Thank You Thursdays: the girls who don’t know (yet)

I recently volunteered to speak to a small group of middle school-aged girls that my friend works with on a weekly basis. I brought copies of my new co-edited anthology, CLICK, and showed up with a big smile on my face, ready to counter all the wild myths I figured the girls would inevitably have about feminism (you know the stuff…man-hating, angry, Birkenstock-sporting etc.). I sat in their circle, cracked open a grape soda, and asked, “So when you hear the word feminism, what do you think of?”
One girl, timidly said, “I think of, like, female parts. Like cleaveridge, is that how you say it?” She looked around at the rest of the girls quizzically. All of them had a blank expression, registering next to nothing when I said the word feminism.
“I think you mean cleavage?” I said.
“Yeah, like feminine,” she answered.
“What’s feminine?” another asked.
Oh shit. It was one of those moments when the water I swim in suddenly became thick as sludge and I remembered that my reality is sharply contrasted with so many multitudes of other realities that other girls and women are living on a daily basis. While sexual double standards and pay inequity and the intergenerational divide within feminism occupy my mind, slip off my tongue, and feel very big and important on a daily basis, there are girls like these who don’t even know the difference between feminism and feminine, who have never heard of bell hooks or Feministing, who are interested in but unexposed to some of the tools that I take for granted.
So we talked. We talked about their mothers’ gendered expectations for them. We talked about street harassment. We even got into the personal as political. I signed copies of my book for each of them and we ate pizza and smiled and laughed. The biggest gift was mine–a reminder to always strain to see the water I swim in, to prioritize education above all else, to spend my energies wisely and generously in the spirit of giving others’ the tools I’ve benefited so much from having.

Join the Conversation

  • dpruth

    My partner has led a number of girls’ retreats for upper-elementary and middle school girls. She’s had very similar experiences.
    She’ll often have the girls talk about perceived “girl rules.” She’ll also have an anonymous question box that they can drop questions in.
    One of the times, as many of the girls were saying how “you’re supposed to have sex on the first date” (or that’s what they’ve heard), one of the questions was “is oral sex talking on the phone?”
    The divide between expectations and knowledge is incredibly sad.

  • kandela

    It’s really great that there are people like you educating young girls about feminism. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important it is for their future that they be able to examine the pressures placed on them now by society.
    Childhood is where the majority of socialisation takes place, it’s where peer pressure has the greatest impact on your interest and persona, so it’s important that we get the message of feminism out there as early as possible.
    What I find problematic though, is that nobody ever seems to have these conversations with boys. Men do the majority of enforcing of the patriarchy, yet we seem happy to let them grow up socialised into sexism. Wouldn’t it be easier to teach a boy about feminism and why it is just, rather than have to call a man out on his sexism? Education is so much easier than re-education.

  • Marji

    Ha. I can actually relate to those girls, since I’m finishing my freshman year in high school.
    Honestly, until about six months ago [When I happened to stumble across 'He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know' in a my local Borders, which led me here], I knew precious little about. . . Well, anything. I mean, I knew what sex was, and where everything was, and I had the general idea of sexual harassment and sexism and what was expected of me and everything like that, but I never realized how much it really affected my life until then. Hell, I had no idea what a feminist was. I simply hadn’t been educated on the subject.
    Many people around me are still clueless to things like that, and it never really ceases to surprise me. I wish someone had come to me like that and took the time to explain things like this to me and my friends.

  • gwye

    Hearing this story I can’t help but say “aw….”
    My niece (6 years) doesn’t know what feminism is, but I try to teach her what I can. One thing I noticed is that she has already picked up on the habit of refering to all animals as “he”. Whenever my niece is around I try and make a poit of pointing to animals and calling them “she”.