Voting with a Feminist Lens: A Workshop for Teens

By Danielle Gruber, Kol Koleinu Fellow

Personal values play a large role in deciding which issues are meaningful to you as a voter and which decisions you make on election day. The purpose of this workshop is to engage participants in viewing matters of voting through a feminist lens. Over the course of three 60 minute sessions, we will cover the importance of voting (with emphasis on the history of the women’s suffrage movement); the logistics of voting and voter registration; how women’s rights relate to social, political, and economic issues; and choosing a candidate that represents your values. This workshop is meant to be as objective as possible and welcomes perspectives across the spectrum of political ideologies. Political ideology is not the focus of this workshop; rather, this workshop should be used to educate soon-to-be voters and newly-registered voters on the importance of not only voting, but making their votes meaningful.

Session 1: Why is voting important? Who can you vote for and when?

Objective: Session 1 will cover the importance of voting, with an emphasis on the history of the women’s suffrage movement. Upon completion of this session, participants should have an understanding of

  • Key events in the history of the women’s suffrage movement
  • How motivation for voting and barriers to voting have changed and remained the same since the 19th amendment was passed in 1920
  • What motivates them personally, and which barriers they may be affected by
  • Voting Workshop PowerPoint and PDF

Lesson: An interactive lesson on the history of voting rights and women’s suffrage (10-15 minutes)

Share a Padlet with the following events on it. You can do this by first creating a Padlet account if you do not already have one. Then, click the link above. After that, click “remake” and make sure to select the box that says “copy posts” before selecting “submit.” Share your padlet in the chat.

Ask participants to examine all the events and their descriptions, and then think of their own personally meaningful events, whether they have already occurred or will come in the future, to add to the timeline. For example, students can write down the year they will become/became registered to vote, the year when a relative might have received the right to vote (e.g., if your great grandfather was a black man, when, approximately, would he have received the right to vote?), hopes for the future of voting (e.g., fully online voting by 2030), etc. These should be placed in areas appropriate with the timeline’s chronology.

1776: Declaration of Independence signed. Right to vote is restricted to property owners, most of whom are white male Protestants over the age of 21. 1963-64: Large-scale efforts in the South to register African Americans to vote are intensified. One registration drive, Freedom Summer, had almost a thousand people of all races and backgrounds converge on the South to support voting rights.
1848: First women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, NY. The women and men in attendance “discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” 1964: 24th Amendment passed, guaranteeing that the right to vote in federal elections will not be denied for failure to pay any tax.
1868: 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed. Citizenship is defined and granted to former slaves. 1965: Voting Rights Act passed, forbidding states from imposing discriminatory restrictions on who can vote, and providing mechanisms for the federal government to enforce its provisions.
1870: 15th Amendment passed, stating that the right to vote cannot be denied by the federal or state governments based on race. 1971: 26th Amendment passed, granting voting rights to 18-year-olds.
1920: 19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote in both state and federal elections. 1975: Amendments made to Voting Rights Act requiring that certain voting materials be printed in languages besides English so that people who do not read English can participate in the voting process.
1924: The Indian Citizenship Act grants citizenship to Native Americans, though many states adopt laws and policies which prohibit Native Americans from voting. 2002: Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed introduces massive voting reform. The act requires states comply with federal mandates for provisional ballots, disability access, centralized, computerized voting lists, electronic voting and requirement that first-time voters present identification before voting.

Group activity: A mock election to demonstrate the importance of voting (15 minutes)

For the first round, send out a poll asking each participant to either vote for one of the two main parties (chocolate or vanilla ice cream), a third party (strawberry), or (if there are enough people) choose a write-in candidate (e.g.., mint chocolate chip). Once all ballots are cast, display the outcome of the first election. You’ll need to set up the poll ahead of time using the polls feature on Zoom, or another poll site like

In the next round, each person receives a voter identity. In order to distribute these, you can create a drive folder before the session with a separate Google Doc for each participant, with their name as the title. Copy and paste one of the voter identities below into each document. To reveal their identity, participants will click on the link to the folder containing all documents (which you may provide in the chat) and then access their unique ID. Another option, if you have a small group, is to send each participant their ID via the private chat.

Some people will face barriers to voting or not want to vote (red cards). For example, one identity card might say, “You are a single mother who has to work two jobs in order to make ends meet. With the reduced voting hours in your polling center, you are unable to make it in time to cast your ballot. For this round, do not cast a ballot.” Another might say, “You just turned 18 last month, and you are ambivalent to the idea of voting. You don’t think your vote will make that big of a difference, so you don’t even bother to register. For this round, do not cast a ballot.” Other students will be able to vote with ease (green cards). For example, an identity card might say, “You are an older white woman who is retired. You take matters of voting seriously, and visit your polling center prepared with the proper identification requirements. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot.” Those students who are unable to cast ballots sit out, and those who are able should cast the same votes as they did in the first round. Once all ballots are cast, calculate and announce the outcome of the second election.

You are a single mother who has to work two jobs in order to make ends meet. Though there are laws guaranteeing time off for voting, they aren’t always enforced and your workplaces haven’t adhered to them. With the reduced voting hours in your polling center, you are unable to make it in time to cast your ballot. For this round, do not cast a ballot. Though at first you couldn’t find a way to get to the polls, a group of your friends decides to carpool and invite you along. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot.
You are an affluent woman who is retired. You have time in your day to prepare the necessary identification requirements and a car to visit your local polling center. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot. You are an undocumented immigrant who is unable to vote in federal elections, as is mandated by federal law. For this round, do not cast a ballot.
You just turned 18 last month, and you are ambivalent to the idea of voting. You don’t think your vote will make that big of a difference, so you don’t even bother to register. For this round, do not cast a ballot. When you were 17, your state allowed you to pre-register to vote, so you took the steps to do so and be as prepared as possible. Now that you are 18, you have all the requirements necessary to vote. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot.
Though you are a wheelchair user, your local polling center has a ramp to help you get into the building and accessible voting machines. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot. You do not own a car, and rely on public transportation to get to your destinations. Sitting for several hours on a bus to get to the polls is not practical for you, especially since you have children waiting at home. For this round, you do not cast a ballot.
You have just moved to a new state in which the rules regarding re-registering to vote upon changing your location of residence are quite confusing. Uncertain about how to proceed, you find the effort of figuring out the process too much to handle. For this round, do not cast a ballot. For several months prior to the election (or more), you have been following current events and learning about the candidates. You have taken great effort to make an informed decision, and show up to the polls feeling confident in your choice. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot.
You are a high school or college student, and attend a voter registration event being held on your campus. You get the information you need to register and are motivated to vote on election day. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot. On social media, you see a post indicating that voters can cast their ballots by text message, email or over the internet. Though this was posted by a fake account aiming to spread misinformation, you are not aware of this, and your vote does not go through. For this round, do not cast a ballot.
You receive a text message that states the voting hours or location of your polling center have changed. Though this is a fake message, you are not aware of this until you show up to the purported new location and see it is not a polling center, or visit the original location and see the time window for casting ballots has ended. For this round, do not cast a ballot. You receive a text message from a “Get out the vote” organization (organization that aims to increase voter turnout in elections) the morning of the election reminding you to get to the polls. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot.
You are a homebound individual with no transportation of your own. The local “Get out the vote” organization (organization that aims to increase voter turnout in elections) helps get you a ride to the polls. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot. On social media, you see photos of long lines at polling places and manipulated videos of malfunctioning voting machines. You are discouraged from going to your local polling center for fear that you will have to wait for hours only to have your vote not even count. For this round, do not cast a ballot.
You have never paid much attention to current events and politics, and feel as if you don’t know enough to make an informed decision about a candidate. For this round, do not cast a ballot. Knowing that you would be travelling on the day of elections, you opted in for early voting and casted a ballot before you left. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot.
You are a person with vision loss. Knowing you have somebody at home to help you write your responses, you request an absentee ballot to fill out. For this round, you will be able to cast a ballot. As the holder of a green card (a document issued to immigrants as evidence that they have been allowed to reside permanently), you are unable to vote in federal elections. For this round, do not cast a ballot.
You knew you would be travelling on the day of elections and registered for an absentee ballot. However, it never arrived in the mail. For this round, do not cast a ballot. Your state provides automatic voter registration. For example, if you register a change of residence with a government agency, the agency may forward the information to the electoral agency to automatically update your voter registration.
You are a wheelchair user, and your polling center does not have any ramps to help you get into the building nor any accessible voting machines. For this round, do not cast a ballot. You are a non-English speaking new citizen and your polling center has machines/support that offer your language
You are an individual who has just served their period of incarceration. You either live in a state where felons lose their voting rights indefinitely, require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) or require additional action before voting rights can be restored. For this round, do not cast a ballot. You are formerly incarcerated individual, but you live in a state that restores voting rights upon serving your due time.

Reflection (5-10 minutes)

As a group, reflect on how the outcomes of the first and second elections differed.

  • What was this activity like for you?
  • What was frustrating?
  • How, if at all, did the activity shift the way you originally thought about voting? Does it make a difference if not all people vote?
  • Go around the room and read the voter identity cards or display them on the screen for all to see. Sort both the green and red voter identity cards into categories of accessibility/challenges. For example, for the green cards, categories that arise might be “I was assisted with getting proper information” and “I had the time and transportation necessary to get to the polls.” For the red cards, examples of categories that arise might be “I was misinformed about voting day information” and “The polling center was unprepared to handle my needs.”

Individual and group activity: Why is voting important? What are some challenges voters face? (15 minutes)

Students will fill out a worksheet on the importance of voting using their own knowledge as well as credible sources. Prior to completing the activity, the documents listed below will be handed out. They will list reasons for voting and how much those reasons resonate with them, and barriers to voting and how much those challenges affect them. Further, they will compare and contrast motivations for and challenges to voting in 1920 (when the 19th amendment was passed) and 2020. Reasons and challenges do not have to apply only to women. Rankings can either use the phrases “not at all,” “a little,” “a lot,” etc., or use a numerical scale (e.g., 1 corresponds to not at all, 5 to a lot). It doesn’t really matter since the rankings are for personal reference.

*** Voting is the means we have to make change, it is our vehicle for making our voices heard. Consider painting a picture of what it was like to not have the right to vote. Include quotes from figures in history.

***Create 250 word summary of each source.

Possible sources:

Reasons for voting

Reasons for women to vote in 1920 How much this reason has persisted over time Reasons for women to vote in 2020 How much this reason resonates with me
Reason 1 Ranking 1 Reason 1 Ranking 1
Reason 2 Ranking 2 Reason 2 Ranking 2
Reason 3 Ranking 3 Reason 3 Ranking 3
Reason 4 Ranking 4 Reason 4 Ranking 4

Challenges to voting

Challenges for women voters in 1920 How much this challenge has persisted over time Challenges for women voters in 2020 How much this challenge affects me
Challenge 1 Ranking 1 Challenge 1 Ranking 1
Challenge 2 Ranking 2 Challenge 2 Ranking 2
Challenge 3 Ranking 3 Challenge 3 Ranking 3
Challenge 4 Ranking 4 Challenge 4 Ranking 4

Reflection (5-10 minutes)

After filling out the worksheet, students will reflect on their responses in breakout groups of two or three. Their discussion should be guided by the following questions. Post the questions into the chat before you open the breakout rooms:

  1. Which motivations for voting have changed over time? Which have stayed the same? Why do you think this is so?
  2. Which challenges to voting have changed over time? Which have stayed the same? Why do you think this is so?
  3. Which motivations resonated most with you? Which resonated the least with you?
  4. Which challenges might affect you? How do these challenges compare those faced by women who are in ethnic minorities, are disabled, or hold a lower socioeconomic status?

Ask each group to contribute reasons to vote in 1920 and 2020, then challenges to voting in 1920 and 2020. These can be written on a chart or on a Google Docs that is projected onto the screen. Finally, ask each group to share one takeaway from their discussion.

Share these awesome resources for getting out the vote and helping your community, by either pasting them in the chat or putting them in a Google Doc to share with your group.

  • Rock the Vote: A nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people.
    • “For 30 years, Rock the Vote has revolutionized the way we use pop culture, music, art, and technology to engage young people in politics and build our collective power.”
  • League of Women Voters: Encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
  • Voto Latino: A grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, as well as creating a more robust and inclusive democracy. Through innovative digital campaigns, culturally relevant programs and authentic voices, we shepherd the Latinx community towards full realization of its political power.
  • Campus Vote Project: Works with universities, community colleges, faculty, students and election officials to reduce barriers to student voting. Our goal is to help campuses institutionalize reforms that empower students with the information they need to register and vote.

Session 2: Which issues matter to you most?

Objective: In session 2, participants will gain a better sense of the issues that matter to them and learn how their feminism might inform their positions. Upon completion of this session, participants should have an understanding of

  • Some of the key issues that are a basis for political conversation today, including the major positions taken on those issues
  • Issues they care about and their values in the context of the political landscape
  • How women’s rights relate to these key issues

Group activity: Which issues matter to us? How do we apply a feminist lens to these issues? (30 minutes)

Point out that all of the ways participants said they judge candidates are valid, but that in this session, the focus will be on the positions candidates take on issues. To set up the activity, display a list of the issues below on a new Zoom whiteboard. Have participants type their names next to the small and/or big bullets that they connect to most. Tell participants that when they consider issues of political interest, they should think about community or national problems that they want the government to address. They do not have to be an expert in the categories they pick, just willing to learn more!

Current political issues

  • Criminal justice
    • Police reform
    • Capital Punishment/Death Penalty
    • Cash Bail Reform
    • Cocaine Sentencing Disparities
    • Mandatory Minimum Sentences Reform
    • Private Prisons
  • Cybersecurity
    • Election Security
    • Securing 5G
  • Economy
    • Affordable Housing
    • Big Banks
    • Budgets & Debt
    • Income Inequality
    • Minimum Wage
    • Paid Leave
    • Reparations
  • Education
    • Charter Schools
    • Cost of College
    • Student Debt
    • Teacher Pay
  • Elections
    • Campaign Finance
    • Electoral College
    • Felon Voting
  • Energy, Environment & Climate Change
    • Nuclear Power
    • Oil and gas drilling
    • Reducing carbon emissions
  • Food & Agriculture
    • Farm Economy
    • Farming and Climate Change
    • Nutrition
    • Rights for Farm Owners and Workers
  • Gun Control
    • Assault Weapons
    • Background Checks
    • Weapon Registry
  • Health Care
    • ACA/Coverage Expansion
    • Abortion
    • Drug Costs
    • Medicare For All
  • Immigration
    • DACA
    • Illegal Entry
    • The Wall
  • Infrastructure
    • Clean Water
    • Transportation
  • Marijuana & Cannabis Legalization
    • Banking Access for Cannabis Firms
    • Cannabis Taxes
    • Legalizing Marijuana
    • Marijuana Convictions
  • Military
    • Defense Spending
    • Overseas Deployments
  • Taxes
    • Capital Gains Taxes
    • Corporate Income Taxes
    • Tax Credits
    • Taxing the Wealthy
    • Wall Street Taxes
  • Technology
    • Online Privacy
    • Rural Broadband
    • Social Media
    • Tech Competition & Antitrust
  • Trade
    • China
    • TPP 2.0
    • Tariffs

Quickly discuss what a feminist lens means. For example, “Before we move forward, I would like to discuss what feminism and a feminist lens is. Personally, I define feminism as providing all genders equal rights and opportunities, and respecting the diverse experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths of all women. However, this is based on my own experiences; it is one definition, not the definition. Would any of you like to share your thoughts? [Write down their suggestions on a board or on a Google Doc projected on the screen.] These are all valid answers.”

Depending on which issues are a priority for the students, create groups of two to four to research one of the issues listed above, and place them in breakout rooms. Groups will be tasked with filling out the following (an example is presented below):

Our issue: Healthcare

Sub-issue Explanation  Major Position 1 Major Position 2 (Major Position 3) Feminist Lens
ACA, Coverage Expansion ·        Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) extended health coverage to ~ 20 million Americans

·        Disagreement on how to cover remaining uninsured

·        Most progressive candidates say gov. should provide health insurance through a “Medicare for All” system

·        Others think system would be too costly and too jarring; support incremental coverage expansions with a larger role for private insurers

All in on Medicare for All Rethink the whole system Build on the ACA’s system ·        Under ACA, health insurers are banned from gender rating (charging women higher premiums than men for the same coverage)

·        New insurance policies required to include basic preventive health care packages without co-pays or deductibles; this includes pap smears, mammograms, FDA birth control pills, IUDs, STI/STD testing, woman checkups, immunizations, and more

·        Etc.

Federal govt. in charge of providing health insurance for most Americans Includes a range of coverage plans, from Medicare for All to more gradual overhauls Make health reforms in gradual steps rather than completely overhauling the system
Candidates who hold this position
Sanders, Warren Buttigieg, Gabbard, Steyer Biden, Bloomberg, Klobuchar
Candidates who hold this position
Drug Costs
Candidates who hold this position
Medicare for All
Candidates who hold this position

Reflection (10 minutes)

Ask each group to pick one or two sub-issues from their category and share a brief explanation and how they applied a feminist lens to the issue. Did applying a feminist lens cause anybody to think about their issues differently? They can also share significant observations or takeaways.

Group activity: Creating a mind map and chart of feminist values (25 minutes)

On a new Zoom whiteboard, write the main categories picked by groups. The goal is to create a mind map that eventually links the categories together. As a group, using the whiteboard, brainstorm some ways that the categories are connected. Hopefully, at the end of the exercise, you will see some threads linking different issues on the basis of feminist values. For example,

At the end, we will use the linking ideas to create a chart of key feminist values. These values can be general or more politics-oriented.

Though it is helpful to focus on federal elections during the workshop since they are more widely known, take a pause to talk about local/state elections. Also note that different places vote for different positions. A great resource is Ballot Ready (, where you enter your address and are shown in which elections you can vote, who the candidates are, and when the elections take place.

Session 3: What do you look for in a candidate?

Objective: The goal of session 3 is to break down candidate selection into several, more manageable parts that, in the end, can help voters be more confident in their decisions. Upon completion of this session, participants should have an understanding of

  • The important steps in selecting a candidate and which resources they can use
  • Awareness of the biases that may influence their perceptions of candidates
  • Double standards for male and female candidates

Good resource:

Group activity: What do you look for in a candidate? (15 minutes)

Watch several clips from presidential debates over the years. Some clips from the 2016 and 2018 debates are below. Ask participants what they tend to notice during the videos, for example, whether they examine body language, speaking mannerisms, appearance, the actual content of the candidates’ speeches, or how they interact with the other candidates. Write participants’ answers on a chart or on a document projected on the screen. Which of these qualities are most important? Do people necessarily choose to focus on the qualities which are more important?

Before proceeding, note that this lesson is not about participants’ ideologies, but how female candidates are treated. Additionally, acknowledge that there are other types of double standards (such as white vs. ethnic minority) for candidates, but that this lesson focuses on double standards for male and female candidates.

Clips from the 2016 Presidential Debates

Tip: when you share the video on your screen, make sure to check the box at the bottom left of the share screen menu that says “share computer sound.”

Clips from the 2018 Presidential Debates

Group activity: Double standards for male and female candidates (15 minutes)

First discuss how double standards have impacted the participants. Ask them to share their answers to the following questions:

  • What are double standards? What do they mean in the context of comparing men and women?
  • In what parts of your life have you experienced double standards? Sports (e.g., being aggressive on the field) and school (e.g., dress codes) are a few topics to get the conversation going.
  • If you have multiple identiities (for example, you are black, Jewish, female and queer) how have you experienced double standards or triple or quadruple standards?

On either a new Zoom whiteboard or a google slide that you share on your screen, type out the following words and arrange them randomly. Ask the participants to think about who we associate these characteristics with and sort them into the categories “Women” and “Men” by moving them into two separate columns (which you will do with your cursor). Note that some of the words we perceive as being positive will be in the women’s column as well.

Bossy High-maintenance
Shrill Confident
Confident Practical
Sassy Compassionate
Feisty Organized
Bubbly Arrogant
Articulate Emotional
Logical Hysterical
Arrogant Irresponsible
Indecisive Inept
Excitable Enthusiastic
Analytical Charming
Dependable Cocky
Powerful Aggressive
Funny Hard-working


Group activity: Reflection & negative characteristic reframe (5-10 minutes)

Which words have negative connotations, specifically in the “Women” column?  Why are these words problematic? For example, “High-maintenance” makes women with clear expectations and professional standards seem irrational.

For each of the characteristics in the “Women” column, if it has a negative connotation, brainstorm a word that might reframe the characteristic in a more positive light. For example, “bossy” might be better phrased as opinionated, and “sassy” might be better phrased as “bold.”

Individual activity: Blind candidate evaluation (10-15 minutes)

Using the websites below and other reputable resources, choose several (three to four) candidates to profile. It does not matter whether they are still in the race or have dropped out — you can even choose candidates from previous races —  but try to pick an assortment that range in ideology. The profiles should be set up similarly to the example below, but feel free to add issues and candidates as you see fit. Also, when creating the profiles, try not to reveal so much information that participants might guess who the person is. For example, for the “History of misconduct” tab, you might list “Offensive remarks regarding treatment of women” instead of “Talked about grabbing women by the pussy” for Donald Trump.

Websites for profiling candidate views:

The following example uses information from the links above. Candidate A is Joe Biden, Candidate B is Donald Trump, Candidate C is Elizabeth Warren, and Candidate D is Amy Klobuchar.

Candidate A Candidate B Candidate C
Positions on Important Issues
Capital Punishment & Death Penalty Abolish it Strongly favors
Minimum Wage Raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour Unclear
Cost of College Two years should be free Unclear, higher education not necessarily a priority
Nuclear Power Support developing new nuclear technologies as part of an effort to fight climate change Strongly supports developing
Reducing Carbon Emissions Tax carbon emissions Does not support any federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions
Assault Weapons Support a voluntary buyback program (allows gun owners to trade their firearms to government entities for vouchers) Has voiced conflicting views
Background Checks In favor of universal background checks Has voiced conflicting views
Abortion Some limits regarding abortions later in pregnancy, a bit unclear Ban late-term abortion of babies
Medicare for All Opposes Medicare for All, but would expand coverage
Affordable Care Act (ACA) Build on foundation of ACA Repeal ACA
Immigration Citizenship for Dreamers Supports construction of a wall along the Mexican border, returning illegal immigrants to country of origin before they are eligible for citizenship
Defense Spending Boost the defense budget
Wealth Taxes Increase existing taxes on upper-income Americans
China Don’t worry so much about China
Other notable positions
Experience & Life Events
History of misconduct
Leadership experience
Other notable experiences and life events


Give participants several minutes to take in the information and decide which candidate to choose. After participants have indicated they are finished, reveal who the actual candidates were.

Group activity: Reflection (10 minutes)

As a group, discuss the following questions. Participants DO NOT have to reveal who they voted for!

  • Was it hard to make a decision with the information were you given? Do you think the information given is enough to make an informed decision? If not, what other information is important?
  • Did the revealing of the candidates surprise you? If so, what factors do you think influence/warp your perception of the candidates when you see, hear, or read about them?
  • In general, how has this activity changed the way you think about the process of selecting a candidate?

Group activity: Closing remarks (10 minutes)

You have reached the end of the workshop, congratulations! It is time to wrap up and discuss what you have learned.

Insert reflection questions.

Finally, hand out a questionnaire asking what people liked about the workshop, what people thought could’ve been improved, and other suggestions/comments they might have.