March is Women’s History Month. The month may also include the end of a marking period (or trimester), state testing, and/ or spring break.
While it may not be possible to dedicate time to a whole unit related to texts about or by women, it’s a good idea to include one or more, perhaps in a mini-unit. Since women were often forgotten in history, it’s important to me to take at least a little time out to examine women’s issues, with female writers and characters.
Some Texts for and about women:
The Story of an Hour: by Kate Chopin. Short story of a woman, with a ‘weak heart.’ facing sudden, but inaccurate, news of her husband’s death, and her unexpected reaction to the information. This story has great opportunities for a variety of projects, such as alternate ending or prequel writing, along side literary essays and discussions about love, loss, and freedom.
The Yellow Wallpaper: by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Story of a young woman suffering from mental illness (likely postpartum depression) who is locked alone, in isolation, away from her baby as her treatment. This story raises the question of mental health, but also the question of whether a man would ever be shut-up for days without contact to “treat” mental health issues. Or even issues of class– would a Black woman or a poor woman have the luxury of suck treatment? The story also includes a narrator of dubious reliability. Alternate point of view writing would make a good companion activity. Dig deeper into the implications of the story by reading more about the impacts of isolation.
A Rose for Emily: by William Faulkner. A good, creepy story that relies heavily on inference as to what happened with Emily and her lover. Discussion can include how the story might be different if the main character was a man, rather than Emily. Would motivation of the main character change if it was a man? The story also can include discussion of what is romantic… and where is the line between romantic and creepy (or abusive, though that might get heavy, so know your audience.) Prequel writing would be a good companion activity, as would alternate ending writing.
My Mistresses Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun (Sonnet 130): Shakespeare pokes fun at all the normal romantic ideas, presenting his lover as being anything but beautiful, raising questions of what is beauty and how does love affect perception? For comparison, Diella Sonnet 3 by Richard Linche is an interesting companion. Students can write their own poem, or sonnet, about someone or something that they love.
Ain’t I A Woman, speech by Sojourner Truth: short speech shows contrast between white and Black (or colored) women, and the expectations and behaviors of both. This speech can be challenging to read in dialect, but hearing it can help, such as read by Alice Walker. It also highlights class differences– how were Black or poor women expected to behave or perform, as compared to their white counterparts. Pair with the expectations and treatment of the women in The Yellow Wallpaper or The Story of an Hour. How would those stories be different if expectations of women were different? Students can discuss or write about what does it mean to be a woman and how does that definition change– in history, or in class or race. Can make a good topic for a five-paragraph-essay, forcing students to be focused and structured (and thinking hard about what is their best support). Have students compare their definitions, and consider discussion. (Can also relate to discussion of what does mean to be a man, or manly, as men also face stereotypes on behavior and expectations that can be damaging.)
Susan B. Anthony’s Speech on Women’s Suffrage: students can be challenged to answer Anthony’s question of whether or not women are a ‘persons’?” Why would they be defined otherwise? This would also include discussion of context– and for a long time, women were considered property (either of their father or their husband). And why would property vote…? Can also relate to discussion on how ideas and norms change.
Other Activities to examine women and related topics:
Examining Male and Female Specific Products: Send students (online or as homework) to find examples of products marketed for men and for women– some include pens (such as the Bic for Women), body wash for men, Lego sets for girls, and razors. Compare ingredients/ features, scents, color, price, and more. Then report: are they different products? Does their need to be different versions? Write a persuasive essay or a real-world business or complaint letter addressing the product choices.
Do Boys Read Female Writers? When Harry Potter was first published, the author was encouraged to use her initials, because their was concern that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a female writer. Is this true? What would a female author write that would be different than a male author (assuming that the protagonist is still a male, like Harry Potter is)? Good activity for a lead-in to studying female-centric stories or authors. Can also lead into discussion or literary essay about what topics are more likely to interest male or female readers, and which are more universal.
Women’s History Month Essay: Students might write classifying jobs by gender (like nurse or secretary). Another option is for students to write a woman marginalized in her work or about a woman that the student admires for her accomplishments. A narrative essay on a time the student (or someone they know) was dismissed or discounted based on gender.
Research a Woman from History: students dig into a forgotten (or lesser-known) woman from history. Find research and practice writing a research paper with analysis: why does this woman matter? Or simply a timely practice of research writing. Short research writings are good practice of form and structure, as well as a a method of allowing student-direct learning.
High school may not have the time, or interest, in heavily themed months, but there is value in taking the time to include holiday-themed activities.