When faced with the question: Why do I need feminism?, I, like most of my peers, came to a halt.
I think we had difficulty answering this question because the question itself seems rhetorical. I need feminism. We need feminism.
After taking a high school feminism course, this question has been lingering in our minds since the moment we were asked at the beginning of the class in September.
Now that the class has ended, the question seems like more of a statement because our eyes have been opened in such a way that we cannot and will not go back. So when you ask me why do I need feminism, I must give you a very general answer: I cannot live without it.
Do you want to know why I cannot live without it? Because my whole life has been completely out of my control. Up until my feminist consciousness was awakened, I was oblivious to the fact that I had been victimized by very strategic institutions. And the problem is that I am not the only sixteen year old girl who has fallen victim to what the film Miss Representation describes as the “[boxes] that we all fit into” where you “fill in your identity here and we will judge you.”
Even the people we think have the most privilege are also victims of this never-ending cycle. That is what scares me the most. I need feminism because this cycle needs to end.
I have been reflecting 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 that sexuality has on women and girls, especially by the media where we are sexualized and objectified every day. The media manipulates our minds to hate our sexuality and especially to hate each other for those very reasons.
I was given the message that as a girl, I was inherently a sexual deviant out to corrupt the world with the tainting powers that existed 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.”
I see now the intersectional nature of these messages. I see now how gender roles connect with notions about race, ethnicity, sexuality, and age. I began to internalize 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 my 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 a little bit of a change in me. I was much meaner than the shy and innocent Paris of the past. I judged people much more on what they looked like and what they wore because my friends all did the same thing, and even if it wasn’t what I really felt, I wanted to fit in to distract from the fact that I was actually insecure about my body, my ethnicity, and my socio-economic class in a majority white school on the Upper West Side in New York.
I remember there was a girl that I just did not like. It was probably because she just seemed to fulfill this paragon of perfection. She was tall and blonde and was always asked out by all of the boys. 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 and 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 this never-ending cycle of internalized misogyny.
I don’t know how it happens but practically from birth, girls are trained to hate being a girl, to have 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 causes our internalized misogyny when 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 be it 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.
Similarly, in the play Slut, which we saw as a class, the protagonist Joey and her friends call each other sluts to almost give the word a power that it would not usually have. However, this instantly backfires when Joey is raped and looks to her friends for support. They are all too convinced by sexist, patriarchal institutions that it must have been something Joey was wearing or how she was acting that was too slutty, and that she asked for it.
Now that I have entered my phase of what I call PFC (post-feminist consciousness) I have realized that for a long while, I was brainwashed into believing the societal norms of slut-shaming. I was taught about outdated gender roles and the taboos surrounding female sexuality. It makes me sad that in 2013, this sort of thing is still an issue now that women are starting to find a bit of their voice as feminism is becoming a little bit more of a universal ideal.
Although I would much rather forget the years I spent internalizing misogyny, I can’t. Recognizing it is a vital part of the next part of 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 sit down and 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.