You wake up in the morning and get ready to go to school. Picking out clothes can sometimes be a little emotional for you. Like 91 percent of other girls, you are unhappy with the way you look. Doing your makeup isn’t easy either. The day that you ran out of time to put any on, someone called your skin gross. A few days later, your friend tells you you’d be prettier if you just didn’t wear so much makeup. You glance at the fashion magazines on your nightstand, where Kerry Washington or Emma Watson or it doesn’t really matter who is laughing at you with a frozen, glossy smile. They never had to worry about this, did they?
You arrive at school. Your first class is calculus. The class has more girls than boys, so you have some close friends in the class who have been helping you with your homework the past few days. This unit has been particularly challenging. At the end of class, you walk over to the teacher’s desk to grab some extra review sheets. A male classmate of yours is trying to argue his way into a C- on a recent test; he is doing far worse than you are. Before you make it to the door the teacher catches you and says, “I see you’ve been having some trouble lately. Are you sure this class is the right place for you? You may want to think about switching down a level.” You politely assure him you’ll stay where you are.
Your day is fine until lunch. The hot line option is chicken fingers and French fries, your favorite. You walk over to your lunch table with your friends and sit down. The girls are all eating salad. They look at your French fries, then at you, then back to their lettuce bowls. They’ll never admit they’d rather be eating fries. One girl eventually comments, “Why don’t you like salad? It’s so much better for you. Fewer carbs. You won’t gain any weight.” You lose your appetite and end up throwing half of your meal away. But then your friend slides her fruit cup across the table. “You gotta have something in front of you or you’ll look anorexic or something.”
The rest of the day is uneventful, but it’s a Friday, and you are so tired and stressed by the end of the day by the homework you’ll have to do this weekend and your low-paying babysitting job. You’re managing OK, but you snap when your male friend says your dress makes you look like a housewife. “Calm down,” he says. “It was just a joke. Are you on your period or something?” Despite your annoyance, this reminds you that your time of the month is next week, and you’re going to have to buy tampons on the way home. Throughout the course of your life, you will end up spending $1,773.33 on tampons alone. And this kid in your econ class was arguing today that the pink tax is a myth.
You stay in for the night and your friend comes over to watch a movie. The two of you decide to grab some candy and you run to the CVS down the street. You are walking home; it’s not too late but your street is dark. As a car slowly drives by, you tense up. The other day someone whistled at you from their car, and you’ve felt a bit uneasy on the sidewalk ever since. You are part of the 99 percent of women who have experienced street harassment in their lives. You desperately try to remember the self-defense lesson you got in middle school–was it go for the eyes or do you try to run?–when you realize the car is only waiting to pull into the driveway you’ve just crossed.
This story is not my story, per se, though parts of it resonant daily. The teen feminists I know often paint sexism in broad strokes as we discuss narrowing the wage gap, legalizing reproductive health and destroying the patriarchy once and for all. These are all important issues to discuss and to work towards. But sometimes we forget about the microaggressions, the comments that slide under the radar, the inherent sexism ingrained in our entire society—not just from males.
This is why I need feminism—because there are things that women have to hear, see and endure that men will never have to, and that’s not right. Gender equality does not only mean equality in the eyes of the law. It means that women can feel safe walking alone at night. It means women can see themselves represented in their classes and media. It means women are taken seriously in any context or capacity. It means that women’s bodies, with all their nuances, organs and curves, are treated with love and equal respect. We’re not there yet. We need feminism.