When Vic High teacher Georgina Hope told students to post photos of themselves answering the question “We need feminism because,” she never thought it would spark a school-wide controversy.
The campaign was part of the gender and family studies class, consisting of more than 50 grade 11 and 12 students. The class focuses on self and society, feminism, construction of masculinity in the media, gender spectrum, human sexuality, eventually culminating in a gender fair.
Hope, who has been teaching at the high school for the past three years, started the class last year and has now expanded it to two blocks to accommodate high student enrolment.
The class is mostly-discussion based and features topics that students bring forward such as the Highway of Tears, transgender issues and how masculinity has affected their lives.
This semester, students were tasked with taking a photo of themselves sharing why they believe feminism is needed and posting the photos around the school.
Some of the answers included “I need feminism because slut shaming has yet to become a thing of the past, rape isn’t a joke, Hooters is still a restaurant, people still call it sexism.”
But shortly after, there was immense backlash to the campaign both in the school and on social media.
A group of students ripped down the posters, tore them up in the girls’ face and replaced them with several anti-feminism posters with “hateful language,” one of which included a photo of a decapitated woman. Students posted anti-feminism statuses and comments on Facebook as well.
The reaction took Hope and her class by surprise.
“The members of the class were very courageous. They allowed themselves to show vulnerability in those posters. Their faces were there and they were talking about their very personal reason of why they needed feminism,” Hope said. “At first my reaction was ‘okay, that stirred up some trouble, but it’s real and very authentic learning’. Then it escalated to a point where I became very concerned.”
Some students even felt threatened walking into their school.
“It shocked us into reality. Before we were just assuming most people at the school would have the same view point because we are such an alternative school,” said student Sera Davis-Russell. “We never thought it would have this sort of ripple effect.”
Echo Stephens, also a student, added none of the posters were offensive or mean.
“We never attacked anyone and then we got attacked,” she said, adding teachers, educational assistants and students were all talking about it for weeks after.
Despite the negative response to the campaign, the class agreed it was knee-jerk reaction from a lack of understanding and education about the feminist movement — something they hope to change.
“The controversy sparked a conversation for people who weren’t part of the direct confrontation,” said student Lily Macgregor. “A lot of other people got incredibly invested in it no matter what their opinion was, if they thought it was blown out of proportion or if this was a symptom of a larger problem. It started conversations.”
From the experience, the class hopes to educate fellow students with an educational panel to talk about feminism. They also agreed almost unanimously it’s a campaign that should happen again next year to raise awareness of the true meaning of feminism.