EMPOWERING GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN:
FEMINIST CURRICULA WITH HEART  

Kesa Kivel  

Welcome! The curricula on this website are intended for use by facilitators working to educate girls and young women on gender and other issues in order to 1) help them become more aware, confident, compassionate, and empowered, and 2) help them cherish and celebrate being female. The curricula stem from my experiences over several years as a facilitator supporting girls and young women in after-school workshops, particularly at the YWCA Santa Monica/Westside in Santa Monica, California. Not finding any age-appropriate feminist curricula, I developed and wrote my own.

In offering these and other educational materials for free to facilitators working with girls and young women, I hope to widen the circle of those who may benefit from them. Many other people working with and for adolescents may also find this website helpful -- for example, parents and guardians, social workers, counselors and therapists, and health providers. In addition, young people themselves may find the curricula useful as resource material.

A few of the materials you will find on the website are:
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• Girl House and Beyond: A Facilitator’s Guide for Empowering Young Women
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• Moon Magic Workshop on Puberty: A Facilitator’s Guide for Helping Girls Come of Age
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• Taking Our Place in the Art World: Feminist Arts Curriculum
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• Girl House Art Project (film)

Please note that the curricula are not presented as anti-male (as some parents/guardians may be concerned about), but rather as pro-female. They are designed to be affirming and relevant to each and every girl and young woman---that is, inclusive of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and any other factors. Exploring gender and other issues, especially the cultural/social context in which these issues occur, can help all girls and young women live their deepest values, determine -- and reach for -- their own goals, and develop healthy “partnership relationships”* based on equality, mutual respect, and kindness. 

Girls and young women deserve to be seen, heard, supported, and valued. This is their birthright. We, as a society, need to nourish their capacity to live fully and thrive; in turn, we benefit from their uncompromised energy, spirit, and wisdom. This website is one small contribution in support of this beneficial exchange.

Why I Created These Curricula 

During my own adolescence, I often felt oppressed by cultural and social forces that thwarted me because of my gender. My friends and I were made to feel -- both through explicit words and implicit societal expectations -- that girls should, for example, wait to be asked out and never take the initiative in social interactions with boys, and that a girl should never appear smarter than a boy in whom she was interested. Like many other college-bound girls, I heard my parents express hopes that an important part of my college experience would be finding a husband.  

As an adult, I found that learning about gender inequities in our society, as well as about the women who succeeded despite such obstacles, made me feel more confident, empowered, inspired, and whole. I realized that I did not, in fact, need to be in a relationship with someone in order to feel “complete,” and that if I were to be involved with anyone, a true partnership relationship is what I wanted and deserved. Learning about gender inequities also made me better able to stand up for myself and others in many different kinds of circumstances. 

My hope is that today’s girls and young women, who are vulnerable to degrading media images, sexual harassment, and other injustices, will benefit as I and so many others have from learning about gender issues. For girls today, growing up female can be a far better -- indeed, joyful and empowering -- experience than it was for so many of us in the past. 

Note
: It is, of course, not the responsibility of girls and young women to fix the societal problems that underlie an environment of gender inequity. However, because of society’s general lack of responsibility in this area, it is imperative that girls and young women learn about gender issues so they can be more attuned to cultural influences and better able to deal with instances of gender inequity.

A Threefold Approach to Teaching

Each curriculum follows the teaching of basic skills (such as active listening, conflict resolution, and group decision making) with a threefold participatory process.** Through this threefold approach, students (1) learn how to handle specific difficult situations related to the particular curriculum, (2) consider the cultural and social forces that have allowed such situations to occur, and (3) educate others about what they have learned. This approach gives girls and young women -- who often feel powerless in our culture -- ways both to make a difference in their own lives and to positively impact the community. The process also helps them increase their self-esteem and build stronger senses of self.

Examples of the Threefold Approach
Girl House and Beyond curriculum: (1) Participants learn how to handle specific incidents of sexual harassment. (2) They consider some of the cultural/social factors that contribute to an environment in which sexual harassment is likely to occur.
(3) Participants express their feelings about sexual harassment by creating posters, which are then displayed for the community.
Taking Our Place in the Art World curriculum: (1) Participants examine gender stereotypes and discrimination in their own lives. (2) They consider gender discrimination in the lives of women artists from the Middle Ages to the present.
(3) Participants create a research and art timeline to educate both themselves and the public about individual women and women’s organizations that have positively impacted our society.
Moon Magic Workshop curriculum: (1) Participants are provided a safe space in which to talk about their experiences of menstruation, to discuss the positive aspects, and to learn practical ways of managing their periods. (2) They consider the reasons why talking about menstruation in the larger culture is often considered taboo.
(3) Participants critique menstrual product ads, then write to the product manufacturers to express what they like and don’t like about the ads.

Driving Forces: Love and Joy
The primary driving forces of any feminist curriculum must, I believe, be love and joy, which counter the sadness and anger that girls and women are likely to feel when learning about gender injustice and exploring their own and others’ experiences of this. The curricula in this website therefore provide ways for facilitators to create a loving and safe environment (for example, see “Creating a Safe Space” in each curriculum). In addition, these curricula incorporate many uplifting and fun learning activities, including art-making and interactive exercises. The “Red Jellybean Celebration” (in Moon Magic Workshop on Puberty) and the “I Am the Hero of My Life Story” activity (in Girl House and Beyond) are particularly enjoyable. 

Working Together
I hope that the educational materials and resources in this website will be of help to you in your work with girls and young women. It is highly rewarding to a facilitator to have someone who has completed the workshop say -- as I have had workshop participants say to me -- “I feel more confident in myself,” “I feel that what I have to say is really important,” or “I was able to stand up to some guys who were trying to harass a girl.”

I encourage you to share with me your experiences in using any of the curricula, as well as to share any information about your own projects. I want to learn from you, too. (Please use the “Talk to Kesa” feature in this website and/or the evaluation forms for facilitators at the back of each curriculum.)

There is so much work to be done. All of us, as individuals and as a society, must help to build and sustain the profound shift of consciousness that is occurring in which females and the feminine are becoming more valued and honored. To keep the momentum and achieve this goal, we need the involvement of government, corporations, and institutions on local, regional, and national levels. We need diverse programs using different approaches, with input from young people. Working together, we can and will make our vision of a just, equitable, and compassionate society a reality.

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*  Author Riane Eisler uses the term “partnership relationships” to describe relationships based on “empathy, caring, and equality.” 

**I am very much indebted to a number of “second wave” feminists for my inspiration in creating the threefold approach used in these curricula. 

I am immensely grateful for Mary Nadler’s editorial assistance in the writing of this overview, as well as for her suggestion for the title.

 

 

© 2008 - 2017 Kesa Kivel