I was at summer writing camp, listening to a discussion on feminist literature, when a girl casually mentioned that her school had a feminist club. I could not focus for the rest of the discussion: I was too busy imagining what a feminist club could do at my own school. I’d had the idea to start a feminism club earlier that year, but that’s what it had remained—an idea. That summer after camp, I fell in love with my research on feminism. I’d learned a little in class, and some at writing camp, but more than anything else, I wanted to learn with other students and to address students’ questions and problems.
I had plenty of passion but no plans. In my excitement, I overlooked the fact that I was an underclassman with little public speaking skill. I’m very shy—I shook and stammered during every presentation I’d given at school—but in that moment, my enthusiasm for the club outweighed my nerves. Running a feminist club was not easy at all. I still mumbled when faced with a crowd. Sometimes, we had meetings where only three people attended, and there were aimless hours during which no one would participate. Also, I didn’t anticipate the backlash to a club that had never existed at my school—people constantly accused us of “complaining about made up problems.”
Although there were many (MANY) days when I just wanted to quit and give my position to someone else, I stayed with my little club, and I’m so happy that I did. Feminist Club has become a diverse, inclusive space where everyone can discuss issues that don’t come up in class. We are still growing, and I am still learning—even in my third year—to be a better leader. Starting an intersectional feminist club is a difficult but super-rewarding experience. If you want to start one at your high school or college, here are some tips Cammy and I put together!
1. Identify the politics of your school.
The San Francisco Bay Area is pretty liberal, with lots of people involved in social justice. At our school, we already had a well-known Queer Straight Alliance, so we could pretty safely assume that there’d be some support for our intersectional feminism club. If your school is more conservative—if the community is hostile when women’s rights or LGBTQ issues are come up—it doesn’t mean you’re at a dead end and can’t start your club! Just find people who are interested in feminism, too, and check out our next point.
2. Find a teacher who can act as an ally to sponsor your club.
Having a good teacher as your club sponsor can help the development of your club, and make it easier to navigate the school administration. Try to find a teacher you really like and who is into your idea (you don’t want a passive teacher hanging around all the time). Our sponsor is my freshman year English and history teacher. She’s been great at supporting our causes, even when some of the other teachers may not have been as accepting. She also helps us contact the school administration and advises us on how to move forward if someone shares a personal situation in our meeting involving their safety or well-being. In the past, she’s given me tips and guidance for dealing with conflicts. She was actually the person who put me on to feminism, so it’s been amazing to have her there every step of the way.
3. Develop an intersectional core and diverse leadership.
Intersectionality, a term coined by the black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, is all about how different oppressions intersect. So, if you’re trying to build an intersectional club, it would be cool if your leadership reflected the range of identities at your school. Representation matters, even if it’s on a small scale. When people see others who look like them, your club will feel more welcoming to all people of all races, abilities, genders, and sexualities. Your club will be full of people with different perspectives, skills, and good ideas. I (Cammy) am part of QSA leadership, and sometimes I’ll tell Sienna about something the QSA is doing that Feminist Club could do, too, such as peer education.
4. Do your research!
When I started Feminist Club, I hadn’t done as much research as I should have—and it showed. My presentations were very simple and did not address more complex issues, such as the controversial history of the feminist movement. In my first year running the club, I gave a presentation as a brief introduction to feminism that started in 1920, with the women’s suffrage movement, and laid out the traditional, white narrative of the feminist movement. I did talk about the exclusion of black and lesbian women, but there was definitely room for improvement!
It wasn’t that I woke up one day and realized the flaws in mainstream feminism; rather, I realized the value of intersectionality gradually—through research, Twitter and Tumblr conversations, and in-class discussions with my friends about the lack of representation of people of color in American history. I began to read works by bell hooks and Audre Lorde, among others, and I got more involved in feminism on Tumblr. I became better informed about historical and current feminisms; in turn, my presentations became more nuanced and interesting.
For this year’s “introduction to feminism” presentation, I scrapped the oversimplified version and made one about the different women’s movements, such as Womanism, Xicanisma, and Indigenous feminism, which states that if looked at from the indigenous women’s perspective, feminism in the Americas goes back to Native American women’s resistance to colonialism. This presentation gave a much more complex and accurate view of the history of feminism, and all its branches.
Begin your research by reading books from your local library. I love “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” by Audre Lorde and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks. The book Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti was one of the first books I read, and it’s a good, simple introduction to feminism. You can also watch videos and documentaries online, such as Missrepresentation or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on feminism. Read more about feminism by searching the tags #feminism and #intersectionality on Tumblr and Rookie.
5. Make plans with your members (rather than for them).
Now that you’re up and running, you’ll need to figure out what to do with your members. Brainstorming is one of the best, most underrated, things you can do with your club. It provides you with an opportunity to determine your goals as a group, to make a schedule you can all agree on, and, most importantly, to listen to and learn from those around you.
Some of my club’s best ideas have come from brainstorming, with everyone chiming in to make a particular idea even stronger. Determine what types of projects you all want to do: Tackling your school’s dress code? Raising money for a local organization? Make these group sessions regular so that you’re consistently deciding the direction of the club together.
6. Give presentations.
Presentations in the club are one awesome way to share the club’s core ideas with all its members. Start by giving presentations that offer an historical overview of feminism, its so-called “waves,” the meaning of intersectionality, and whatever else interests you. I usually make slideshows and prepare notes on topics like women in art and my personal favorite, strength and femininity which details the ways in which society accepts a woman’s strength. Having your presentation prepared and organized beforehand is essential—it helps to know what you’re going to say! Encourage other members to give presentation based on their interests, too.
Presentations are informative and can help get discussions started on topics that feel relevant to your club members. Subjects such as reproductive rights and rape culture, which includes dress code and sexual consent, are good to talk about with those in our schools and communities so that we so all recognize how prevalent these problems are, and think of ways to combat them.
Last year, someone erected an anti-abortion billboard right across the street from our school. In our club discussions about it, we talked about how anti-abortion groups often target low-income and minority areas. In our discussions, we learn how these issues affect us through hearing people’s personal experiences and by finding examples within our community.
Encouraging others to give presentations helps every member to feel involved and invested in the club. Plus, there are some topics that you may not be qualified to prepare a presentation about. I am not the best person to make presentations and lead discussions on issues that black women face because I myself am not a black woman and have limited personal experience with these issues. So, black girls, who are members of the club, led a discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement. Queer group members have given presentations on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, women in STEM, and my friend even did one on how women are portrayed in comics. Having other people share their ideas also means that there are more voices being heard within the club and greater participation by everyone.