Photo: Margaret Barnsley
Well, for one thing, they’re reading feminist literature and drinking tea. Nestled on the sixth-floor of The Calhoun School on 81st and West End Avenue, better known to some as the TV building, is a tight-knit high school club dedicated to those two pursuits.
After being inspired during spring break of my sophomore year, I reached out to another student, Theo, and proposed that we join forces to start that very club. Theo was already running a club about tea, and I wanted to pair it with a feminist book club.
We agreed that we wanted to create a fun, supportive, and thought-provoking space dedicated to feminist issues. It would be open to all high school students and geared towards those who wanted to expand their feminist knowledge.
For Theo, as someone who identifies as a feminist but still didn’t know much about the subject, this new club would provide a place “to learn from people whom [he] respected.”
Once the club was set in motion, we met weekly to discuss the literature we read and its connection to our personal experiences, as well as brew delicious tea. Our tea selections included birthday cake tea, Christmas tea, black tea, and the club favorite — rooibos. With caffeine to stimulate our early morning brains, we had many lively discussions centered on student-chosen literature such as Bell Hook’s collection of essays “Feminism is for Everybody, and “Women, Race, and Class” by Angela Davis.
As one club member, Phoebe, put it, “The things we read opened my eyes ... and made me look at parts of the world in a different light.”
These discussions not only helped club members gain a critical feminist perspective, but also developed the sense of community within the club. With the freedom and desire to read and discuss academic texts without a teacher around, we had to set our own agenda, hold ourselves accountable, and be responsible for each other’s learning. By simply deciding to read a book and then talk about it, we had collectively formed a space where we grew both as learners and people, deepening our friendships along the way.
And isn’t that what feminism is all about? During one of our meetings, a club member, Kitty, pointed out that “the origins of the feminist movement are women, sitting around kitchen tables talking about experiences shared and not shared.” The club had served as a reminder of the roots of what is now a hugely influential social movement. Despite how feminism has recently expanded into corporate and academic realms, what really makes feminism so unique and powerful is its kitchen table origins. “It evolves from experience,” said Kitty. “And when we practice this type of feminism, like we do with our club, we make it a movement that will always be able to evolve and change with our experiences, both internal and external.”