I came across a blogpost this morning (via @HappyFeminist‘s Twitter feed) that asked what struck me as an interesting question, and I’d like to take a swing at answering it:

How do you teach feminism if you are not a feminist?

To answer this question, it seems to me, the first thing you need to do is to define your terms. If by “teaching feminism” you mean teaching about feminism as a movement, then you teach feminism the same way you teach Marxism, or existentialism, or surrealism — with as full and as sympathetic an understanding of the movement (and of its critics) as you can muster. If you’re going to talk about feminism in the classroom, you have an obligation to learn enough about it to talk about it intelligently, and that’s an obligation you have whether you’re a feminist or not.

In her post, Ashley says some teachers don’t teach feminism because they think they don’t know enough about it, or because they haven’t thought about teaching it, or because they don’t have time. She’s right, but those objections shift the topic a bit — from how you teach feminism to when.

So when should you teach feminism? When it’s part of the story you’re trying to tell, and when it’s part of the toolkit you’re trying to help your students assemble. More broadly, you teach about gender when it’s relevant … and when you’re talking about people, gender is almost always relevant.

You don’t need to “teach feminism” to talk about gender, of course, and you don’t need to teach from a feminist perspective to talk about gender. You do, though, need to have an understanding of how gender works. You need to have an analysis of gender, a perspective on gender. (More to the point, you need to have a considered perspective on gender, because by the time you can talk you have a perspective on gender, whether you realize it or not.) You need to know how you’re going to come at gender issues when they arise, you need to know why you’re taking the approach you’ve chosen, and you need to know how you’re going to work productively with students who are coming from a different perspective.

And of course that last paragraph applies as much to activists as it does to teachers.