International Women's Day meets Gothic Literature

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English and Geography teacher at The Gatwick School. I just wanted to share how my Year 9 class spent our International Women’s Day. As we have been comparing texts in preparation for our exam, this lesson we continued this by looking at two famous female activists, by the end of lesson we had hit on English, History, Philosophy, Politics and a bit of PSHE.

This academic term, International Women’s Day coincided with the Year 9’s Gothic Literature topic, a perfect opportunity to discuss the influential Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Frankenstein’s creator Mary Shelley. Mary Wollstonecraft was in her words ‘the first of a new genus’, a feminist activist before the name even existed, she argued that education was women’s right.

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On the 8th of March, in order to mark International Women’s Day, my Year 9 class read an extract from the Vindication of the Rights of a Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft and compared the issues Mary raised in 1792 to the issues of modern day feminist activist Malala Yousafzai in one of her powerful speeches to the UN. We found that both Mary and Malala felt that women were not being presented as strong and independent, and that both were fighting for the same thing, the education of girls and women. The class were shocked to realise that despite the 226 years between the extracts their argument was the same.

I really enjoyed teaching the lesson and hope that year 9 came away understanding that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, and that it is a fight for all regardless of gender. We also discussed the role of women in popularising Gothic literature in the Victorian period, Ann Radcliffe is often cited as the perfecter of the genre and the Bronte sisters, while their use of pseudonyms shows the gender imbalance in the arts at the time, their novels paved the way for many future female writers.

Having studied Gothic literature while at University, I love teaching the topic to our students. It is even better when I can use these tales of horror and gore as a stepping stone in to moral topics and discussions around human rights and equality, so like Malala our students can become spokespeople for the rights of others outside of the classroom.

S. Kelly