This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. I’d like to dedicate this post to the teacher who got me into feminism: Mr. Apter.
Mr. Apter was my seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher. I liked him from the first day I took his class. He made students work hard for their grades, which did not endear him to many of my classmates. Personally, I found the work he assigned fun and interesting - never busywork - and his tests were always extremely straightforward. Admittedly, I am a history nerd, but I particularly enjoyed his classes. Mr. Apter used innovative teaching methodology, and once completely overhauled his curriculum because he saw my class was bored. I appreciated the fact that he wanted us to enjoy his class and worked with us to make that happen, something that is unfortunately uncommon to find among teachers.
I will always be indebted to Mr. Apter for helping me find feminism. In seventh grade, we had to write research papers about an influential individual’s impact on history. After quickly Googling everyone on the list of people we could choose from, I opted for Jeanette Rankin, the first woman in Congress. At the time, I was not a self-identifying feminist. I just figured it would be an easy paper to write, since her impact on history (opening the door for women to run for public office) was obvious.
During the summer between seventh and eighth grade, I decided to begin working on my entry to the National History Day (NHD) competition. When I perused a list of women’s firsts online, I found the name of Belva Lockwood, who I had never heard of before. After discovering that she was the first successful woman lawyer, the first woman to argue in front of the Supreme Court, and the first viable female presidential candidate, I chose to write about her. Mr. Apter supported my decision and helped me through my NHD paper. When it came time to write term papers for his class, he forced me to write about a women’s rights history topic (how Alice Paul got women the right to vote), even though I had wanted to write about someone else.
When I worked on the next year’s NHD paper the summer before ninth grade, I was only used to writing papers about women’s history, so I automatically began looking for topics under that heading. I decided to write about something that had occurred during the Second Wave of feminism, since all my previous papers were about the First Wave. Once I chose my topic (the positive impact of the Barbie doll on girls in the 1960s and 70s), I began doing research on the Second Wave and reading the feminist classics of the era. I had my feminist click moment when I read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Although it is a little dated, the book still resonated with me, and inspired me to begin identifying as a feminist.
So thank you, Mr. Apter, for getting me into feminism. Without your influence, it’s doubtful I ever would have done research on the history of the women’s rights movement. Because of you, I know what I want to do with my life, and how I want to make my imprint on this world. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.