Hidden among the episodes of All That, Hey Arnold and Are You Afraid of The Dark?, there was one show that addressed real issues in a way that kept kids interested: Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. It was the only news show we ever enjoyed watching as kids, and guess what? It is still churning out new episodes. The show has a good track record of getting kids interested in news and having their own understanding of what the adults are talking about. This week they focused on the feminist movement and brought Gloria Steinem onto the show to discuss what feminism means.
The teens on the show, all of whom were 16 or under, were asked what they think of feminism. The mix of answers does not come as a surprise. The discussion on the show did a good job of representing a larger picture of the view kids and teenagers have of feminism today. A hot question that received a good reaction from the participants was what they think (and what society thinks) of the idea of being called a feminist.
“I think the connotation around the word feminist is the issue and I think, if you actually talk to people, they are standing for women’s rights and they don’t call themselves feminists because they think a feminist doesn’t shave,” said one girl. And that they are “ugly and can’t wear high heels, can’t wear fashionable clothing, and I think that’s really sad,” she concluded. Other kids added that many people believe feminists hate men or burn bras.
Another interesting perspective came from a young man who said men seem to have an even bigger issue with the word. “If a man had identified with the feminist movement there would be, it would be, ‘oh my goodness, you are gay’ or a barrage of insults basically because usually men aren’t expected to see that side of society.” He is right. If you were to ask men around you – in school, at work, friends, family – if they were a feminist, the reactions might be very telling.
One of the biggest takeaways from the show is the belief among a lot of young people (and plenty of older people too) that there might be something wrong with standing up for your rights or that the struggle is over and everything is equal now.
Gloria Steinem explained to the kids that a feminist is someone that believes in “full social, economic, political equality of women and men, which means men are feminists and women are feminists.”
Steinem has been in the news a lot lately, recently calling Real Housewives one of the worst shows for representing women. She said they present women as “rich, pampered, dependent and hateful towards each other.” It’s hard to argue with that. If you (like me) are an occasional viewer of the show, it truly is a guilty pleasure. Very, very guilty.
In a blog she wrote for Huffington Post shortly after her appearance on the show, teen advocate YingYing Shang said original directions the teens were given cited Steinem’s presence as “historical perspective”, she quickly pointed out that “Gloria Steinem never really became “history.” She is just as relevant, just as important — if not more so than ever. And so is the women’s movement.”
In her blog, Shang points out that Steinem concludes that the biggest road block to the modern day feminist movement is that so many people believe that it is no longer needed. Even the smart and articulate teens on the show, she said, “believed that women had gone as far as the needed to go.” In reality we have a long way to go, she points out, especially for women in poverty and women of color. Feminism will continue to fight until there is equal rights and equal respect for every woman.
On our site, Addison Peacock recently wrote about her experience with feminism (or lack thereof) in her high school, which goes hand in hand with the way many teenagers see the issue. I think many of us that have gone through high school can relate to Addison. In my own experience, feminism was not talked about in the curriculum. As one teen on the Nick News episode said, the women’s rights movement was skipped over in class and never mentioned. How many books did you read in English class with a female protagonist?
“I really wanted to emphasize the fact that we all stand on the shoulders of people who went before us whether it’s this issue or any other issues,” said Ellerbee. “And I wanted to play with the notion that will your shoulders be strong enough for the next generation to stand on?”