How one conversation at a party made me realize I’m a feminist

I am many things: I am freakishly organized. I am driven. I am tired. I am brunette. I am a teenager. I am a girl. I am 14. And I am a feminist. No one had to teach me to be a feminist because equality always seemed like a given, a basic human right. I didn’t have to learn to be a feminist, but I did have to learn to embrace that title. My name is Olivia and I am a feminist because I want to be equal.

Growing up, I never thought I was at a disadvantage because, in the world my parents made for me, I was treated the same and expected to achieve the same as my older brother. But then something awful happened: I grew up. I got to that awkward stage of the teenage years when your Friday nights aren’t spent in playing Scrabble with your parents, but instead you’re expected to dress up, go out and be social.

It was on one of these nights I realized I was a feminist. Picture this: I was standing alone in a crowded room at a party. Everyone around me was laughing and having fun, while I was bored to death. Unlike most of the people I was surrounded by, who were classily chugging down beer, vodka and gin, the only thing I had drank all night had been water. The strenuous boredom continued until I was approached by a boy who was in the same state: bored, sober and looking for something to do.

We started chatting — simple, friendly small talk. He must have gotten the wrong impression because he was more forward than I would have liked. Politely, I told him I wasn’t up for the activity he was suggesting, but he continued his advances. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he hadn’t heard me. I repeated myself, and yet still this boy carried on. Having enough, I made an escape. As I walked away, the boy pinched my bum then winked, as if having my arse groped by a stranger would have been an experience I would enjoy at a party.

Just wanting the harassment to stop, I blurted out, “I have a boyfriend!”

It was a lie, but the boy turned around and said, “Oh ok, I have too much respect for him to do anything.”

“You have too much respect for him to do anything? What about the respect you have for me?” I was furious.

He turned round and said, “If you wanted respect, you would not have worn that dress.” I was shocked, looking down at the 100% parent-approved dress, that my own dad had said looked nice. But the boy didn’t miss a beat. “Stop being such a feminist,” he added. The boy then walked away, happy to chase after some other girl, while I stood there, alone and confused.

“Stop being such a feminist.” The words echoed in my head. At that point, I didn’t really know what a feminist was, but he had made it sound terrible.

I looked up the definition of feminist on Google and it said: “A person that supports feminism.” So I looked up the definition of feminism. “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” I didn’t understand why the boy was using the word ‘feminist’ as an insult. Of course I was a feminist. I deserved respect and equality just as much as he did.

The next day, I told my friends about what had happened at the party. The girls in the group shared similar encounters, from being catcalled on public transport to girls sports not being recognized to being slut shamed for kissing a guy while the boy in question was called a lad. Though the boys I’m close with were sympathetic towards the situation us girls found ourselves in, they couldn’t empathize because they hadn’t experienced the same kinds of inequality.

That was the moment I realized I was a feminist. I wanted the world around me to be equal, and, unfortunately, it wasn’t. I didn’t want to live in a world where my girl friends and I couldn’t wear a dress to a party without giving the “wrong message,” where a simple kiss had constant consequences, and taking public transport was a risk. I wanted to be part of something that could change the world and I realized that feminism was it.

So being a feminist at 14, what is that like? I think that some people have an idea that being a feminist means that I’m a man-hater, who thinks boys are just the worst thing in the world. Or that I spend my weekends sitting with two witches sitting around a cauldron, trying to curse the male population. The reputation the word has means that sometimes you feel embarrassed to say you’re a feminist. Especially when you’re a teen, you’re judged enough for the way you look, the way you dress and even the way you talk, that having ideologies that are deemed controversial can seem too risky, too pointless.

But if you’re embarrassed to say you are a feminist, what is the point in being one? The only way anything will change is if girls and guys stand up and fight for gender equality. Feminism has just as many benefits for men as it does for women. When equality is achieved, the “embarrassment” will be worth it.

A small portion of the boys around me don’t seem to like the concept of feminism. Whenever the topic comes up, they are quick to label feminists as “man-haters,” and say the word feminist as if it is a bad thing. I go to a school where boys outnumber the girls 2 : 1 and the word feminist is now being banded around as an insult.

I am a feminist because I want to be equal. But I must admit, it is hard being a feminist when so many people have mistaken feminism for extremism. So many young women have an idea that feminism is a concept in which women have dominance over men, when in fact it is a concept where women are equal to men.

It is not just the teens around me who see feminism as something controversial. Recently at my school, a debate on feminism was organized by enthusiastic teachers who wanted students to understand the concept of feminism. Many students were excited because it was a chance to learn about the real meaning of feminism. And, since it was an open debate, girls were looking forward to voicing some of the ways in which they felt inequality affected them in the school. Sadly, the debate was cancelled, as some teachers felt it would be “too controversial.” Many girls felt let down; we were finally given the opportunity to voice our ideas and it was taken because someone thought it was “too controversial.”

Feminism is not a bad thing, and I don’t think it’s controversial. Feminism matters because I want to grow up and work in a world where my gender won’t be a disadvantage. And in order to do that, we need to speak up and get our voices heard right now. I am grateful that people are reading this because it shows that if you fight and if you scream and if you shout, there will be someone listening. My name is Olivia, and I am a feminist because one day we will be equal.

(Image via Femtastic.)

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