Maple-Flavored Misogyny

Posted on January 27, 2020


Feminism, the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. (Encyclopedia Brittanica, the #1 result when I Googled “feminism definition.”)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Last week, I featured two guest authors and former high school students: “Jess,” who wrote about her experiences of being told to smile in 2012, and Anne Henningfeld, who wrote about her experience of being insulted and silenced by her high school principal because she wrote an argument for a gender-inclusive high school fight song in 1995. Today, I share one of my own experiences with misogyny at school.

As girls and women in public schools, our experiences with misogyny are many and varied, from the “minor” daily microaggressions, such as being told “pretty girls sit up front,” to the major, such as re-defining the concept of feminism. I will never forget that day….

Superintendent Behnke appeared to be angry. “Did you offer extra credit for students to attend the Women’s March?” he demanded to know.

Yes. Many of the themes addressed by the March appear in literature in the courses I teach. Students were invited to observe and/or photograph signs at the March, then write a piece that explored a connection to a literary work or works under consideration in the course to earn extra credit. One could even do it from looking at signs in an article about the event.

I showed him the invitation, which clearly stated in BOLD that students were not required to participate or even attend the event–that the extra credit could be earned by anyone who could write a thoughtful discussion that connected a message on a sign to a literary theme in the course–from any position.

He then asked, “Would you offer extra credit for attending the Right-to-Life March?

No. Certainly not. That would be a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which unequivocally prohibits public school personnel from promoting religious viewpoints.

On the other hand, the mission of the Women’s March is perfectly aligned with the International Baccalaureate mission, the mission of APS and that of all public schools.

In a follow-up meeting, the Title IX Coordinator communicated the superintendent’s directive:

“Never again define ‘feminism’ as ‘gender equality’ in your classes.

No explanation was given; no evidence was produced that recent studies had shown great academic gains were to be made with this new strategy. No educational goals were claimed to be achieved by re-defining this key concept in all literature courses–and in the lives of faculty and students today. A directive had been issued, period. The “great and powerful AHS had spoken.”

As I had seen many times before, when faced with the idea of that gender equality is a work-in-progress, not a done deal, district administrators attacked and silenced those with whom they disagreed.

As anyone who has taken a high school literature course knows, when approaching texts through a lens of critical pedagogy, readers ask question about race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, etc, about which groups have a voice in their society and which groups are silenced, about how texts communicate ideas through what is and isn’t represented in them. Gender inequality and people’s/society’s responses to it are BIG THEMES in literature!

This Maple-flavored misogyny was a poison that I could not swallow. What if they decided to re-define racism or classism next?

As a person of integrity, I decided that it was time to retire.

These experiences have left me with one lingering question that, at the time, I did not have the presence of mind to ask:

What is the district’s new definition of “feminism” and how will they inform the community?

Image may contain: 2 people, including Lexi Miller, people smiling

Women’s March, Adrian, MI 2018

Image may contain: Lexi Miller, smiling

Posted in: Student Rights