Empowered and Speaking Out: Young Feminists Find Their Voices

Here I am reading a personal story at our International Day of the Girl assembly at my school (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).
Here I am reading a personal story at our International Day of the Girl assembly at my school (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

Over the summer, I participated in a lot of social justice workshops at my Quaker summer camp in Vermont for teens. I have also been a part of a coalition of teenagers who go to New Orleans and discuss issues surrounding the economy, race, class and food insecurity. I also have the amazing privilege to be in a high school feminism class with my peers.

I have experienced and listened to many empowered youth voices, and hearing and discussing such important topics with other teenagers is truly inspiring to me. I am absorbing so much information from my peers and from the readings in my feminism class. With all of this information, I am still trying to make sense of it all and find my voice through feminism.

Our class put together a wonderful assembly for International Day of the Girl, in which many students, including myself, courageously read aloud a portion of their intersectionality essay through a feminist lens. Many of these pieces were very personal, and it was inspiring to hear them read aloud to the entire school.

Audre Lorde’s essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” has had a large impact on me in finding my voice, and realizing the importance of joining with others, listening, speaking out to end our fears, and standing up for what we know is right. With Audre Lorde’s words echoing in my head, “My  silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you,” I was prepared to read during our assembly for International Day of the Girl.

I constantly think that I am lucky that I am so aware of issues in the world at such a young age, that for some kids sitting in the auditorium during our assembly, that was probably the first time they’ve heard the definition of feminism or how vastly these injustices affect people. That might be a little sad, but it makes me happy because there is only room to learn and grow.

Now that they have experienced our assembly, I would ask them now, “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say”? because “we all share a war against the tyrannies of silence” as Audre Lorde has written. Speaking up is vital, because it removes the blinders from people’s eyes, and it shows that we are not afraid, it shows self-revelation, and shows hope for a better world.

I recently joined the StopSlut Girls Coalition, which focuses on sexuality, bullying, rape, and slut culture. At our last meeting that I attended, there were about 80 girls from all different backgrounds, and we all came together and discussed and shared personal stories about our experiences with the word “slut” and slut culture.

We discussed the flagrant double standard in our society that if girls are wearing shirts that reveal their cleavage, they are called sluts, and if they have sex with more than one guy they are called sluts, and generally how ubiquitous slut culture is.

It was really inspiring to hear so many young voices speak out, sharing their personal experiences. Hearing such things really magnifies my connection to the cause, and makes me that much more of a feminist. My peers and I agreed that the discussion at the Stop Slut meeting did not go as deep as we thought it would. For the next meeting, I would like to bring up slut shaming among girls brought on by other girls! The perpetuation of slut culture by girls themselves is important to raise.

At the next meeting I hope to quote Cherríe Moraga:

We women have a similar nightmare, for each of us in some way has been both the oppressed and the oppressor… We are afraid to see how we have taken the values of our oppressor into our hearts and turned them against ourselves and one another.

By women putting down other women, or only lifting up a certain group of women, we will never reach solidarity and move forward in our movement.

Inspiring youth to speak up and not to stand for injustice might not seem like a priority, but young voices can change the world. One inspiration to me is Malala Yousafzai, a 16 year old Pakistani girl who has been recently speaking up for women’s rights and girls’ education, even after the Taliban shot her in the head after she refused to halt her efforts to expose the plight of schoolgirls in Swat Valley, Pakistan, where she lives.

The bullet did not silence her, and her words of “peace, love and education” have been heard by so many more people around the world. She is the youngest person to have ever been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize; now that is pretty cool.

Malala is an inspiration to many, as she projects her experiences and uses them to help others. As she has said: “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”

With these words, how can we let ourselves just stand by, and not speak up? We need to face the issues at hand; all races, all genders, all classes, and all ages must work together to create change.

If you have missed Malala’s many appearances in the media recently, she was especially eloquent and moving on The Daily Show.

15 thoughts on “Empowered and Speaking Out: Young Feminists Find Their Voices

  1. I completely relate to when you state, “I constantly think that I am lucky that I am so aware of issues in the world at such a young age…” I always wonder about people who are not lucky enough to have a feminism class at their high school or even their college. That is why I think it was such a great experience to speak at the assembly, even if reading our pieces to the whole school was nerve-wracking to say the least. Reading our pieces gave our schoolmates a chance to begin to think about feminism, oppression, and intersectionality in their own lives. I applaud your previous social justice and intersectionality discussions and hope that you will continue your activism and discussions in the future!

  2. It’s great that you’ve already had the opportunity of being exposed to so many empowered youth voices! It’s very inspiring for its uniqueness; it is something that I would wish to see more often. In your piece, I really admired your search for improvement and your motivation, both towards your own self-revelation and the empowerment of others around you, which seem to move together. You communicate your ideas, your efforts to shape your voice and the chance that you see in others for change with great open-mindedness and optimism. You are one step ahead with your determination to promote change, as you don’t seem to be intimidated by limits, but incentivized!

  3. Hazel, I loved and agree with you when you talk about how the youth of today needs to not stand for injustice and speak up. We can all make a difference. I also loved how you talked about all of the other activism things you do and I would love to hear more about them.
    I too was happy that through our IDG assembly we were able to teach our school and hopefully empower them to speak up.

  4. “With these words, how can we let ourselves just stand by, and not speak up? We need to face the issues at hand; all races, all genders, all classes, and all ages must work together to create change.” What a powerful statement. I believe that sometimes people believe that if they are not a part of a particular group, then they don’t have the right to say anything. Your piece and the comments you make in class beg the differ. I think this is a powerful stance and statement to make.

  5. Hazel, I really like the point you made about girls being perpetrators of slut culture, and I think Cherríe Moraga’s quote explains it perfectly. I completely agree with you about Malala being a huge inspiration, and making us realize that “we need to face the issues at hand; all races, all genders, all classes, and all ages must work together to create change.” I think it’s amazing that you’re involved with so many workshops that you’re passionate about and working to create change.

  6. I think its great that you were able to connect the work you did during the summer with feminist studies. Privilege is key in understanding many of the topics discussed in our class. Transforming silence into action is so important in making a change, and it is clear that you understand that after reading this post. Hearing young voices also makes me think that if these other kids can speak up, and make a change, so can I.

  7. I agree that we are lucky to be so aware of world issues at such a young age. Us learning about these issues and injustices allows us to grow and then work to erase them. When you say “Speaking up is vital, because it removes the blinders from people’s eyes,” I think of a veil being lifted from my eyes. And I think this is what Feminism aims to do, opens our eyes and our mouths.

  8. It is great to see how Audre Lorde’s quote, “your silence will not protect you,” secured you and told you that you were ready to present. It is true that we are lucky to be aware of all of these issues at young ages, and that we are able to teach other kids who might not be aware yet. Moraga’s quote is a perfect connection to slut culture and how girls turn their oppressions against each other! It is great that you want to learn more about slut culture and talk deeper about the issue, because I would like to do that as well.

  9. You are such an inspiration and I really hope you continue to pursue speaking out about multiple issues about the “economy, race, class and food insecurity.” It made me realize how much we are privileged as students to even have the opportunity to be taught about these issues and to become aware of them. It’s hard to remind oneself that everyone even the people who are the oppressors are victims of our society. When your taught to act a certain way and you haven’t ever been talked to about race, intersectionality, the power of the media, society’s norms, etc; in fact one may not even know these words, terms, ideas even exist, one becomes swallowed up and stuck in this cycle. We as LREI students are lucky to have been introduced to these subjects at such a young age and it really helps you realize how important it is for us to go out and share with others and speak out.

  10. I love how you speak about how girls/women need to work together and stop fighting against each other. It is important for women not to degrade other women by calling them names such as slut or be violent. Society causes us to envy each other and blame ourselves. I love how you are so passionate about getting girls to work together. I can’t wait to hear more about your thoughts at our next meeting!

  11. Hazel! I love the fact that you are involved in so many different coalitions and groups. It is nice to know that your work with the feminist movement is not only in school but outside of school and I can tell that you are very passionate about this. Additionally, I am glad that you felt empowered after sharing your intersectionality piece. It really is true, your voice makes a difference! I could also not agree more with your thoughts on Malala. She examples what each and every one of us can do on our own. She is a true inspiration!

  12. Hazel, I really enjoyed your piece. You are totally right that the youth really has so much power that they don’t even realize. Malala is a perfect example of this. I think we have so much power and we should use it. I also go to a socialist summer camp called Camp Kinderland where we discuss issues of race class and gender. It is so nice to see that my little nook of equality isn’t the only one in the world. I think you make a really powerful statement when you don’t shave. More girls should feel more empowered to accept their bodies and the hair that grows there for a reason. If we really followed through with it so many businesses would go out of business. The movie we watched in class really made this clear to me and the impact that it has on young girls. Your strength is an inspiration. I wish I was brave enough not to shave and not worry about what people thought.

  13. I like your thoughts on the assembly saying that even though it might be sad that many just learned what feminism is, but there’s also a feeling of happiness because there’s only room to grow. I also like your analogy to removing the blinds because I think it’s really important to understand issues like these.

  14. I really like your point of how lucky we are being aware of all these issues. I think that often it’s not an issue of whether or not girls are being educated on these issues but more so that they don’t have access to education on these issues. We are all very lucky to be learning about this at such a young age because that is really when the impact is greatest. I also really like your idea about bringing up slut shaming at your next discussion. It is a very difficult subject and I think applying what we have learned in this class you will be able to really create some very powerful ideas about our future.

  15. Bravo, Hazel! I am thoroughly inspired by your courage to speak up. We all, especially in this class, have the privilege to be talking about the various topics, we have the privilege to access resources that show us the multiple perspectives. On another note I absolutely loved this quote “By women putting down other women, or only lifting up a certain group of women, we will never reach solidarity and move forward in our movement.”. I have recently reflected on this. I think girls everywhere need to be raised in a world of womanism. Once again, although it is free, it is a privilege to be in a society where you can embrace YOUR GENDER. It sounds ridiculous but the amount girls who are slut shamed or even just shamed for being girls are incredible. That is why girls, women, men and boys need to learn to EMPOWER each other.

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