the sisterhood either ditch this toxic element ot take some personal responsibility and school them properly, the sooner people are likely to take the movement seriously again.

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When the proposal to remove feminism from the sylabbus was made, Kate Green MP, the shadow minister for women and equalities, argued that this was proof that when it came to state policy ‘women were an afterthought’. She also argued that ‘81 per cent of the savings made from tax and benefit changes since 2010 have come from women.’

This statement is more than a little, ahem problematic and anyone capable of studying politics to A’level should be able to tell you why.  If you can’t see what the starkly obvious problems with such blinkered number crunching then maybe it’s time you thought bout signing up for next years course yourself….

 

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