Once upon a time, I was 15 years old, making the switch from Catholic to public school and lacking in serious self-confidence. Clearly, like so many other girls my age, I didn’t embrace my nerdish qualities or quirky sense of humour, I hid those things obsessively, and in a desperate attempt to be accepted, I gravitated towards polyester halter tops, ill-fitting pleather pants and more makeup than, well, someone notorious for wearing a lot of makeup. I dyed my brown hair blonde, started listening to hip-hop and R&B and lived to get “totally wasted” on Peach Schnapps and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
WORDS: Ms Anne Donahue
Idiocy reigned supreme. Since popularity was determined solely on the boys you dated and how often you partied (and since I didn’t have a boyfriend, I partied to compensate), I began to abandon my former straight-A status for being “like, a totally cutting-edge, badass, dude” (only worded far worse – if that’s even possible). I began to TyPE LiKe ThiS, shout out to “ma girlz” on ICQ, and my worth was determined more and more by the guys who liked me and the Plastics who took me under their wing. (Just picture Mean Girls, but with lower budgets and trashy brands of cigarettes and alcohol.)
And I wasn’t alone. Speaking to my friends now, we were all involved in the desperate rat race of acceptance. Being funny was only okay if you used it for evil, and the more Simpsons episodes you could quote, the lamer it was. While I soon abandoned my trash-tastic wardrobe and began donning skate clothes and men’s hoodies a couple months later, it was also for acceptance – but this time, at least destroying mailboxes and playing with fireworks was a little less psychologically damaging than driving around stoned with reckless older guys who didn’t even what my last name was.
I think I may be an old person now, because not only do I look back on those years and cringe (years ago I still would’ve tried to defend myself: “I wasn’t that bad!”(yes I was)), but I’ve actively begun to worry about the youth of today – especially since years of retail introduced me to the new generation of misguided ladies. (But I promise I’m not really Mrs. Lovejoy)
Sure, kids will be kids and teens will be teens, but when you hear about 11-year-olds getting bracelets for fooling around on the back of a bus, you can’t help but wonder what’s gone wrong and how we can fix it. Because the thing is, we can.
Last week, one of my best friends and I celebrated personal victories by buying a bunch of feminist fashion magazines, drinking tea and stopping only to voice our concerns for the young girls currently being inundated with “be sexy now!!” messages. (This opinion was further solidified after we saw four tweens sitting in an oversize teacup in the children’s section of Chapters taking a Cosmopolitan sex quiz.) After all, when I was 12, I played with Barbies (loser) and sported my geeky Northern Getaway wardrobe with pride – yet from 15 – 18, I still managed to abandon my values in order to become a victim of society’s warped ideas about what being a girl’s supposed to be.
Before long, my friend and I delved into a conversation about why women (and men) continue to be failed by society (nearly every discussion ends with “the problem’s systemic – there needs to be discourse”), but after reading an incredible interview with Rashida Jones, I remembered something I stumbled upon in my Interweb travels not long ago.
Smart Girls at the Party is a web series created by Amy Poehler and Meredith Walker that celebrates “extraordinary individuals who are changing the world by being themselves”. (Cue: fist pumps of empowerment and enthusiastic nods of approval.) In it, the loveable Amy interviews young feminists, cooks, writers, gardeners and scientists, hangs out with Meredith and their music co-ordinator Amy Miles and ends the episode with an epic dance party that features the likes of Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm. Yes, it’s exactly as amazing as it sounds.
It also goes to show that feminism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – despite the fact there seems to be that misguided viewpoint that “the fight is over” (or that Cosmo culture is an acceptable way to dictate societal norms). By opening up a platform for young girls who are smart, well-spoken and happy pursuing the things they love, Amy and friends make it acceptable to be true to one’s self – a valuable lesson, because despite our parents’ and teachers’ best efforts, without feminism being “in”, many of us still fell victim to “I know how to make them like me – I’ll buy a push-up bra”.
But all is not lost for the teacup chair/sex quiz girls. After all, how many of us fell down the rabbit hole of misguided choices only to look back now and reclaim empowerment and self-respect? (Some of us may have even gone so far as to give heartfelt “SHUT UP”s and/or “Seriously? NO” reprimands to abrasive cat-callers. And these girls once welcomed the ass grabs or “hey, girl” harassment at underage nightclubs. Not that I’m admitting to anything.)
Peer pressure’s there, societal pressure’s there and the media – well, don’t get me started. You can wear short skirts, you can have boyfriends, you can look pretty – but you don’t have to do what goes against who you are or who you believe yourself to be. The key is to question – and not to stop. Those girls with the dozen or so bus bracelets are just as confused as everyone else, and without a voice of reason (cue: moms, dads, friends, family, Amy Poehler), they’ll go blindly into the world of Cosmo quizzes and Samantha Jones and have no idea why. Smart girls ask questions – and no matter how high your GPA is or how many A-levels you’ve received, unless you question your behaviour, your opinions or why you want the football captain to like you, there’s still a long way to go. And it’s the job of all of us – as men and women – to help figure it out and come up with some answers.