Corinne Kurtz is in her 21st year as a history teacher at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). After teaching world history for a number of years, she noticed a lack of space for female students to discuss and learn about women’s rights, which led her to create both an Intro to Women’s Studies course and, this year, a Women in Film course.
Intro to Women’s Studies began 10 years ago as a forum for students to discuss gender inequality throughout history and analyze its prevalence in their own lives. Ms. Kurtz’ students were tasked with reading about the 1500s and 1600s, and her female students would often express their frustration about the conditions of women at that time.
“Once you give them a space to talk about gender, girls don’t stop,” said Ms. Kurtz. “They were angry about what happened in the past. They were angry about what happened that Saturday night at a party. They had no language to articulate their anger.”
Ms. Kurtz also reflected on her own experiences while creating the curriculum. “I remember the very first history book about women I read. I was in graduate school, and I’ll never forget the experience. I had never read a book devoted to women in history, not famous women in history, but the experiences of women in history. It blew me away. This is what I had been missing,” she said. “I knew that experience needed to happen for all girls.”
Ms. Kurtz began Women in Film this year because there were certain things that could not fit into the semester-long Intro to Women’s Studies course, such as viewing classic films.
Both of these courses discuss the history of feminism in the United States, and Ms. Kurtz herself is a self-proclaimed liberal feminist. “I was really so struck when I figured out what feminism meant and how it was being portrayed in the media. I think boys aren’t better than me, and I’m not better than them. It was radical feminism that became synonymous with feminism. I think people need to be educated on what feminism means.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of feminism is: “belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
As Ms. Kurtz created both the Intro to Women’s Studies and Women in Film courses, she also helped to create an art installation consisting of drawings of book spines from famous women authors which will be on display in the following weeks.