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Lesson Plan: Global Feminism through Visual Culture

Lesson Plan: Global Feminism through Visual Culture

For my Dimensions of the Middle East summer institute at Duke University we all had to make a lesson plan that incorporated topics related to the Middle East along with things we learned in our intense week-long workshop. I have always been personally interested in the topic of “global feminism,” especially the wide range of what it means to be a “feminist.” I also am an art historian and currently teach AP World History so I wanted to create a lesson that combined AP Art History, AP World History, the Middle East, and global feminism – easier than you might think!

Below is my lesson plan but I am also attaching a PDF at the end with the images and text formatted so you can print and go! Although this lesson is crafted specifically for the AP World History classroom with curricular crossovers to AP Art History, it can be molded to many social studies courses. I hope you use (or modify) the lesson below and let me know if you used it in your classrooms! I would love to hear any feedback. 🙂

QFI hijab post it


Students will analyze how visual culture responds and connects to the global feminist movements of the 20th century. They will discuss what they have seen/heard through American media with images from different regions around the world and compare it to the goals of feminist movements of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Students will connect 20th century feminism to other global movements such as increasing suffrage, decolonization, and rising literacy rates.


AP World History Standards

  • Topic 9.1: Explain how the development of new technologies changed the world from 1900 to present.
    • More effective forms of birth control gave women greater control over fertility, transformed reproductive practices, and contributed to declining rates of fertility in much of the world.
  • Topic 9.5: Explain how social categories, roles, and practices have been maintained and challenged over time.
    • Rights-based discourses challenged old assumptions about race, class, gender, and religion.
      • Challenges to assumptions about race, class, gender, and religion: Global feminism movements
    •  In much of the world, access to education as well as participation in new political and professional roles became more inclusive in terms of race, class, gender, and religion.
      • Increased access to education and political and professional roles: The right to vote and/ or to hold public office granted to women in the United States (1920), Brazil (1932), Turkey (1934), Japan (1945), India (1947), and Morocco (1963)
      • The rising rate of female literacy and the increasing numbers of women in higher education, in most parts of the world

AP Art History Standards

  • Topic 10.3: Interactions Within and Across Cultures in Global Contemporary Art
    • A variety of factors leads to and motivates interactions between and among cultures, and this interaction may influence art and art making. Such cultural interaction may result from factors including, but not limited to, travel, trade, war, conquest, and/or colonization, and may include forms of artistic influence such as spolia, appropriation, and stylistic revivals, among other expressions of cultural exchange.
      • Explain how interactions with other cultures affect art and art making.
        • In the scholarly realm, as well as in mainstream media, contemporary art is now a major phenomenon experienced and understood in a global context. Art history surveys have traditionally offered less attention to mart made from 1980 to the present. Although such surveys often presented contemporary art as largely a European and American phenomenon, today, contemporary art produced by artist of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the First Nations is receiving the same, if not more, attention than work produced in Europe and the Americas.
    • Cultural practices, belief systems, and physical setting constitute an important part of art and art making and are often communicated in various stylistic conventions and forms. Such cultural considerations may affect artistic decisions that include, but are not limited to, siting, subject matter, and modes of display, and may help to shape the creation of art in a given setting or within a given culture.
      • Explain how cultural practices, belief systems, and/or physical setting affect art and art making.
        • The art world has expanded and become more inclusive since the 1960s, as artists of all nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations have challenged the traditional privilege place of white, heterosexual men in art history. This activism has been supposed by theories (e.g. deconstrionist, feminist, poststructuralist, and queer) that critique perspectives on history and culture that claim universality but are in fact exclusionary.

Lesson Plan Procedure

When the students walk in have a thought-provoking question on the board such as “How would you define ‘feminism’ based on what you have seen/heard in everyday life?” Then have the students write their answers down anonymously on post-it notes and stick them on the board. Note – you can choose to use their responses as a discussion starter or see how they change after the activity with an exit slip.

After the post-it note bellringer, explain the activity for the day:

Student will be in groups of 4 and their goal is to analyze the 2 images taped onto chart/poster paper at their desks. Each image connects to the topic of global feminism and to another subtheme (see below). Have students discuss how the images relate to feminism, what visual elements they see, what part of the world do they think it comes from, and what the goal of the image is, and what further subtheme do they see to connect the two images. Each group should assign a scribe or two to write down their responses on the chart/poster paper. It is important to force students to look at the images intensely and make their hypotheses without much teacher intervention or textual support at first.

After a few minutes, when the teacher sees conversation dying down, have groups come up and grab the text explanation of the images. Students can then amend or add on to their original writing in a different color marker. The goal of this part of the lesson is for students to see how close they can get to the original intent of the image by just looking deeply at the pictures.

If time permits, or you can extend the activity to the following day’s bellringer, have students do an informal gallery walk to see the other group’s images and commentary. At this point, it is suggested to have a whole-class discussion on the goals of global feminism around the world, first vs second wave feminism, and how traditional culture/belief systems play into the goals of global feminist movements.


I have included 16 images split up into 8 sets, each with a different sub-theme. As is, the activity is set for a class of 32 with students in groups of 4 with no repeating images. If you have a smaller class sizes, you can make the groups smaller or just take out images that are not as relevant to your course. If your class size is larger than 32, a) I am realllly sorry for you and b) you can have a set of images repeat or find additional images to fill out the set. (I have also included a PDF version of the images and text so you can just hit print and have the activity done!)




  1. Shirin Neshat, Rebellious Silence, “Women of Allah” series, 1994. One of the most visible signs of cultural change in Iran after the revolution of 1979 has been the requirement for all women to wear the veil in public the chador (as pictured). While many Muslim women find this practice empowering and affirmative of their religious identities, the veil has been coded in Western eyes as a sign of Islam’s oppression of women. In Rebellious Silence, the script that runs across the artist’s face is from Tahereh Saffarzadeh’s poem “Allegiance with Wakefulness” which honors the conviction and bravery of martyrdom.
  2. Angela Davis, Power & Equality, 1971. Angela Davis was an active artist in the 1970s and a member of the US Communist Party. In her art, she focuses on repressed groups and minorities. She was associated with the Black Panthers but spent most of her time with an all-back branch of the Communist Party called the Che-Lumumba Club. Angela infused her image of a powerful African American woman with traditional Christian religious symbolism. The afro around her head makes a halo effect that highlights the peace signs in the four corners and the one in her left earring. Around her halo are also the words “Power to the People” that echo her communist leanings.

Clashing Cultures



3. This newspaper cartoon highlights the different views between “Western”and “Southern” (traditions that are not historically associated with European-based ideology) feminist movements. The image challenges western women, the cartoon was made for an American newspaper, to relook at their standards for female freedom worldwide. Religious and cultural histories are often overlooked in the goals of feminist movements. The woman on the right represents a Western view of an oppressed women from an Islamic (possibly Saudi) culture because she is wearing the niqab while the women on the left represents “liberated” Western women.

4. Jean Gouders. Oppression? Tradition?. 2011

This political cartoon was made in response to France banning the burqa in 2010, a variation of a Muslim covering which covers an entire woman’s body. The newspaper cartoon highlights the ancient custom of Christian, specifically Catholic veiling, of nuns. Although no longer popular, Christian women traditionally covered their hair when out of the house and in the 20th century the popularity of bonnets and hats because less so until they disappeared in all but the most traditional communities. He juxtaposes a historically common site of a veiled nun with that of a new, immigrant, style of dress.

Read more: Feminism in a Skirt

Political Life



5. This image comes from the United States in the years leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, in 1920. The U.S. universal suffrage movement gained momentum when suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848. They advocated for the rights of white women to vote. The participants were middle and upper-class white women, a cadre of white men supporters and one African-American male — Frederick Douglass. No Black women attended the convention. None were invited.

6. This photo is of Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. Her father and grandfather were also highly involved in politics, her father was the minister of energy when she was a child. Bhutto’s first language was English and she studied at Harvard at the age of 16. She became highly involved in the Pakistan People’s Party while in exile in the UK and was elected to head the party when they one parliamentary elections. After that, Benazir Bhutto became the first female head of state in a Muslim-majority country, a feat that many countries in the world have not accomplished since. She was assassinated in 2007 while campaigning for reelection in 2008.

The Workplace



7. The now-famous poster of “Rosie the Riveter” was made in the United States during World War II to encourage women into the workforce after a labor-shortage with the mass exodus of men overseas. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent, and by 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. Aviation manufacturing received the greatest increase in female workers, because it was largely prohibited to them (prewar only 1% of the aviation industry was women, mostly in clerical positions). Ironically, their gains in the economic system was short lived. After men returned from the war, many women were displaced and told to “go back home.” However, this set the stage for many of the gender rights protests of the 1960s and 1970s.

8. This photograph is of two Iranian women in the act of making a Persian rug. Domestic industry has been long staple to Middle Eastern artisan economy as a way for women, who are often relegated to the home to make a living for their families. However, with the advent of factory industrialization and a greater emphasis on a consumer culture that values impermanence, the age-old tradition of weaving Persian rugs is declining rapidly. Expensive, unique artisan rugs are no longer as widely purchased as cheap factory made rugs that are purposely intended to be temporary. If their industry ends, it will create a social-economic shift for many women in the Middle East.

Family Life



9. Wolfgang Willrich. The Aryan Family. c. 1938-1939

The National Socialists (Nazi Party) regarded the social and economic changes that had occurred after the First World War as a source of social corruption. Falling birth rates, rising divorce rates, later marriages, and growing numbers of working women – all this was seen as symptomatic of a sick society. Therefore they created much propaganda, both art and literature, to support an “idyllic” family lifestyle with women as the center of domestic bliss. Early marriage and high birthrates were supposed to maintain the competitiveness of the German people in the ongoing battle with “inferior” races. With their sunshine-blond hair, strong jaw lines, chiseled “Nordic” features, and rosy-red cheeks, the members of this family of six could have easily appeared as “Aryan” ideals in the Nazi propaganda series“Blood and Soil.” 

10. Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, front cover of the Saturday Evening Post, 1942.

The painting was based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address. In FDR’s speech he discusses the Four Freedoms: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom from Fear. “The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.” The set of Four Freedom paintings were used to sell war bonds during World War II.  The painting then quickly became an iconic representation for Americans of the Thanksgiving holiday and family holiday gatherings in general. It is meant to reinforce the traditional American family model with an aproned matriarch presenting a roasted turkey to a family of several generations. The patriarch looks on with fondness and approval from the head of the table, which is the central element of the painting.

Communist Revolutions



11. Communist revolutions, as a whole, emphasize equality of social and economic classes as well as gender.  In the 1950s and 1960s women were depicted as strong capable warriors who fought in the name of Communism and China in propaganda posters. Despite being depicted as strong and proud, unequal treatment for women was still relevant in the 60s. Many women who completed their educational requirements were still assigned poorer jobs next to their male counterparts who would receive better quality jobs. Initially, women were organized and mobilized to enter traditional male occupations to serve as a reserve labor force and to compensate for the labor shortage, not for the purpose of creating gender equality. 

12. Historians generally agree that the February Revolution began in Petrograd on International Women’s Day, 23 February (Julian Calendar: 8 March) 1917, when thousands of women from different backgrounds took to the streets demanding bread and increased rations for soldiers’ families. After the February Revolution, the fight for women’s suffrage increased, in line with the general call for the implementation of democratic reforms. In July 1917, women over 20 were given the right to vote and hold public office. But the early Communist vision of women’s equality and liberation – where women would be able to work in any profession and communal institutions would take responsibility for childrearing and housekeeping – was never fully realized. As emphasis shifted back towards the traditional family unit in the 1930s, women were faced with the double burden of combining domestic duties with (often strenuous) full-time work.

Birth Control



13. Family Planning Government Propaganda Poster. National Council of Population and Development, Kenya. Late 1960s.

Kenya was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to view runaway population growth as a serious impediment to economic prosperity, and it became the first, in the late 1960s, to begin developing a national family-planning campaign. The country’s official population policy calls for matching population size with available resources, yet leaves decisions on family size up to individual families. While the Kenyan government formulates official strategies on family planning, promotion of the message and means of family planning falls mainly to local health-care offices and nongovernmental organizations. 

14. Va-Jel Birth Control advertisement. Alpha Laboratory Corp. United States. 1960s.

The birth control pill was approved by the U.S. FDA in 1960. Prior to the pill, the only forms of birth control available were barrier contraceptives, like condoms. The idea of preventing pregnancy took hold in the United States during the Great Depression when families were more interested in having less mouths to feed. But, by the time oral contraceptives were legalized, there was a lot of push back from religious leaders. Their arguments were not about family planning, but fears of loosening moral standards.

Public Activism



15. Anti-Islamophobia protests following France banning the niqab and burqa, a variation of a Muslim covering which covers a entire woman’s body leaving just a mesh or slit for the eyes, in 2010. The U.N. Human Rights Committee has declared that France’s ban on full-face Islamic veils, such as the niqab and burqa, is a violation of Muslim women’s rights: “The Committee acknowledged that States could require that individuals show their faces in specific circumstances for identification purposes, but considered that a general ban on the niqab was too sweeping for this purpose.” The new(ish) French law states: “No one may, in a public space, wear any article of clothing intended to conceal the face.” Violators face fines of 150 euros ($172) or could be asked to take a French citizenship course.”

16. Anti-ERA protests were aimed at preventing the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment that was designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens; it sought to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters. The Anti-ERA campaign argued that the ERA’s gender neutral language would deprive women of their special protections and privileges. The movement’s leader, Phyllis Schalfy, feared that the ERA would hurt families and eliminate Social Security benefits for widows and homemakers. Although she had earned a salary, Schalfy did not believe women should be in the paid workforce, especially if they had young children. Another concern was that ERA would abolish a husband’s legal responsibility to support his wife and family and would alter child support and alimony laws. Ultimately, ratification of the ERA fell three states short of the number needed to add it to the Constitution.



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