Miss G Gets Gender Studies into Ontario’s High Schools

Starting in the Fall 2013, the Ontario high schools will start offering a gender studies course as part of its curriculum. This terrific news emerges from the work and play of something called The Miss G Project For Equity in Education, a grassroots feminist organization working to combat all forms of oppression in and through education organized by five fabulous feminist college students.

In some ways, The Miss G Project sits at the intersection of two stories.

The first story: It’s January 2005. Some students are sitting in a dorm room, at the University of Western Ontario, when they hear a story, one they recognize instantly as altogether too typical. There’s a high school party over a weekend. Something happens between a young woman and a young man, both students. Some kind of sexual violence is involved. Come Monday, the young woman is being “slut-shamed’ and the young man is getting props.

The university women students look at each other and decide to organize. They decide that the reason they know how to respond to this story is the information and the consciousness that they’ve encountered at university. They decide that the idea that that kind of information somehow must wait `until after the Revolution’, in this instance meaning after high school graduation and entrance to college, is worse than wrong. It’s pernicious, and a part of a general unwillingness to really address the capacity of educational spaces to intervene in oppressive structures and actions.

So, they decide to organize a campaign to get a Women’s and Gender Studies course into the Ontario high school curriculum. That was 2005. The women – Sarah Ghabrial, Sheetal Rawal, Dilani Mohan, Lara Shkordoff, and Laurel Mitchell – then set off to change the world … and succeeded.

The second story is the story of Miss G.

In 1873, Dr. Edward H. Clarke of Harvard Medical School wrote about “Miss G,” a top student “leading the male and female youth alike” at a time when women were just beginning to push the boundaries holding them from higher education. Miss G died. Clarke `explained’ her death:  “And so Miss G died, not because she had mastered the wasps of Aristophanes and Mecanique Celeste, not because she had made the acquaintance of Kant and Kelliker, and ventured to explore the anatomy of flowers and the secrets of chemistry, but because, while pursuing these studies, while doing all this work, she steadily ignored her woman’s make. Believing that woman can do what man can, for she held that faith, she strove with noble but ignorant bravery to compass man’s intellectual attainment in a man’s way, and died in the effort.”

As the organizers at Miss G explain, “We stumbled across the mysterious Miss G in a Women’s Studies syllabus in 2005 and named the Project for this righteous intellectual whose real identity is `lost to history.’ By reclaiming her from the Dr. Clarkes of the world and repositioning Miss G as the feminist educational pioneer she was, through our own activism and education we aim to ensure that her story and the stories of others like her do not go unrecognized.”

So, they organized, and pushed, and organized, and formed new coalitions, and challenged everyone, and held garden parties for women Members of Parliament and held rallies and mobilized students and others across the Province. And now, eight years later, they have pushed open a door that involves far more than the Province of Ontario and that exceeds the borders of Canada.

If this project had involved only one high school, it would have been great. If it had involved only one province, it would have been terrific. If it had involved only one nation-State, only one country, it would have been stupendous. But it wouldn’t have been enough. Coming soon to a high school near you, courses in Women’s and Gender Studies, and courses in feminist action for social justice? Coming soon to a high school near you, respect for the capacity of high school students to make this a better world? Make it so.


(Image Credit: http://www.themissgproject.org)