This Hour: ending in-school sexual harrassment requires intersectional feminism

Eden Parker

The greatest threat to inclusive learning environments is when school systems are unable to protect women.

In my own life, I remember being verbally harassed with sexually-charged language by a childhood girlfriend while I was getting dressed for gym class. I never associated that moment with sexual harassment. 

In a three-month-long battle over the contents of that day with my counselor, she expressed no sympathy for the event that forever infects my memory. For a long time, from those discussions, I was subconsciously encouraged to blame my naivety for not being able to decipher childlike immaturity and jokes. I felt no protection. And because the perpetrator wasn’t even given a day of suspension for the incident, I knew my value as a woman in my school community was significantly less.

When the bodies of women and girls are violated, there is an internalized belief that they are less deserving of an education. Though that wasn’t my exact experience, it is commonly seen among women of color who experience other forms of disenfranchisement within education. School closures, domineering staff, and sexual harassment create incredibly unstable learning environments for children of color.

Sometime in the late spring of last year, I found myself in Politics and Prose hovering over Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That a Movement Forgot. While reading the book I found a unique comfort in the adamancy of author Mikki Kendall’s highlighting of the issues that impact her community and communities alike. 

It showed me how certain subjects are seemingly feminist but are treated as trivial when they impact women of color or women of lower socioeconomic status. It wasn’t until I picked up that book that I came to a profound understanding of the prevalence of in-school sexual harassment, and how disregarded the testimonies of child victims are.

Reading the book was a positive introduction to the lingering term of intersectional feminism because my early encounters with feminism weren’t genuine. Back then, I embraced feminism as a distant element of pop culture rather than a movement I could engage within my daily life. 

I saw many of my non-Black peers embrace the tenets of mainstream feminism, but I felt isolated because I didn’t equally revere them. It was a mode of feminism that didn’t choose to embrace me. Through the book, I’ve explored omitted experiences of certain women from feminism. I’ve been able to interact with multi-faceted feminism that has carved me, as a Black woman, into the framework. 

The chapters in the book are distinct, but they all tie back to a theme of support systems and stability. Because it’s so relevant to many people’s experiences, the chapter “Education”  is structured to highlight the alienation of in-school sexual harassment as a feminist issue. Chicago, the authors’ hometown, has even shut down its school systems solely because of the sexual harassment experienced by girls. 

The disparity in the support given to children of color is simply the manifestation of racism. What “Hood Feminism” does is expose the reader to how these institutions are all connected, and how the failure of feminism to acknowledge the suffering of women of color impedes any chance of progress we have in attaining equitable learning environments. 

We have perpetually ignored the merits of intersectional feminism. “Hood Feminism” is the inclusive movement of all socio-economic experiences because we choose not to adhere to a feminism that is coddled by white supremacy and a patriarchal structure. 

Kendall has written this book to give light to many social issues that are conveniently dismissed by feminism. She emphasizes how her Black voice won’t substitute the work of other women to build more inclusive feminism. Though “Hood Feminism” contains dense subjects, I’ve grasped that my contribution to building equality is founded in my willingness to research and advocate on behalf of these issues, as complex or distant they may be to my own experiences. 

As these issues persist: learn to speak out about the issues that gravely affect people of color, the poor, and other minorities, stop relying on us to be our only advocates, and stop quoting our experience at your will and for your comfort.  •