Ontario’s New High School Gender Studies Class Will Probs Change The World

In 1873, Dr. Edward Clarke wrote of a “Miss G” in Sex in Education. Miss G attended college, graduating at the top of her class, and died shortly after, causing Clarke to diagnose her passing as “resulting from too much energy in brain,” and  “not enough in [the] womb.”

the miss g logo

the miss g logo

Exactly 140 years later, her memory has been cemented in Ontario history as the inspiration behind The Miss G Project for Equity in Education – an eight-year long (and recently successful) campaign to offer a gender studies course in the region’s high schools.

The Miss G Project was born in January of 2005, when five college students at the University of Western Ontario realized they had something unsavory in common: the experience of watching rape culture charge into their high school communities. 

 

Kickin’ around a dorm room, listening to tunes, and talking about high school experiences, it occurred to them that they had never encountered an introduction to studies of gender, its intersections with class, race, ability and sexual identity, and its implications in their high school education. Nor did they see women’s perspectives and experiences represented or included in the curriculum as anything more substantial than a tokenistic sidebar in a textbook.

They decided what they were learning in university Women’s & Gender Studies classes and in their experiences of activism was eye-opening and life-changing and should have a place at the high school level.

They demanded an introductory Gender Studies course in the Ontario Secondary School curriculum. In 2008, The Ministry of Education committed to implementing a revised Social Sciences and Humanities curriculum, and in September, Gender Studies will be a part of that curriculum. According to the Miss G Project website, the description reads as follows:

Gender Studies, Grade 11
University/College Preparation HSG3M
This course enables students to learn about the dynamic nature of gender roles and norms; sexism and power relations; and the impact of representations of women and men in the media, popular culture, and the arts. Students will analyse a range of gender equity issues, including gender-based violence and workplace equity, in both Canadian and global contexts. Students will develop and apply research skills and will design and implement a social action initiative relating to gender equity.

When I was in high school, I lacked a vocabulary to define my own oppression. I stumbled through life completely perplexed by the lens through which the world saw me — a biracial girl with a single, working-class mother — and spit me out. As I came of age, I came of consciousness, having the extreme pleasure of taking a college course at 17 called “History of American Women.” (Honors.)

Once I began to study the women who came before me, and finally conceive of a whole woman I could become, I understandably began to exist. It was addicting. I dropped my business major to pursue Women’s Studies. I scrapped my corporate ambitions to enter the nonprofit sector. I became an activist. I never felt I was choosing to do these things — I felt compelled, pulled by some strange intellectual force toward ending whatever voices whispered in my ear as a child about what it means to be a woman, how I should feel about my hair, where my parents came from, how much money it takes to be human. Studying and living at the intersection of various oppressive forces has kept me on my feet. It’s kept me alive.

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I, too, look back on my years in high school and wonder how I would have looked and felt in my own body then if I’d known what I do now. That’s a natural part of life, but in this case it’s extreme — I left high school afraid of who I might be, and left college excited at the prospect that I was bound for greatness after all. Women’s studies gave me more than a vocabulary, it gave me a life. It taught me how to see barriers and then it placed the hammer in my hand with which to smash them. Learning about gender, sexuality, race, class, and all that jazz in college gave me a sense of being in the world and a desire to reconcile the differences which drive us so far away from each other as a large clump of beautiful humans stuck on this banged-up planet.

I’m excited for Ontario, and I’m excited to meet Miss G. I’m even more excited, though, to see who these students decide to be once they’ve learned the truth.

 

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Carmen is the Deputy Straddleverse Editor and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle. She's mother to the most adorable dog on Earth and hates paying more than one dollar for a good slice of pizza. At times, she self-identifies as "the baddest bitch." You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr because it makes her feel good about herself when people do.

Carmen has written 557 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    This makes me so happy! I too have dropped my previous journalism major and am going into WGST! I can only hope that my children will have the same opportunity to take this course in school. I sincerely hope this class will one day be offered accross the country and the world!

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    I added a WGS major on to my anthropology major in college. This article makes my non-profit queermo heart soar. I surprisingly did have a Women’s Studies class at my Catholic high school, but didn’t have the chance to take it because it interfered with a required class. =( I need to look into whether or not the public schools I work with offer WGS classes.

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    LOVE this post. And I love that it all happened at my Dad’s alma mater. And, like you, my college experience brought me to who I am, taught me about gender in a way my high school experience could never even conceive. I just hope more colleges and, especially, more high schools take the example here and follow suit.

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    ah I’m so jealous of these kids! today i had to sit in a philosophy class and listen to a large group of teenage boys call trans* people ‘nutcases’ and ‘not really x gender because…’ and then walk outside and listen to a bunch of guys make rape jokes and talk about how feminism doesn’t matter any more because women can vote now.

    so what i’m saying is that damn fucking right this class is needed, both to educate those guys and so i maybe wouldn’t feel as powerless as i did today. we need this because it terrifies me that huge numbers of people are finishing high school, turning 18, being considered adults, and they just aren’t aware of this stuff. i like this because it means that the task of education is falling to those whose job it is, not the anxious and angry kids who want to start the conversation but are scared of the lack of power they have to change anything at all and how that lack of power will inform the reaction they get, from laughter to outright threats.

    so in short can this please happen in my school

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    I’m so excited this is happening. I’ve always thought that some of the college level courses that are available, would be extremely beneficial to High Schoolers. In High School everyone is obsessed with gender and media, so why not give them the tools to examine and analyze those things?

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    This is SO awesome! I’m slightly disappointed because this is my last year of highschool and I won’t be able to take it. Hopefully this helps to end the idea that feminism is a dirty word, and stops the sexist/homophobic/transphobic etc. language that I still hear everyday from my peers. I think the course should be mandatory though, because I feel like the people who actually need this course won’t take it.

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    Agh this is great! Too bad they just started to do this after our school’s courses were more solidified for next year. Oh well, at least my school will have the next generation be even more well informed.

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    I wish that my high school could have a class like this! I’m from a small town, and the school is mostly full of middle class, heterosexual, able-bodied, able-minded, white students. I actually can’t think of a single full time school staff member POC. We have a GSA, but it’s tiny, and barely noticeable. Rape culture, homophobia, trans*phobia, etc. run rampant. I’m no longer surprised when people dumbfoundedly ask me what a pronoun is, and say that they’re never even heard of neutral pronouns! What a difference there would be in the world if kids were exposed to tolerance and acceptance earlier on in their school careers!

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    This is amazing! I wish wish wish that all high schools have this because it really needs to be addressed sooner – especially since not everyone will be exposed to this after high school. There are still people with PhDs who know fuck-all about intersectionality and feminism, and they’re the ones whom we would expect to be “the most educated” of society – what about those who don’t pursue post-secondary education? At least having it at high school makes it a base standard level of educating everyone.

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    “I never felt I was choosing to do these things — I felt compelled, pulled by some strange intellectual force toward ending whatever voices whispered in my ear as a child about what it means to be a woman, how I should feel about my hair, where my parents came from, how much money it takes to be human” — I seriously just sent this quote to my mom, who has been thoroughly confused since I dropped bio to pursue gender studies in college, because this is the most perfect explanation of the drive behind that decision, and every decision in academics I’ve made since then.

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    Having an environment where teens can study gender & sexuality is great. However, I don’t expect it to have a sweeping impact. For the schools that actually will offer the class as a grade 11 elective, about a third of them will be required to teach it from a Christian perspective (that is, if the Catholic schools don’t try to eliminate it altogether, meanwhile forcing students to take mandatory classes about Catholicism & Christian family values).

    IMO gender studies is something that needs to be addressed much earlier in the curriculum.

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    Less ecstatic than most here. Too much gender studies is hella cissexist. Finding out in high school rather than college that some people consider wanting people like me morally mandated out of existence to be acceptable discourse wouldn’t have done me any favors.

    *Looks over the resources page.*

    Ambivalence justified. Teaching kids damaging misconceptions about trans folks sooner. Yay.

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    A step in the right direction! Now if we could just have a class in elementary school that goes over the genderbread person and talks about allllll the issues. That’s when we should really start :)

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    If anyone knows of any high school in the province who will be actually offering the course this September, could you please let me know?I am very interested in writing about this. Thank you.

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