THE NEW ‘F’ WORD: Teen Girls and Feminism
I’m a polite kind of girl and don’t much like dirty language. But, when it comes to the ‘F’ word, I’m a full-on, hard-core, in-your-face believer. I’m not talking about the four-letter word that’s splashed all over exploitative, pornographic magazines and the Internet. Nope ― my ‘F’ word has a much more civilized ring to it, with several syllables and a nice, polite ‘ism’ at the end.
In fact, my Mom used to do it, and so did her mother and all her friends before that! But, ask any girl these days if she’s a feminist and the most likely reaction you’ll get is a shrug, a pout, and a blank stare. They’re not going to say it out loud, but what they’ll be thinking is ― A feminist? Me? What’s that even supposed to mean? Why bother? This is the 21st century!
We’ve all got equal rights ― right? I can do anything I want! My parents have been telling me that ever since they first swaddled me in a pink blanket at the hospital where I was born, and I believe them! That other baby, in the blue blanket? He had nothing on me, except a bit of extra plumbing. Big deal! The other thing they’ll be thinking ― along with all the guys in the room ― is that any girl who admits, loud and proud, that she’s a feminist, might as well have “hairy-leg man-hater” and “spoil-sport” tattooed on her forehead.
Feminists are simply not cool. We’re the generation who has it all, for crying out loud. We have choices, we have the pill, we can say ‘No’, or ‘Yes’ for that matter ― can’t we? When some guy pats us on the head and says “You’re not bad ― for a girl“, it’s so obvious he’s a fool that we don’t even need to point it out anymore.
We don’t really speak up either, if one of them agrees to do just thirty percent of household chores instead of his full share. Or pretends to be enthusiastic about changing three diapers out of ten. Or gets called a stud for behavior that would instantly get a girl labeled a slut. All these behaviors are consistently documented ― and still we tell ourselves it’s not really condescending or, God forbid, sexist.
It’s actually the poor fellow’s battered self-esteem, trying to give itself a boost in a hostile world where the New York Times recently described male bread-winners as an “endangered species,” and the Atlantic Monthly dedicated an entire issue to the topic of “The End of Men.” Now I get it! All those poor fellows are doing is trying to keep a little self-respect ― who are we girls to get in their way?
If only it were that simple. If only the fact that half of all business and law-school graduates are female actually translated to boardrooms made up of more than a tiny handful of women.
If only American women actually made the same salaries as their male colleagues, instead of the 70 cents to the dollar that they currently make. If only I, upon graduating, could be sure that decent, affordable childcare will be available to allow me to actually build the career I’ve spent my entire life preparing for. If only all those things were true, then I’d be happy NOT to call myself a feminist. Or, expect my peers to do the same. Sadly, we all know this isn’t true.
When someone of either gender does something brave or daring, we still pat them on the back with a complimentary “that took ba-a..” Excuse me, “male reproductive organs.” When at least half the time, what we really should be saying is, “Hey girl ― that took some serious ovaries.” No, somehow, I can’t quite see that phrase catching hold in America’s boardrooms and playing fields.
Yes, we’ve made progress ― or rather our mothers and grandmothers made it for us. They burned their bras and marched on Washington. But, my friends and I? We really, really like Victoria’s Secret, and no one in her right mind would set fire to her push-up bra, especially in public.
Obviously times have changed ― but it’s still really clear to me that progress has stalled, and so much still needs to be done. Going from dads changing zero diapers, to three out of ten in thirty years is great, ― but, five out of ten is what it should be ― whether we wear push-up bras or not.
Just ask those girls in Afghanistan who get acid thrown in their faces for trying to get an education, and you’ll realize feminism isn’t about being cool, or not shaving your legs or hating guys ― it’s about life and death for fully half of the world’s population.
The truth is that if young women have a problem, is that they don’t think there is one.
I’d like you all to try an experiment. At the beginning of your next class, ask your peers a simple question: Which one of you considers him or herself a feminist? My guess is you’ll be met with a bunch of shrugs and maybe a couple of hands will go up.
Then ask another question: Do you believe men and women should have equal rights, opportunities and choices? I’d be very surprised if you got less than 100% on this one. The next question, and its answer, is obvious: If you are a teenage girl and believe in full equality between the sexes, how can you justify not being a feminist?
There’s never been anything sexy about earning less money or changing more diapers than men, or putting up with religious fanatics stoning women to death for adultery. If we want to do anything about it, we have to practice what we preach and make feminism cool again ― because we really ARE good. For girls.
Klara Auerbach is a high school sophomore who has lived in New York, Hong Kong, Connecticut, Singapore and Germany. She loves to read and write, and plans to study medicine.