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.