The Life of a High School Feminist

The feminist club at my high school is small. Very small. Four people small. And two of those people showed up once to a meeting, and then admitted they just wanted something good to put on their college applications. I’m a rising sophomore, so I was very intimidated this September when I joined the club of juniors.

During the second week of school, there was an assembly held to give all the people who were starting clubs a chance to tell the rest of the school about themselves, as well as set up first meetings. When the brave founder of our feminist club, a cool junior girl, stood up and announced the club name -Women Out of the Kitchen (or W.O.K.)- people started laughing and booing. After the meeting there was a sign up sheet for all the clubs. The W.O.K. sign up sheet was crowded by upperclassmen boys, and since I was a timid freshman, I shied away and decided not to write my name, but to just show up to the first meeting, instead.

I later talked to the head of the club, who told me what happened. A whole group of senior boys wrote their names on the sign up sheet, filling it up, as an obvious joke. One junior even wrote “men are genetically stronger” next to his signature. And no one got in trouble for it.

At the first meeting, I was so excited. The cool junior girl who founded the club and I talked excitedly about feminism (turns out we read a few of the same books!) while the other two college-applicant girls sat in silence eating the free snacks. For the first time in my short span of high school, cliche as it sounds, I felt like I fit in somewhere.

For the majority of the year, W.O.K. remained dormant. There just wasn’t enough interest in it, or maybe any, from anyone else. On the official Facebook group, cool junior girl would post thoughtful questions about cultural appropriation and fatphobia, asking for others’ opinions, but no one (besides me) ever replied.

One night in March, cool junior girl messaged me asking me to help her with a presentation for our school’s morning meeting. She had written a short presentation on rape culture and slut shaming, and asked me to read some of it. To be honest, the idea of standing in front of the whole school, talking about what I knew the majority of people would disagree with, was terrifying. But I knew that it mattered, and I knew that not many other people would want to say anything, so I forced myself to say yes. I did tell her that I was a nervous public speaker, and she graciously gave me a very small part.

Turns out, lots of other girls agreed with the content of what she wrote, and she got a handful of girls who weren’t in the feminist club to read. A lot of them had shied away from it because of the word “feminism,” but actually totally got what the presentation was saying. The next morning, I was so nervous. I read my small part, and the presentation flew by. A few braver junior girls did most of the talking. I read maybe two lines, and afterwards, as dumb as it sounds, felt like a feminist hero. (Public speaking is hard for me ok!)

The backlash was unbelievable, and unlike anything that I’ve ever witnessed. The girls who participated in the presentation were ostracized by the whole school– teachers included. This presentation was a very digestible, short and simple talk about slut shaming. In its essence, it could be summed up as “Why does having lots of sex make a man a player, but a woman a slut?” and “Think twice before you call a girl a slut.” It was literally that simple.

One particular lame-as-hell incident that happened to me was when I was walking down the hall a few days later. I heard two senior boys say to each other, “Dude, that girl was in the presentation. Let’s piss her off.” Then they very loudly walked closer to me and said, “Man, I totally RAPED that test yesterday.” They giggled like the little shits they are and walked away.

Weeks later, as the backlash continued, the principal got up in front of the school and apologized for letting us talk. She said that we were “trying to be provocative for the sake of being provocative” and implied the only reason we did this was to cause controversy, which I can assure you is not the case. We were trying to explain, very simply, I might add, an important issue to a high school audience. Having even the principal shut you down is the most disheartening thing ever. I heard countless friends and people I like talk about how it was all bullshit. My brother told me he was embarrassed for me, and said “Women being sluts isn’t ok because it’s easier for them to get guys than it is for us to get girls.” I was crushed.

A lot of my good girl friends were totally against it, too. I heard a lot of “these girls think all men are rapists!” The general response seemed to be very defensive. A few weeks ago, on the last day of school, I heard a few of my friends STILL talking about it and making fun of it. I could go into even more things that happened in response; these are only a small few of things that happened.

About a week later, cool junior girl checked up on me to see how I was doing. She asked me if I was getting any shit for the presentation, and she didn’t seem surprised by the amount of stories I had. She seemed to be getting way more bullshit than I was, and she could see how discouraged I was. I ranted to her for a little bit, and then she told me that she felt bad for me because I “have another 3 years to go putting up with stuff like this.” She lent me a bell hooks book and gave me a giant hug.

Being a feminist in high school is one of the most frustrating, infuriating things I have yet to experience. I was feeling pretty distressed, when one of my favorite teachers, (a feminist, queer woman who heads just about every liberal club in the school) told me she had something good to show me. She had emailed a woman who graduated from my school a few years ago, but still kept in touch, telling her about this disastrous response to an innocent presentation. The woman sent us back a message, telling us about how a similar thing happened to her in high school, and assuring us that there are many more people you can talk to about feminism once you graduate and leave high school. She also gave us a Christina Aguilera playlist, and told us to “keep it rockin’.”

Being a feminist in high school sucks. I can’t say first hand that it gets any better afterwards, since I’m still in high school, but I sure hope it does. School can seem like a really stifling environment to express what you believe in, and I’m proud of anyone who ever did the smallest thing to call out bullshit in high school. Keep it rockin’.

Author:

Bridget C.

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8 thoughts on “The Life of a High School Feminist

  1. Fight the good fight; it is worth standing up for. More than 1/4 of girls are sexually assaulted each year and probably more since it is so under-reported. Unfortunately, girls STILL think it is uncool to do/say anything boys will disagree with. That’s how we know, we have NOT come a long way, baby.

  2. That Principal should be fired….if she agreed or disagreed with you, you opened a conversation and it should not have been squashed. You have every right to your opinion….this is America isn’t it?

  3. First of all, YOU GO GIRL!!!! Feminism has never been an easy fight, and it’s even harder to try and speak out when your peers, teachers, and even friends are against you. Even though you got a bad response, and your club is made up of only 4 people, I can tell you for certain that you have made a world of difference. Somewhere in that crowded auditorium where you gave that presentation, there was shy girl who’s interest was piqued. There was boy who had a revelation. You affected somebody, and that’s how it all begins. Action leads to thought, thought leads to action, and through both careful thought and action results will appear. It may take time, but spreading the word about feminism and getting people interested is the only way we’re ever going to make a difference. I’m going to be a sophmore in high school next year, and last year, as a freshman (!!! I still get nervous thinking about this) I decided it was time to start a feminist club at my school. I got a list of people who would join, I came up with a huge list of things to do, things to discuss, people to visit, etc. But, when I finally tried to sell the deal to my guidance counselor and principal, they said it couldn’t happen because the budget was “too tight for any new clubs.” I was incredibly discouraged. And honestly, if they had truly seen the impact this club could make, I think they would have found a way to help me make it happen. But, they didn’t. But anyway, the point is, in going around and talking to my friends and classmates about the club and feminism itself, I introduced SOOOO many people to feminism, and converted a few anti-feminists! Even though the club won’t happen, I provoked some thought, and some conversation, and maybe that will turn into action. Who knows! For now, it’s important to remember that there is a whole world outside of high school, and there are infinite other ways to make a difference. For example, posting on Bitchtopia! Here’s to speaking out, and never giving up. Keep it up 😉 ♥

  4. Hi, girl. I saw your post linked on Facebook.

    I’m a graduate of Smith College, an all-women’s college where 99% of the women identify as feminists. Believe me, it was a relief to go there in many ways, not least because it solidified by stance as a feminist even today. I still feel that I’m often one of the more vocal feminists in my group of post-college friends, but what’s changed is that a) no ostracizing! and b) i have no shame. in fact, I know who i am and what I stand for.
    In high school, people primarily seek approval. People are coming into their own sexually and girls don’t want to alienate the boys (those that have more privilege). Girls, too, shy away from the dreaded F word for fear it will turn people off. It’s. just. awful. But it’s these folks that are confused and misguided, not you. You seem to already know and have maybe even internalized this, which is startling for someone of your age and in the environment you have to live in day-to-day.

    So I say to you:

    YOU. ARE. INCREDIBLE.

    Oh, I should say that I actually transferred to an alternative high school full of weirdos and artists and feminists and it was amazing. But if you can stick through this and come out with your feminist identity intact and maybe even shift some perspectives? That’s inspiring and frankly heroic.

    Good luck, sister. You’re a baller.

    (Oh, and if you can ever share the name of your high school, please do. Or, send a tip to jezebel.com. It’s a very popular pop-culture feminist website and they’ll be ALL OVER that shit with a snazzy headline and your principal will be embarrassed (trust me, friend, this is NOT a bad thing. You are in the right). How h/she reacted is beyond wrong. I know you may want to hide, but please know that there are millions who would be behind you! If you feel comfortable/safe with that or not, that’s of course up to you. I hope that principal is called out someway, somehow, though, because it’s not right).

  5. Hi, girl. I saw your post linked on Facebook.

    I’m a graduate of Smith College, an all-women’s college where 99% of the women identify as feminists. Believe me, it was a relief to go there in many ways, not least because it solidified by stance as a feminist even today. I still feel that I’m often one of the more vocal feminists in my group of post-college friends, but what’s changed is that a) no ostracizing! and b) i have no shame. in fact, I know who i am and what I stand for.
    In high school, people primarily seek approval. People are coming into their own sexually and girls don’t want to alienate the boys (those that have more privilege). Girls, too, shy away from the dreaded F word for fear it will turn people off. It’s. just. awful. But it’s these folks that are confused and misguided, not you. You seem to already know and have maybe even internalized this, which is startling for someone of your age and in the environment you have to live in day-to-day.

    So I say to you:

    YOU. ARE. INCREDIBLE.

    Oh, I should say that I actually transferred to an alternative high school full of weirdos and artists and feminists and it was amazing. But if you can stick through this and come out with your feminist identity intact and maybe even shift some perspectives? That’s inspiring and frankly heroic.

    Good luck, sister. You’re a baller.

    (Oh, and if you can ever share the name of your high school, please do. Or, send a tip to jezebel.com. It’s a very popular pop-culture feminist website and they’ll be ALL OVER that shit with a snazzy headline and your principal will be embarrassed (trust me, friend, this is NOT a bad thing. You are in the right). How h/she reacted is beyond wrong. I know you may want to hide, but please know that there are millions who would be behind you! If you feel comfortable/safe with that or not, that’s of course up to you. I hope that principal is called out someway, somehow, though, because it’s not right).

  6. This post made me feel ten times better about life. Feminism, from the perspective of a feminist, is always described as a glorious thing that enlightens people. I agree, but sometimes it can be downright difficult. It’s nice knowing there is someone out there fighting similar battles. Thank you 🙂

  7. I’m finding this more than a year later than posted, and glad for it! Good for you. I’m a 50 year old mom and I am grateful for your courage. In fact, you have more courage and common sense than the principal you described. Shame on her. Even if she disagreed with you, she has a duty to have your back, and she failed that. She shares in the responsibility of every antagonistic comment you’ve endured at school since. By not supporting you, she is supporting the bullies. Find a good mentor outside of the school, and have him/her help and accompany you to inform the Superintendent or school board of the event and its fallout, even if it was a year ago. Point out how the principal’s actions fed a trend of hate, and that although you are surviving it, that hate will also survive you and they should do something to subdue it. Tell them that positive, anti-bullying leadership is critical, even if they do not agree with your politics. The purpose of a mentor is not because you can’t do it on your own. It’s a show of strength that you are not alone. In case they act like sharks, you need an ally-shark by your side. I don’t know if you still have the club, but know that you inspire girls to share important information, despite the obstacles. You DO change minds, even when they don’t let you know it. Pride and fear may keep some silent, but a silent tide still turns. Stay optimistic and keep working your cause. Have patience and compassion for those who don’t yet understand. They may never come around, but your patience and compassion is for YOUR sake. You will have strong feelings about such frustrating opposition, and you can’t let there be room for anger or despondency. Know that people who are obstacles to your efforts and progress are that way because THEY have even bigger obstacles to their own enlightenment. Ultimately, even if you do not reach them, you can reach past them.

  8. Personally for myself I do find it difficult to be a feminist where there’s rape culture, misogyny, cultural appropriation etc… but I also think it’s amazing that you took the initiative to be a part of the club even though you face ridicule and hate. This has only inspired me more to want to do the same at my high school and spread awareness and just talk about some of these issues. Keep it rocking!!

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