How to be a feminist when no one else around you is

Imagine you are a teenage girl in a rural area of the United States, in a high school with fewer than 250 students, where three out of four sides of the school are surrounded by fields. The setting described might sound relaxing, but, un reality, it is mind-numbingly isolating. The unincorporated towns are filled with laborious jobs such as factory, construction, and farm work. Women are either nurses or work at the clothing company, Land’s End, which seems to have replaced the occupation of housewife.

Some think these roles put women in their place, as many don’t consider the jobs comparable to the ones men have. Being a feminist in such an isolated and conformed community means it’s hard to be taken seriously.

Our governor is Scott Walker, the man who recently cut 300 million dollars from the university school system. While the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a quite liberal and free-thinking college, just an hour southwest, it is an absolutely different story. This might be because of how kids around here are educated, but the problem might also be in home, with our parents. Common sense tells a child that women and men are different. But parents here are the ones who tell their children that girls cannot catch footballs, do math, or possibly do anything about a flat tire, while boys never wear dresses or like dolls.

Whether a parent says these things jokingly or with total seriousness, it’s hard for children to separate the difference. In my town, it is ingrained in both girls and boys what their gender roles are. So in a rural community where farming has been more prevalent than education, generation after generation have been taught that women are inferior to men. I’ve been searching and have been trying to understand why people in this area think the way they do for a while, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a mixture of problems. People are as much ill-informed about feminist issues as they are about what the actual definition of feminism is.

How my family feels about feminism is quite a debacle. Any time I bring up feminism, my oldest brother is quick to jump at me with a debate, usually highlighting the advantages he sees women as enjoying as a result of their unequal rights, like the fact that women aren’t required to register for the draft, as if one perceived “perk” invalidates the entire feminist movement. I owe a lot to my aunt for my views, not because she preached feminism to me, but because I learned by observing her and how she dealt with people. From her, I learned that blonde jokes aren’t really funny and that men are not always better drivers, and I am extremely grateful for that.

I talk to girls in my high school who encourage boys to rate them on a scale of 1-10, like they are a prized calf, or a pair of shoes they bought on the Internet. A girl who is considered smart recently told me that she would leave the country if a woman became president of the United States. As I sat there in shock, people around me were shocked by my shock. My female peers shy away from the term feminist because they do not want to be perceived as man haters, but when I try to explain that that is not what it means, their eyes glaze over.

It seems as if only a small minority of my teachers understand feminism and what it is like to be a feminist. I have found though, that specific male teachers are less than sympathetic about gender equality. I remember one specific instance when an announcement was made over the intercom system saying, “All basketball girls to the office” and while I was walking by, I heard a make physical education teacher say, “Girls’ basketball? That’s an oxymoron!”

While the comment made little to no actual sense, the meaning behind it was absolutely insulting. I wondered how comments like that could be said and ignored, and I couldn’t come to a conclusion other than that kind of language is acceptable and normal at my school. More often than not, when I try to reach out about gender issues, people show a complete insouciant attitude. These situations worry me. If girls are saying these things about their own gender, what is happening to society? Who is going to fight for gender equality?

People have constantly called me oversensitive for talking about women’s equality issues so often, but feminism is something worth fighting for. Even though I am happy to say that I have searched high and low to find people who understand the plight of being a feminist in a small town, there have been very slim pickings. As I start to near the end of high school, I am cheering on the inside that soon I will be able to move away from all of this, to surround myself with people who get it.

Although I plan on moving to Madison as well as travel constantly, my experiences in this rural community will guide me through the rest of my life, as I will take it upon myself to educate people about feminism. Hopefully people will listen, as Holden says in The Catcher In the Rye: “If somebody at least listens, it’s not too bad.” A woman feeling proud of her gender is something that should be nurtured, not destroyed, and I will spread the word as much as I can.

Casandra Zimmerman is a Midwesterner who dreams of being a world traveler. She spends her time listening to music, reading books, watching Netflix, thinking about living everywhere, and drinking coffee. She also develops weird celebrity crushes on guys like Michael Cera and Jon Stewart.

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