LESSON PLAN: ‘Feminism is for Everybody’: Celebrating Women’s History Month and How Gender Intersects with Other Identities

The Lesson Plan below suggests learning activities that honor and celebrate diverse perspectives. It can be used as a blueprint for an actual lesson or serve as a more general source of inspiration for teachers and administrators.

Download full-size image at diversityIS.com/feminism
Download full-size image at diversityIS.com/feminism

Lesson Objective: Construct definitions of “feminism” and “intersectionality” and connect them to both Women’s History Month and students’ lives.

Total Time: 50-90 minutes

Grade level: High school

Introduction
Tell your students that they will be reflecting on the word “feminism” and what it means to them today in honor of Women’s History Month. Explain that it is a word that can bring up varying emotions and associations depending on the individual, and that the classroom is a safe place to discuss their thoughts.

Reflect
Distribute Graphic 1. Instruct the class to use it to brainstorm images, words, and ideas they associate with the word “feminism,” either independently or in pairs (your choice).

Idea: Encourage the class to be open and talk about what they’ve heard, not only what they believe or personally agree with. The conversation should be a place where they can share everything, whether positive or negative.

Note: Discuss actual definitions of the word “feminism” later in the lesson.

Share
Invite them to share what they’ve written on the graphic with the class. As they share, project the graphic organizer on the board and compile their collective responses.

Reflect
Summarize some of the patterns you notice on the board, including images, words, and ideas. Ask them to complete the following prompt in as many words or sentences as they see fit, either independently or in pairs. 

Feminism is…
Feminism is not…

Note: What’s the definition of “feminism”?

  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
  • bell hooks: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

Share
Select a few students to share what they wrote. As they share, write their responses on the board or type them into a computer connected to a projector so the class can also see the responses. 

Resource: Help destigmatize the word “feminism” by saying men can be feminists, too. See Feminist.com for a list of columns about men as allies at https://bit.ly/2TqEdSd

Introduce bell hooks
Explain that bell hooks (who does not capitalize her name) is a well-respected feminist who wrote a book attempting to debunk myths about feminism and clarify what feminism is and what it is not. Tell the class they’re going to read the introduction to her book Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, (available online at https://bit.ly/1NSE4jx) which contains her definition of feminism. Give students some background information from bellhooksInstitute.com.

“hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She adopted the pen name of her grandmother, a woman known for speaking her mind. She received her B.A. from Stanford University, her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin, and her PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is …”

  • An acclaimed intellectual
  • Feminist theorist
  • Cultural Critic
  • Artist
  • Writer

She has authored over three dozen books covering topics such as gender, race, class, spirituality, and teaching spanning several genres, including:

  • Cultural criticism
  • Personal memoirs
  • Poetry collections
  • Children’s books

Her books include the following:

  • Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
  • Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism
  • Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
  • Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope
  • Where We Stand: Class Matters
  • We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity

Read and Reflect
Instruct the class to silently read pages vii-x of Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, titled “Introduction: Come Closer to Feminism.” Instruct them to highlight or underline hooks’ one-sentence definition of feminism as well as anything that stands out to them as true or important.

Share
Select a student to share hooks’ one-sentence definition of feminism. Project or write it on the board and tie it into students’ own ideas of what feminism means. Invite students to share what they underlined as true and important, then discuss their reactions to the reading.

Introduce Kimberlé Crenshaw
Explain that in her writings, hooks writes about the intersection of gender and race — not only what it means to be a woman, but what it means to be a woman of color. Talk about another woman of color and well-known feminist, Kimberlé Crenshaw, who created a term for the way in which gender interacts with a person’s multiple identities, building on hooks’ ideas. Give students some brief background information on Crenshaw from aapf.org/kimberle-crenshaw/.

“Crenshaw is a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School. She is … ”

  • A leading authority in the area of Civil Rights
  • Black feminist legal theory
  • Race, racism, and the law

She has coined two terms:

  • Intersectionality
  • Critical Race Theory
Download full-size image at diversityIS.com/intersection
Download full-size image at diversityIS.com/intersection

Explain
Crenshaw created the term “intersectional” for when people are members of one or more underrepresented groups, sometimes known as minorities or underrepresented groups. 

Note: What is the definition of “intersectionality”?

  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “The complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect.”
  • Kimberlé Crenshaw: “Intersectionality is a metaphor for understanding the ways that multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage sometimes compound themselves and create obstacles that often are not understood within conventional ways of thinking.”

Brainstorm
Invite students to create their own list of underrepresented groups individually.

Time-saver: Hold an open discussion without writing first.

Ask the class to share what they wrote. Encourage them to think expansively (first-generation college student, person with disabilities, LGBTQ+, etc.)

Provide Graphic 2 and ask them to individually write the different ways they might personally have intersectional status. Tell them this exercise is for them and they don’t have to share it with the group.

Ask the class to share some of the identities they think are in the classroom.

Write
Ask students to silently jot down some of their feelings and reactions. You can also ask them to write about feelings they think might be in the room if they don’t want to share their own reactions.

Idea: Consider telling the class that if an individual doesn’t want to address the group but wants to talk about their feelings and ideas, they can come see you privately. 

Tell students, “Now that we are beginning to understand this concept of intersectionality and how it relates to us, we’re going to connect it more directly to Women’s History Month.”

For Research or Homework
Instruct students to spend some class time researching and taking notes on one of the following individuals online who embody intersectional feminism. Here is a sample list of individuals:

  • Kimberlé Crenshaw, scholar and civil rights advocate
  • Laverne Cox, transgender actress and LGBTQ+ activist
  • Chrystos, Native American writer who identifies as “two spirit,” the Native American concept of a third gender role
  • Lizzo, female rapper, flutist, and activist
  • Audre Lorde, African American poet and writer
  • Gloria Anzaldua, a poet who identified as Mexican-American and queer
  • Frederick Douglass, preacher, abolitionist, feminist
  • Sharice Davids, freshman Congresswoman who is LGBTQ+ and Native American

For more information and resources on feminism, visit Feminist.com. To learn more about intersectionality, watch the National Association of Independent School’s interview with Crenshaw on YouTube at youtu.be/ViDtnfQ9FHc. 

The following handout provides further insight into intersectionality through the stories of three young women who embody different intersectional identities: http://bit.ly/2SiQDiO