“You’re a feminist?” a fellow student asked me the other day, with the kind of incredulity that I reserve for asking someone about their membership in the Church of Scientology.
When I told him that yes, in fact, I am, he brilliantly quipped, “So, if I held the door open for you, you’d get mad at me?”
About a year and a half ago, I had no idea feminism was even relevant anymore. I slut-shamed, I acted on internalized misogyny, and I am not proud to say that I was pretty awful. But once I discovered Gloria Steinem and the Internet, I started seeing everything differently. It was certainly one of the best discoveries of my life, and while I’m grateful that this discovery happened while I was young, I was also a junior in high school. The newfound awareness that feminism has brought me, while empowering, also made me aware of how awful high school can be.
At a small high school, feminism is not only a dirty word, it might as well be an alien word. Among many teenage girls, body shame runs rampant. I’ve heard two girls outside my bathroom stall criticizing another for being “too fat to wear bright pants.” Among many teenage guys, there’s the use of “slut,” “bitch,” “friend-zone,” and sexist jokes galore. And, should any of them be called on it, they will immediately turn hostile. After all, it’s “just a joke.” Relax, amiright, bros?
There are also less overt, and somehow much more disheartening, ways in which feminism is quashed. It’s a lot more subtle, and masked in friendly, non-confrontational conversation. It can be hard to overcome the social pressure to keep my outraged mouth shut when a friend casually mentions that women who complain about being objectified by men and the media are only objectifying themselves by wearing makeup or by dressing a certain way. You know, because a woman only ever puts on lipstick or a short skirt to impress a man. It certainly might not be because it makes her feel attractive or anything. Or, God forbid, to attract another woman. The most frustrating moments in casual interaction, however, are when girls jump on board the misogyny train.
Several months ago, a girl that I was beginning to feel comfortable with mentioned casually, and with complete seriousness, that she hated feminists. She could never be a feminist, she says, because she hates women. Oh, of course. Well I don’t know about her, but I like having the right to vote. Hearing this from her shook me. Another female friend of mine has taken to calling any woman who isn’t the exact size and shape of a runway model “too fat,” including herself. As 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon would say, “Give me strength, oh Oprah.”
However, on the other side of things, I see girls starting to head down the same path I once blindly stumbled down toward an awareness of all things misogynist. A girl who was once convinced that feminism was irrelevant because sexism was no longer “a thing” (of course, right?), experienced it first hand at her volunteer job, where her coworker spent an evening telling her that she couldn’t do as well as he could at any of their assignments because of her gender. This was enough to, at the very least, light a rage fire under her ass for the day, and at most make her more aware of sexism in day-to-day life.
I don’t want to be accused of “special snowflake syndrome” as I discuss the topic at hand here. There are plenty of feminists in high school, male and female alike, and there are even a few at mine. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to feel like a complete outsider among the majority of your peers, or any less miraculous for a student to shake off the lady hate in the first place. It’s frustrating, yes, but nothing compares to the feeling of finding people who respect and share your convictions, even in the most unlikely of places. Nothing compares to feeling as though you’ve seen the light for the first time. Feminism, for me, has opened a door to strength, self-love, and pride in who and what I am. No matter where I am, no matter how much it can drive me crazy, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Reader submission by Addison Peacock