If asked where I learned the most about feminism, empowerment, and consciousness, I’d give you two answers. The first would be my feminist momma who taught me that speaking up and asking questions were infinitely more important that playing princess. The second would be that wonderful summer where I helped to facilitate workshops for Boston-area middle schoolers, as I learned more about courage, honesty, and relationships than I did in perhaps any other classroom, either as a student or an instructor. Speaking out in middle school remains, I think, one of the most intimidating things one can ever do.
So you can imagine my great excitement when I sat down with Lilly and Juliet Bond — activists, community leaders, and a great example of a feminist mother and daughter team, coming to you from Evanston, Illinois. If their names sound familiar, it’s because for the past month they have sparked a campaign at Lilly’s Haven Middle School after administrators prohibited girl students from wearing leggings because they are “too distracting” for boys. Lilly, catching on to her school’s implicit endorsement of rape culture, asked her mom to send a letter of protest to her principal and faster than you can say “comfy-stretchy,” the story has caught national attention.
For this week’s Feministing Five, we hear from Lilly and her mom Juliet and we see first hand the type of change, insight, and all-around wisdom that can arise from empowering the voices of our next generation of leaders. Speaking out and advocating to improve your school against rape culture is something that is never easy and should be celebrated from where ever your starting point. Huzzah!
And so, without further gushing, the Feministing Five with Lilly and Juliet Bond!
Suzanna Bobadilla: First off — thank you both for speaking with us today! Can you share with us what’s been happening at your school?
Lilly Bond: A couple weeks ago they started saying that we couldn’t wear yoga pants. It was always a rule that you can’t wear leggings, but they never really enforced it. Pretty recently they started being really strict about it, and then they got mad.
SB: It sounds like there was an action at your school that involved a protest, a petition, and wearing leggings in spite of your administrators. Can you describe what you felt when you joined those efforts?
Lilly Bond: It was kinda terrifying because there were a bunch of teachers in the hallways watching to make sure that you weren’t wearing leggings. So I was hiding my legs walking in the hallways.
SB: What happens if they caught you wearing leggings?
Lilly Bond: If they catch you wearing leggings, you have to go to the main office and explain to your parents that you were caught with a dress code violation. You then get a Minor ODR which is a office referral. If you do it a second time, you get a major ODR and the principal calls your parents. If you get a third one, you get an in-school suspension.
SB: Thanks for giving us that background, Lilly. Moving over to your mom, Juliet — Juliet, you do realize that you are a feminist-parent-super-hero right now, no?
Juliet Bond: Well Lilly is a bit of a shy kid so when she asked us to write this letter, it was totally shocking because she likes to fly under the radar. So for me it was like “Yes! Of course I will!”
SB: Lilly, could you share with us why you asked your mom to write the letter?
Lilly Bond: I think since I was raised by my mom and she’s pretty feminist and she likes to share her opinions, I knew what was happening and I knew that it was wrong. Most girls in the school were like “Oh I like leggings, I wish we could wear them.” But I knew the whole reasoning behind it and how that’s not okay. I wanted my mom to explain my principal why that wasn’t okay.
SB: Juliet, what has the response been from the greater community?
Juliet Bond: Oh gosh, it’s been so mixed. When we first wrote the letter, we copied it to some other parents at the school — people that we knew and thought might care about it. One of them sent it to a local news source and from there it went viral.
I think though that part of the reason why it went viral is because there were so many nasty comments posted to that article. There were also comments of support being like “this is ridiculous and this is sending a terrible message to our boys and girls.” But there a lot of lurky, weirdo people who posted sexist comments about girls and how “little whores should cover up.” That really set off a lot alarms for people on both sides.
SB: Lilly, what would you want to tell other young women if they are getting faced with other clothing, body, and expression constraints?
Lilly Bond: I think I would tell them to do what we were doing, to wear leggings anyways, and to explain to other kids what is happening to them is like what happened to us at Haven Middle School.
Juliet Bond: I think it’s so interesting because there is this middle ground of parents and kids who have said, “Oh leggings. Why is this in the news, it’s such a stupid fight,” and not understanding the deeper issues about how the administrators and teachers, really unwittingly, I’m sure from a decent place, telling girls, “Oh you are going to distract boys about wearing that, that’s not something you want to wear.”
There has also significant amount of discussion from some teachers about who gets to wear things based on body type. For example, how if you are developed you shouldn’t wear certain things or if you are heavy you shouldn’t wear certain things. Lilly has a friend who was particularly shamed not only for leggings and yoga pants, but skirts even. They have this rule about finger lengthed tipped skirt. This girl had gotten dress coded a couple times and her mother called the school asking, “My daughter has received these notices but she is wearing a long enough skirt, what’s going on here?” The principal said, “Well when she sits down down it doesn’t get to her finger tips” or “When she goes up the stairs, it’s very flowy and somebody could see under it and we just don’t want someone to see that.” And this girl is a bit more curvy where as Lilly’s other friend who is like a stick doesn’t have these problems. It’s very arbitrary and it’s clear that there is a serious discomfort at the school about girls’ changing bodies.
SB: So Lilly can we expect any further activism coming from you or your mom in the further years?
Lilly Bond: I don’t know, because at this point of a lot of people have stopped trying to change it. It’s been going on for a while, but it doesn’t seem like the teachers are going to change their point of view or their rules. It seems like it’s dying down, but I wish it wasn’t.
Juliet Bond: We also have an update. In terms of the kids, they are feeling discouraged, but I did meet with the superintendent last week. they agreed to allow me to write a grant to try to get some gender sensitivity training for the middle schoolers. We have already identified a activist-instructor who will come and do the training. It’s not mandatory, but if we can get middle school teachers in to talk about these issues, I’m hoping we can make some change. We also have Jean Kilbourne to have a “So Sexy So Soon” chat in a nearby town and I’m hoping that she will pass that along to her staff.
We are also hoping to doing a screening of “Miss Representation” at the school. I passed it along to the principal, so hopefully that will happen as well!
Suzanna Bobadilla is incredibly grateful for her momma who first taught her what the word “feminist” meant and what girls could expect under Title IX.