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.

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