Why We Need Women's Studies Classes in High School
For years I, like most of my peers, always struggled to answer the question "why do we still need feminism?" But ever since I took a class about feminism my Junior year of high school, I can't and won't go back to my previous ignorance about the movement. Now, because of that class, I can readily give a general but accurate answer: I need feminism because I cannot live without it.
This feminism class led me to reflect a lot on what it means to be a teenage girl in this world. Ever since I was practically shoved chest-first into puberty, I have felt the effects of the way women and girls are sexualized and objectified in this culture, especially by the media. The media manipulates our minds to hate our sexuality and especially to hate each other for those very reasons.
As a girl, I was indoctrinated to believe that I am inherently a sexual deviant out to corrupt the world with the destructive powers that exist between my legs. I received messages to “cross my legs” and to “not wear tampons” because “that’s what white girls do.” I was told to “never trust a boy, you do not want to act like a stupid girl.”
This class helped me see not only the sexism of these messages, but their intersectional nature as well. I see now how gender roles connect with notions about race, ethnicity, sexuality, and age. I internalized these messages and even regurgitated them back into the world, oppressing my fellow sisters in the same way that I had been oppressed. I began to put on a certain demeanor to show the world that I was not like those “stupid, slutty girls.”
I had become a chronic girl hater.
When I entered the seventh grade at a new school, I tried desperately to fit in. All of my friends were extraordinarily thin and white, and I was not, so I immediately felt out of place and insecure. Once I started to gain friends, I noticed that I also started to change. I was much meaner than the shy and innocent Paris of the past. I more frequently judged people based on how they looked and dressed because that's what my friends did. Even if it wasn’t how I really felt, I wanted to fit in and distract from the fact that I was actually insecure about my own body, ethnicity, and socio-economic class in a majority white school on the Upper West Side in New York City.
I remember one particular girl that I didn't like, probably just because she seemed to fulfill a paragon of perfection: She was tall, blonde and boys constantly asked her out. She had even received the affection of one of my middle school crushes. Clearly, this gave me enough fuel to hate her. My friends and I were going to a school dance to which this girl was also going. At the dance, my crush had apparently asked her if she wanted to leave so they could go hook up. Upon hearing this, I immediately rushed to the bathroom in tears and proceeded to call this girl a “bitch,” “whore,” “slut,” “ugly" -- you name it. I made it my mission to convince everyone in the grade that she was a terrible slut because I did not get the boy I wanted.
There’s nothing I can say to make up for the terrible things I said and thought a couple of years ago because I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was participating in a never-ending cycle of internalized misogyny.
Practically from birth, girls are trained to hate being female, to hate having sexual desires, and to hate other girls. We are constantly pitted against each other and taught to be, as Miss Representation calls it “fighting fuck toys.” We are taught that women are "natural enemies."
We are taught to call our friends “backstabbers” and other girls “sluts” for stealing our boyfriends or girlfriends. We are taught to look at every other woman and see her as a threat to our own relationships and self-worth. Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks spoke about the relationship between women and men in their recent talk about feminism at the New School in New York. Even though hooks and Harris-Perry were talking about this issue in the context of black women versus white men, they said that as women, our anger is deemed "illegitimate while the anger of a white man is deemed as legitimate."
This anger contributes to our internalized misogyny. We call each other bitches for being assertive or for having success. We are taught that any sort of emotion a man feels is legitimate, whether it's anger or sadness or happiness, and that in contrast, the emotions women feel and express are illegitimate and irrational. We are taught that we are all out to get at each other because we are backstabbing bitches.
Up until my feminist consciousness was awakened by my high school feminist class, I was oblivious to the fact that I had been so affected by these strategic societal institutions. I am far from the only sixteen-year-old girl who has fallen victim to these cultural traps, which Miss Representation accurately describes as the “[boxes] that we all fit into” where you “fill in your identity here and we will judge you.” These traps are a never-ending cycle, into which even people with the most privilege can fall. I need feminism because this cycle scares me and needs to end.
Now that I can see this cycle and have feminist consciousness, I realize that, for a long time, I was brainwashed into internalizing misogyny. I was taught and truly believed, for example, the societal norms of slut-shaming, outdated gender roles and the taboos surrounding female sexuality.
While I would prefer to forget the years I spent internalizing such misogyny, I can't. Recognizing it is a vital to fulfilling my life as a full-fledged fierce and fabulous feminist. Without feminism, I would never be able to embrace my sexuality and use my voice to empower my fellow sisters against this girl on girl crime. As I write this blog post, I realize why I need feminism: because I can no longer live in the dark and I can no longer live in a world where girls hate each other.
I need feminism because I need to shine some light on a dark world.
More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, Girls, Media, Misogyny
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Title IX, Sexuality, High school, Discrimination, Women's history, Social media, Film, Books, News