We've come a bit of a distance since Gretchen Samuels suggested that not dating a friend's ex was "the rules of feminism". Consciousness of gender equality among teens seems to be rising; feminism is no longer a foreign word on high school campuses, and places like the International Center for Women's Rights produce custom-made packs to introduce feminism into secondary curriculums. (I keep in touch with the youth of today via Tumblr, and these kids seem to be so politically savvy it's possible they'll solve everything before I'm 30.) But there's still a long way to go. For every teen boy who writes a response to Emma Watson's UN speech on feminism, there are more young people who don't quite get what's going on yet. But did we all really start to build our feminist credentials so early? What do feminist teens look like if they don't know what feminism really is?
I went to an high school at which feminism was not once mentioned, lesbianism was declared a myth by knowledgeable elder students, and the history teacher who wanted us to learn about Stalin was whispered to be a Communist. This was the early 2000s, when the Spice Girls' Girl Power had come and gone, and yet despite an extreme vague knowledge of feminism itself, it's pretty easy to trace the beginnings of my feminist consciousness. Teenage girls who act and think in an empowered manner and question gender assumptions are participating in gender equality, whether they realize it or not.
Even if you weren't getting through The Feminine Mystique at lunchtime, here are six signs that you were a baby feminist, perhaps without even realizing it.
1. You Knew About Your Right To Wait
Feminism may never have been discussed in your high school halls, but peer pressure almost certainly was, in terms of drugs and drinking, but particularly with regard to sex and when somebody was "ready". Whether you were getting active in somebody's backseat or not, you were fully educated and in control about your own sexual choices about your body, and how they took preference over the decisions or opinions of others, from potential dates to judgmental friends. Being worried about "prudishness" or being called "frigid" doesn't mean you weren't on the feminist train, either; nobody likes to be insulted, and the teenage years are rife with the terror of losing social status in any way possible, including being compared to a fridge.
2. You Were Wary Of Gender Norms
At some point you likely picked up that boys and girls are not only different creatures, but are seen as incredibly different by the world and treated accordingly. Possibly you railed against this as unjust from a young age; I declared that I wanted to be a boy in 7th grade because they "had everything easier". But as a budding teenage feminist, you'd likely got attuned enough to the peculiarities of being a woman in this world that gender expectations of any kind, from the assumption that you'd have a family to ideas about "suitable" careers, didn't exactly slip into your ears with ease.
3. You Wondered About The Necessity Of A Boyfriend
If you were straight or boy-loving in any way, you'd likely be aware that a great deal of your value and status seemed to be predicated on having a boy like you, and would be deeply suspicious of this as a measure of anybody's personal worth. Teenage boys, after all, are generally not one of nature's finest creations, and fighting for their approval would make any young woman in history look at the entire scenario and wonder what on earth it was all for. That doesn't mean you didn't participate and crush on some awkward boy-child with great relish; it just means you were aware that this wasn't all there was in the world.
4. Your Future Plans Were Based On Your Own Choices
This radical position, reserved for only a few generations of women and still not allowed for a huge swathe of womankind worldwide, is one of the direct offshoots of feminist thinking: that young women have the absolute right to direct their own destinies, and that if they can't, it's unfair and restrictive. Maybe you had fights with your parents about your plans and their conflicting ideas for your future; maybe you had distinct inner conflicts or confusion about happened next. But a fundamental understanding of the value of your own preferences for your life underpinned your thinking, even if it didn't necessarily always win the day.
5. You Were A Collector Of Female Role Models
Everybody's idea of a powerful woman can differ. Whether you idolized Sally Ride or Marion Jones, did school projects on Marie Curie, read all of Jane Austen, had posters of Angela Chase and Buffy Summers, visualized being Condoleeza Rice one day, or saw everything featuring Gong Li, if you were drawn to prominent women who forged interesting paths, you were on a feminist road. Not every role model has to be perfect; the point, whether it's women in public life or in fiction, is usually that they're human, flawed and gifted at the same time. But women benefit greatly from the representation and example of other powerful women who demonstrate that being female is not, in itself, an obstacle to changing the world. Everybody from Hermione Granger to Eleanor Roosevelt told that story.
6. You Weren't Down With Slut-Shaming
Maybe you didn't fully understand why some girls made the choices they did, but you weren't really comfortable with ostracizing them for it, or with shaming yourself if you did something you "weren't supposed to". Maybe you were out there stridently defending anybody who'd been painted with a brush you saw as sexist or unfair; maybe you were watching uneasily from the sidelines, refusing to participate, or joining in and feeling awful afterwards. The glimmering awareness that calling somebody a slut for behavior or dress, or spreading rumors about their sexual morals as a way to denigrate their character, aren't OK ways to treat women? That's feminism.
Images: Columbia Pictures; Giphy