I'm a feminist and a high school English teacher in the south suburbs of Chicago. Last year, one of the students in my class was inspired to start a group for girls at our school and approached me about sponsoring it. Of course I agreed! A few weeks ago, we tackled the topic of positive female role models in pop culture. The high school students came up with a list of eight current, mainstream "feminist idols" they and their friends look up to.
The list is a good insight into what interests teen girls these days, as well as hopefully a helpful resource. We talk a lot about degrading and regrettable portrayals of women in media, here are eight actresses and comedians my high schoolers are excited about supporting.
1. Emma Stone: My students loved the movie Easy A, a modern film inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In it, Emma Stone plays a high school student who tries to bring the book into her real life. The movie definitely has feminist undertones, but Stone herself is a major feminist. In a recent interview she did with her boyfriend Andrew Garfield, she was asked who her style icon was. After Garfield said he never got asked questions like that, Stone piped up, "You get asked interesting, poignant questions because you're a boy... It is sexism." Way to call out sexist media, Emma Stone!
According to a New York Times piece from earlier this week, teens still work out to lose weight just like they did in my mom's day, but that's not all: A recent study shows that boys are increasing their workout routines, and they're increasing their "muscle-enhancing behaviors" (everything from diet changes to steroid use) along with them.
A few posts ago, in Slut Shaming and the Empowered Young Woman, one reader commented on the way that asexuality is written out of a lot of the most visible debates on what it means to be mature, empowered, and sexually self-aware. She also observed that asexual feeling, identity, and relationship practices are so nonexistent in pop culture that it's almost impossible to know where to begin analyzing it. In her high school experiences as well as in mine, dating was one of the biggest status symbols you could achieve, and it was fairly well assumed that dating was the gateway to rounding those bases and scoring a home run, as it were. (I've never been too clear on that base analogy, and the fact that it doesn't really seem to translate for GLB people isn't its only problem.) As The New Goodnight Kiss documents, for some young people, sex has become a lot more openly casual than what I remember. But that activity still has a lot to do with teenaged pecking orders, even as it may also have to do with fulfilling experiences of sexual freedom or the development of positive relationships for some young people. So what about asexuality and youth culture? How do kids learn to associate certain values with being sexual and not being sexual?
Gay high schoolers have a pretty rough go of it. Bullying, harassment, and feelings of isolation are all too common for a lot of gay teens, and many of them live in situations where they don't have access to queer-friendly organizations. Last week, a gay high school student in Indiana named Billy Lucas took his own life, reportedly because of the torment he experienced at the hands of his peers.
I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.
But gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.
Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.
My full-length interview with Chally, who talks about her love of sci-fi, why it's problematic to have feminist "icons," her experience as a teen in social justice movement, and of course, the internet! (The post title is tongue-in-cheek, by the way, she's anything but, as you'll see.)
Watching Bristol Palin's teen pregnancy PSA the other day and reading reactions to it (including Bitch's own Kelsey Wallace), I was reminded of a question that I've been turning over in my mind lately, namely who has the authority/credibility/legitimacy to speak to issues of class and privilege?
I opened a big can of feminist worms on Thursday with my post I Blame Porn, In which I talked about how the mainstreaming of mass-produced hetero porn is starting to influence—negatively—the cultural perceptions of what's sexy, particularly among teenagers. I was stunned by the number of Bitch readers who shouted me down, proclaiming that bald-vadge, facial-cumshot studio-produced porn isn't misogynist and doesn't have any effect at all on sexual behavior. The most common reason it couldn't be bad or misogynist? Because they like it and imitate it and they choose their choice! Free will FTW!
Guess what, folks? You can choose your choice, but you do not live—or fuck—in a vacuum. No matter how liberated you think you are, the truth is, your sexual development did not just happen spontaneously. We are having different sex than our mothers did. They had different sex than their mothers did. Why? The changes in their sex lives reflected the huge changes in the culture that they lived in. When society shifts the way it regards sex—and women—our sex lives change. Whether those cultural changes are due to birth control, women's lib, the destigmatizing of gay and premarital sex, greater access to written erotica or internet porn, there's no doubt that when it comes to our sexual behavior CULTURE MATTERS. If you think your sexual desires and behavior just sprang up sui generis because you are a unique individual with free will who's completely uninfluenced by society, you are kidding yourself.