Critical Thinking and Feminism

Suggested Lesson Plan

Aims & Objectives:

To introduce students to first-wave feminism
To encourage critical thinking concerning feminist debate, from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century.
To encourage students to consider historical themes in relation to their own lives and modern society

  1. In small groups, using a spider diagram on a large piece of paper, students should discuss their understanding of feminism and note down words or key phrases.
  2. Students should then watch the short video clip, listening to the sources quoted within which they will then receive in written form.
  3. Students should look at the two extracts and compare and contrast the viewpoints presented within. Think about:
    • Who is talking – what can we learn from this?
    • What they are saying – are they persuasive or radical?
    • What does this tell us about gender roles of the time?
  4. Students should then consider the role of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), as described in the second part of the video. What methods were used by the group to bring about change? Are these different from the methods used in the earlier extracts?
  5. Subsequently, students should consider the changes in feminism and the approach and methods used by those arguing/campaigning for change. Were they social and persuasive or political and radical? What does this tell us about the change in gender roles in the latter part of the nineteenth century?
  6. Finally students should consider feminism today and the tools and methods used to enable change. Is feminism still needed? Have the goals of feminism been achieved?

‘Are Men Naturally Cleverer than Women?’ Englishwoman’s Journal (1859)

Many persons, even many women believe that the female intellect is naturally inferior to the male, and that under no circumstances whatever could it be equalised, and it is against this theory that we enter our protest, for it is of such a discouraging nature that it tends to realise itself. If we are convinced that our condition is hopeless, that the Creator himself has fixed on us the stamp of inferiority, why should we struggle against our inevitable doom?

Let us rather bear our lot with resignation, and making no opposition to the decrees of Providence content ourselves with hoping that in another world we may be promoted to a more honourable position. But though we utterly repudiate this creed, we are not going to contend that as affairs now stand men and women are generally on intellectual equality. Far be it from us to make an assertion which the experience of almost everyone must prove to be untrue; for to whom do we turn for assistance in an affair of difficulty, to our male or female relatives. When we want a good investment for our money, do we ask the advice of our aunts or of our uncles?

A stout asserter of the present equality of the female intellect will say, “Yes, but we apply to our uncle instead of our aunt not because she is inferior in intelligence, but because he has had the most experience in money matters and has studied the subject of investments for years, while she has never turned her mind that way;” and this is exactly the point at which we wish to arrive. Men are superior to women because they know more, and they have this knowledge because they have three times the opportunities of acquiring it that women possess.

‘The Girl of the Period’ The Saturday Review (1868)

Men hold nothing so dear as the honour of their women, and no one living would willingly lower the repute of his mother or his sisters. It is only when these have placed themselves beyond the pale of masculine respect that such things could be written as they are written now; when they become again what they were once they will gather round them the love and homage and chivalrous devotion which were then an Englishwoman’s natural inheritance.

The marvel, in the present fashion of life among women, is how it holds its ground in spite of the disapprobation of men. It used to be an old-time notion that the sexes were made for each other, and that it was only natural for them to please each other, and to set themselves out for that end. But the girl of the period does not please men. She pleases them as little as she elevates them; and how little she does that, the class of women she has taken as her models of itself testifies.

All men whose opinion is worth having prefer the simple and genuine girl of the past, with her tender little ways and pretty bashful modesties, to this loud and rampant modernisation, with her false red hair and painted skin, talking slang as glibly as a man, and by preference leading the conversation to doubtful subjects. She thinks she is piquante and exciting when she thus makes herself the bad copy of a worse original; and she will not see that though men laugh with her, they do not respect her, though they flirt with her they do not marry her; she will not believe that she is not the kind of thing they want, and that she is acting against nature and her own interests when she disregards their advice and offends their taste.

All we can do is wait patiently until the national madness has passed, and our women have come back again to the old English ideal, once the most beautiful, the most modest, the most essentially womanly in the world.

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