(This article was written for the Feministing contest “So You Think You Can Blog”. Feedback is welcome and appreciated)
Living in a patriarchy is tough. Being in high school while living in a patriarchy? Even tougher. I know what it’s like to be a high school feminist, the ridicule, the frustration, and the constant feeling that you’re doing something wrong. It’s not fun for anyone, but it is possible to get through. I survived it myself just last year! The following tips are meant to help budding feminists in high school, but they can apply to all feminists who find themselves anywhere that is less-than welcoming (I tend to use these when I’m around my family, for example).
You don’t have to be perfect. I know that one of my biggest struggles as a budding feminist was combining my love of top 40 pop with my beliefs about sexism and misogyny. I constantly felt guilty for my Katy Perry Pandora station, and tried to hide it from people. It seems silly now, but I really thought that listening to sexist music made me a bad feminist. It doesn’t. We live in a sexist patriarchal culture, it would be impossible to tune out every bit of sexist media from our lives. You may feel pressure to be the perfect feminist (especially if you’re the go-to feminist example at your high school like I was), but that doesn’t mean you have to. Unless you’re doing something down-right terrible (like voting for anti-choice candidates or making rape apologist statements), feminism shouldn’t make you feel guilty.
Learn your limits. At the same time, everyone has their limits. I have some feminist friends who simply can’t forgive Katy Perry for “I Kissed a Girl” and “Ur so Gay”, and that’s okay! It’s totally understandable that they don’t want to listen to her because of her songs mocking lesbian and gay sexuality. If you have something that really bugs you, even if it doesn’t bug your friends (feminist or not), it’s perfectly find to stand your ground. It’s okay to sometimes be hypocritical about what you can tolerate too. Most of the time I can’t stand Taylor Swift and her songs about boys and girl-hate, but right after a break-up? All I really want is some Tay Swift and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.
Find friends. It’s important to have a support system. Remember, there are people who agree with you out there, they just might not be physically present. When I was a high-school feminist the internet was my savior. I didn’t know any kids my age who agreed with me, but I was able to connect with feminists young and old on tumblr, reddit, and twitter. You’re reading this on the Feministing community blog, for example, which is a great place to meet people who share your belief system. Reach out to some internet feminists, we don’t bite! If you don’t have access to an internet support system, volunteering is a great way to meet feminists in your community. Do you have a Planned Parenthood that needs volunteers? What about a domestic violence shelter? The local Democrat chapter probably needs people to canvas for pro-choice candidates. Take advantage of your opportunities, you’ll be advocating for something you believe in and meeting some awesome feminist women.
Learn to trust yourself. Your feelings are valid. Your beliefs are valid. Don’t listen to people who tell you you’re too young to be a feminist or that you’ll become more conservative as you get older. You’re perfectly capable of creating rational and responsible decisions about what you believe no matter how old you are. Your beliefs might change over time, but that doesn’t mean that the one’s you have right now aren’t valid. It’s easier to deal with criticism and backlash if you are confident and unapologetic in what you believe in.
You can love people who are flawed. You’ve just discovered that you’re very passionate about reproductive rights, the only problem? You’re best friend is staunchly anti-choice. Maybe you are a big supporter of marriage equality, but your grandmother donated to the National Organization for Marriage last election cycle. It hurts to find out that the people you love the most disagree with you on things that are so important to you, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop loving them. People are multi-faceted and relationships are complicated. It’s possible to love aspects of a person and hate other parts.
It’s okay to pick your battles. It might seem like you have an obligation to educate everyone, especially if you’re the only feminist at your school, but you don’t. It’s impossible to correct every single person who says “that’s so gay” and “she’s such a slut”. Always do your best to let people know that what they’re doing or saying is hurtful or oppressive, but it’s okay to not correct everyone every time. It’s easy to get burnt out, especially if you are not surrounded by like-minded people, and you owe it to yourself to not get to that point. If you have to take a break or just “turn off” feminism for okay, that’s alright. You owe yourself sometime off.