What is Feminism?

Students hear multiple voices about what feminism is, who is a feminist, and the evolution of feminism - and share their own thoughts and feelings about it.  

Opening:  Feminism word cloud

Invite students to use the Mentimeter app to contribute up to three associations with the word “feminism” to create a feminism word cloud.  Pull the word cloud created up on your screen, for all to see.  (Or, if your students are there in person, create a word web with the class: Put the word “feminism” in the middle of the board, circle it, then record students’ associations with the word around the circle.)

Ask students some or all of the following questions: 

  • What do you notice about the word cloud?
  • Similarities, differences, surprises?
  • Mostly positive, negative, neutral? 
  • Why do we think that is?
Women's Demo
Women's march, NYC, January 19, 2019.


Defining Feminism

In pairs or small groups, in breakout rooms for students who are remote, invite students to come up with a definition of feminism. Invite each pair or small group to submit their definition using the Padlets app or by charting their definition on chart paper for all to see. 

When you reconvene the whole class, have students look at the various definitions they came up with. What are the commonalities? Is there a consensus as to what feminism means for students in your class?



Video: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Feminism

Ask students if they know who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is.  Elicit and explain that Adichie is a celebrated writer who grew up in Nigeria.  She has won many awards and has been invited to speak around the world.  Her 2012 Ted Talk We Should All Be Feminists started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014.  Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017. 

In an interview on the Daily Show in 2018, Adichie answers host Trevor Noah’s opening question about feminism and some of the negative stereotypes attached to it. Invite a student to read out Adichie’s response:

"There are people who’ve said to me, why do you call yourself a feminist? Why don’t you just say you’re a humanist or an equalist? But that is what feminism is.  Right?  Feminism is about justice for everyone.  But you have to name the problem.  And the problem is it’s women who’ve been excluded.  So we need to call it what it is.”

Ask students to think about what Adichie said and discuss:

  • Why does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie call herself a feminist?
  • What does she say feminism is about?
  • Why is it important to her to call herself a “feminist” rather than a “humanist” or an “equalist” (when “that is the goal of feminism”)?
  • What other movements for equality does this remind you of?

Next, invite a student to read out Noah’s response to what Adichie says: 

“Wow that’s fascinating, because in many ways that’s the same thing people say about Black Lives Matter, or like they go ‘Why don’t you say all lives matter?’ Well, we know the rest of the lives matter, it’s the problem needs to be addressed though.”

Ask students: 

  • What is the problem Trevor Noah speaks of?
  • How does it relate to the problem Adichie speaks of?
  • How are the problems (read injustices) the same? How are they different?
  • Can you make similar connections to other movements for justice?  How?

Video: The Face of Feminism

Play the video This Is What a Feminist Looks Like, created by the nonprofit organization Feminist Majority. Note: Please watch the video ahead of time to make sure it’s appropriate for your students.

In small groups, in breakout rooms for students who are remote, invite students to reflect on the video by discussing some or all of the questions below. 

Before students move into their groups, remind them of your class group guidelines or agreements. If you have not established these, introduce students to the following guidelines instead:

  • They can share as much or as little as they feel comfortable sharing in their small groups.
  • They should listen mindfully to one another as they reflect on the video and make connections to their own knowledge and lives. 
  • The stories that they share in the small group should remain there and not be shared with the larger group, unless they have permission from the person who spoke.

Discussion questions/prompts:

  • What about the video resonated with you or struck you somehow?
  • What does the video say about what feminism is?  How does that relate to the definition we came up with earlier?
  • What does the video say about what a feminist is?
  • What does the video say about the people who went before and fought for feminism, rights and justice?
  • What connections can you make to the people in your life and community?

Reconvene students as a class, and invite students (perhaps by group) to share what was discussed in the smaller groups, reminding them that the personal stories stay in the small groups but the aha moments and learning can travel. 

Video: The Evolution of Feminism

Play the video  #MyFeminismIs, which was created by the Ms. Foundation.

In small groups, and in breakout rooms for students who might be remote, invite students to reflect on the video by discussing some or all of the following questions:

  • What most struck  you in the video? What stood out for you? Why?
  • How did the people in this video relate to feminism?
  • What do they say about the history of feminism?
  • What do the people in the video say about how feminism should be defined?

In the video, Melissa Harris-Perry says: “Feminism is a question, and the question is, what truths are missing here?” 

  • What do you think she means by this?



Reiterate the definition at the end of the video that: “Feminism is the social, economic and political equality of all genders.” 

Pull up the word cloud from earlier. Invite students to take a look at it as they take the definition from the video, and all they’ve discussed today, into account. 

Then, based on the work we did today, invite students to share one take away.