I just started teaching a semester long selective course to high school junior and seniors entitled “Feminism, Christianity, and Society.” Here are a few reasons why I love teaching this course:
- I get to have conversations about equality, fairness, and justice with 16-18 year olds
- I get to share my own passion for those on the margins of every story by introducing a Hermeneutic of Suspicion
- I spend hours preparing and grading and begin to see the connections with the tradition of feminist thought to its current expressions and developments in a generation of gender-balanced youth
- I get to name the obvious elephant in the room, and I get paid for it!
- I get to accompany young women and men in their movement from unknown to knowing, observer to ally, voiceless to speaking
From the First Wave when we fought for the right to vote through the 1960s and 1970s and the Second Wave of Feminism that continued to attract criticism and diversity, feminism and feminists have endured critical judgment and scorn for claiming equality, fairness, and human status. From the Third Wave of differing voices to a new technologically-influenced, post-feminism wave of young girls and boys willing to understand the world beyond binary structures force-fed to them, the term feminism have undergone multiple and repeated shifts as we convince ourselves that language matters.
My students bring a diversity of perspectives, cultures, languages, and values to our classroom. Their curiosity helps me to see my own bias for those on the margins, and they help me stand in that space where I plead and demand justice. As I teach my students how to interpret their world within and outside of themselves, they, too teach me how I am doing this and how my actions either follow suite or don’t.
You can’t teach feminism without the desire to transform the world you live in. In fact, if we all just saw the world from those inconvenienced, hurt, criminalized, or unseen, our actions would be passionate because our lives depended on them.
It is from the perspective of the anawim that we must insist on fulfilling God’s invitation to build the Kingdom of God, or what Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the beloved community.
From scholars to educators, preachers to ministers, we understand the importance of encounter -- when we experience something or someone beyond our knowing and grow in compassion, empathy, and conviction for the dignity of God in our midst. Transformation through the experience of the other is scary and messy. Yet, it is the way that our God chose to reveal God’s self -- by becoming human and living amongst us.
I realize how corny and trite this may sound, but I am convinced that when I teach, I am actually the one that is grateful for all the new knowledge I learn from others. I don’t know everything and I want to be influenced by the experience of those for whom normally do not get a say or a voice.
Teaching feminism to high school students challenges me to see the inconsistencies in my own beliefs and actions. I am invited to consider how my language, my behavior, my expectations can be more considerate, more inclusive, more just.
I wish I can say this for others in the church or in leadership. Our society still bathes in misogyny that gets amplified in headlines. I have to learn and teach others how to distance myself from those voices that speak evil and turn me away from what is good: girls are not the source of a decrease in male priestly vocation in our church, men who see and choose themselves in others limits the realization and actualization of the call of many.
I am grateful for Sr. Dominique, a Canossian nun who heard my interest in being an altar server when I was in the fifth grade. At first she smiled (little did I know my desire was just enough experience she needed to implore our then local ordinary Archbishop John Quinn to have girls serving at the altar), then she pulled me aside for an instructional “People are watching. They may not like it that you are there, but know I will train and support you. You and other girls have a place at the table.”
Educating for a more just world must begins in my own community of faith. It’s ironic, but it is easier for me to cry out for equality and fairness outside of my church. But, today, that needs to stop.
I teach from my perspective -- inside the church -- so that our church can transform and change our hearts so that all are welcome and able to serve.
[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at contemplativecompanions.org or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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