Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 04/30/2010

How Are Teenage Girls Supposed to Identify as Feminists With These Role Models?

not (necessarily) a teenage feminist

not (necessarily) a teenage feminist

She’s staring at me like I’ve just insinuated she embodies the anti-Christ. “A feminist? No, I’m not a feminist. Oh my God.” Despite the fact that this classmate of mine just spent ten minutes ranting about how a woman has the right to choose and thinks anybody who disagrees is archaic, she is equally appalled at the thought of labeling herself as a feminist. Am I frustrated? Yes. But as a teenage feminist, I’m used to it.

Teenage feminists are a mighty minority. You may find us in the malls, mingling amongst girls who carry bags plastered with the image of a naked torso and the word “Abercrombie.” We’re even at football games, willingly crushed between excited pubescent bodies. Maybe we’re the girls in the hoodies rolling our eyes as the cheerleaders jump around, but we are there. The fact is: we’re not always the hairy-legged girls with makeup-less faces scowling through the daily grind of the high school experience, clutching a battered copy of The Second Sex. Sometimes we are. But we’re not always that easy to spot.

Why? That image is a stereotype most feminists, let alone teenagers, don’t fit. We can be the girl at the game, the girl shaking her ass at homecoming, or even the “girl next door.” So, why can’t you recognize us? Most teenage feminists don’t even know that they are teenage feminists. How could you?

How are we supposed to identify as feminists when most of us don’t even know what a feminist looks like? Role models are important. They help us figure out who we are as we sit in a cafeteria full of people who are defined by a single word. Prep. Jock. My favorite: Slut. Role models help us figure out what we want to be rather than what everybody else has labeled us.

But who are our role models? Most teenage girls don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, or they believe that Hillary Clinton is a whiny bitch (like this winner), because that’s how the media portrays her. It’s sad but true. If these women are even on our radar at all, they’ve probably already been made unpopular by the media. And nobody wants to be unpopular at sixteen. We fear the hatred of others like our parents fear taxes.

ALMOST

ALMOST

But who is on our radar? Even in the best case scenario, celebrities who act feminist end up avoiding the word at all costs. Yes, I’m looking at you Lady Gaga. Or should I say Lady I-Recognize-The-Blatant-Sexism-In-The-Music-Industry-But-I-Love-Men-So-I’m-Not-A-Feminist-Gaga? Even more frustrating are the women who might be feminists, who make feminist statements in their music or interviews, but who have never confirmed this.

My solution is to be my own role model. Of course I draw from the masters: Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, Jessica Valenti, Courtney Martin. But it’s come to the point where the only reliable person I can depend on is myself, which is a feminist idea in and of itself. Of course this is easier said than done. The essential problem is that most girls need role models because they can’t come up with all the answers on their own. Plus, girls my age are trained so thoroughly to hate themselves that sadly, it’s probably harder for them to be their own role models than to find one in the vast, global populace.

It ends here. Our society’s obsession with fame is more than creepy or sad. It’s detrimental. We are looking up to people whose greatest accomplishments include grinding on stage in glorified lingerie and flashing the paparazzi. It may be their choice to do those things, but it’s my choice to reject them. I want to look up to somebody who is real and who has accomplished real things.

Real role models aren’t always famous. There are women who make a difference in thousands of people’s lives, but you’re never going to see their faces when you turn on the TV or open a magazine. Zainab Salbi started Women for Women International, an organization that helps refugees of war gain their lives back. While she’s been recognized, she’s definitely not a household name. We can’t always expect our role models to be right in front of our faces. But then again, sometimes they are. My own mother amazes me every single day. I have teachers and coaches in my life who do great things. Even my own peers, my friends, inspire me.

It’s up to us to be critical, to put in a little effort. And this is something my generation is completely capable of. So many of us see that our current role models are pathetic, but until society changes, until we start valuing women for what they do over the way they look, the right role models will never be in front of our faces.

My hope is that one day I will turn on the T.V. and see someone who is truly inspirational, dauntlessly representing feminist values. Until then, don’t lose faith in the next generation of teenage feminists. Look at the football games. Look at the dances. Even look at the mall, if you dare.

We’ll be there.

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  • Amy CT @ at 1:08 pm, April 30th, 2010

    Spot on! Absolutely spot on. I feel like saying “here here” in a very British, political kind of way, but I’m here to break the stereeotypes, so I won’t :)

    My feminist idol is Hadley Freeman. Look her up :) Or Kira Cochrane. Look her up, too, ha ha :)

  • Samuel W. @ at 2:36 pm, April 30th, 2010

    I often feel out of step with the rest of the world, the teenage world especially, being a teenage male feminist, old music lover and hater of modern mainstream music. When I start to have girlfriends, I’ll surely be acting differently with girls than the way an unfortunate amount of fellow teenage males seem to always act (by which I mean boorishly) towards the female gender. I’m much more adultlike than a lot of other kids and more mature, at least in my opinion, so inevitably I’m very different from the flock.

    But I love being different, because I cannot say enough how much I disdain the attitude of many of today’s adolescents, not to sound pretentious or self-important. I am willingly disconnected from modern pop culture that other kids are practically addicted to, and much of that stuff involves the kind of worn-out gender role stereotypes the fbomb always criticizes rightfully.

    It must feel so hard for teenage feminists in public schools to hear praise for their ideas and beliefs, being an unschooled student rather than one in the school system myself. I can only imagine how it feels to be alienated from the social activity that those teens thrive on in their relatively small amount of spare time during the school year.

    Don’t give up. Never let your guard down, teenage feminists everywhere. Don’t let anyone try to turn you into something you’re not to satisfy their own agenda. The last thing we need is more conformity, complacency and resulting redundancy among the young generation.

  • rockergrrrl @ at 4:44 pm, April 30th, 2010

    While there aren’t many feminist role models in the mainstream, there are many feminist/total badass musicians that I respect and look up to (ex. pj harvey, kathleen hanna, marissa paternoster (of screaming females), etc. etc.)

    They exist…you just have to find them!

  • Vannah @ at 6:24 pm, April 30th, 2010

    So true! And “girls my age are trained so thoroughly to hate themselves that sadly, it’s probably harder for them to be their own role models than to find one in the vast, global populace” — spot on.

    About Gaga: I love her and it was very disappointing when she initially said she wasn’t a feminist when she obviously is. However, in this interview she describes herself as “a little bit of a feminist”, so that’s good:
    http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/13/entertainment/la-ca-lady-gaga13-2009dec13/2

  • PatriarchySlayer @ at 2:01 am, May 1st, 2010

    I always like the line in “Whip It” that goes “Strap on some rollerskates and be your own hero”.

    It’s so true. We need to be our own heroes/role models, etc. I don’t really see a lot of people stepping up to take on the role. If you feel your community is lacking in something, go create it. At least you know it’ll get done.

  • Laura H @ at 8:27 am, May 1st, 2010

    I swear I’ve read this before…Have you posted it somewhere else or something?

  • KS @ at 12:50 pm, May 1st, 2010

    Right on. The closest are Ellen Page, Keira Knightley, Meryl Streep, Rachel Weiz, and Kate Winslet in the movie industry. We need more young people!!! Not only that, we need more male feminists too! Feminism is not just for women and we need more young people to stand up for it

    KS

  • FemineUsBlog @ at 3:46 pm, May 1st, 2010

    Hi there, long-time lurker coming out to commend you on the realization that you have to be your own role model. I couldn’t agree with you more. If we don’t see feminist role models in the media or in the world around us then it’s up to us to BECOME feminist role models. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, right? In high school (I’m now in college) I fell in with a group of fierce feminists who defied all the stereotypes that go along with that identity and to this day they are some of the greatest feminist role models in my life. And you know what? I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the women in your life (and on the internet) probably look up to you as a feminist role model already.

  • Erica @ at 6:55 pm, May 1st, 2010

    I am equally frustrated by the lack of young feminists. I think it’s pathetic that so many young men and women will not identify as “feminist” despite holding many feminist beliefs. Of course, I understand that There is social stigma against feminism. However, aren’t we young people all about fighting the status quo?

  • Person @ at 8:58 pm, May 1st, 2010

    This is amazing. You should watch the documentary “I was a Teenage Feminist,” speaks to many of the same themes as your post does.

  • fcd @ at 11:30 pm, May 1st, 2010

    Funny, I was just looking through my old blog entries and I saw a lot of stuff I’d written that was clearly feminist, but I’d started the entry with the disclaimer, “Not like I’m a feminist, but . . . .” I was maybe 18, 19 then. You know what? I’m 24 now and I own the title “feminist.” Hopefully some girls will eventually feel comfortable calling themselves feminists, just as they get older. You’re right, though, many older famous women still don’t say they’re feminists, so I wouldn’t count on it.

  • kristina @ at 12:21 am, May 2nd, 2010

    This is my first time visiting this blog and I’m so glad I found you. As a twenty something feminist I am so proud and glad to see a teenage fem. I agree that role models are needed and am forever frustrated by the i’m-not-a-feminist-BUT-im-making-a-feminist-statement. The 3rd wave is alive… even if we aren’t easy to find.

  • Marinda @ at 1:18 am, May 2nd, 2010

    Hi, this is my first time commentating, and I think this is a great article that can give teenage feminists like me a lot of confidence. I notice you mentioned Gloria Steinem – I know a bit about her contributions to feminism, but her wiki article mentions that she’s anti-transexual, but also includes a quote of her denying that. Can anyone confirm whether she is or not? Cuz it would suck if she was :(

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 8:31 am, May 3rd, 2010

    @Marinda I think you might be confusing Gloria Steinem with Germane Greer, but all feminists of that generation are very leary of transexual/gendered people, as we should be.

    It’s long been said that the only way women could lose control of the women’s movement is if we let the men get involved, as they will make it all about them.

    Which is what many in the trans community have done, they try to make trans-issues women’s issue. the thing is, they are not women.

    It’s a hard point to get across, some trangendered/sexual people are easy to spot, others are not.

    Being a women is like being a person of colour, in many cases it’s the first thing people notice about you – You are a girl (or a boy), and then proceed to view you though that lens,beginning when you are born.

  • Talia @ at 6:58 pm, May 3rd, 2010

    This is totally true – the girls in my class cringe when I say the “fbomb” (as in feminist) and dislike admitting to themselves that many of their ideologies would indeed be classified as feminist, but they’re so afraid to be labeled. (Many of them are sadly anti-feminist, though…)

  • Caitlin Kelly @ at 7:11 pm, May 3rd, 2010

    This is sad, but I think the idea you’ll find truly radical/cool women lionized by the mass media is unworkable. How about women like Vandana Shiva or Wangari Maathai or Dorothy Height, to name three that immediately come to mind?

    If the women you want to look up to as role models have to be younger (30s? 40s? 20s?) there’s Naomi Wolf.

    Young women are perhaps too busy trying to fit in to want to stand out — and be demonized for so doing. I try to feature as many cool, interesting women as possible on my blog, so maybe you’ll find someone there.

  • Hannah @ at 11:55 pm, May 3rd, 2010

    I live in the small town of Carmichael CA, and I am surrounded by a mass of right wing, conservative, assholes who are constantly telling me that I am damned to hell. They say, “There is no such thing as the glass ceiling,” and “its a woman’s own fault if she gets abused.” when i mention that gender-based violence is still a big issue in our society, they scoff. and these are just the boys. the girls, on the other hand, all proudly proclaim themselves to be feminists, but when you ask them, they really have no idea what it means. This narrow mindedness in our society is becomming a major problem. If one ventures outside the boundries of the status quo, or defy the stereotype of his/her gender, they are shunned by the rest of their community. This has to stop.

  • Cindy Gallop @ at 1:58 pm, May 4th, 2010

    I’m a rampant feminist (I deliberately use that adjective to underline how very much I identify as a feminist)who is honored and flattered to have many young women of my acquaintance cite me as a role model:

    http://blog.ted.com/2009/12/cindy_gallop_ma.php

    http://blog.ted.com/2009/12/qa_with_cindy_g.php

  • GMM @ at 3:21 pm, May 4th, 2010

    I agree with rockergrrrl, mainstream culture is not where you’re going to find a lot of feminist role models. You have to look to counter-culture movements to find feminists because the dominant, mainstream culture is pure patriarchal/male supremacist.

    I think teenagers have a fear of being ostracized in general, and being labeled a feminist can be a double whammy. When I was a teenager I was into the punk scene and it was much less sexist, guys and girls hung out together and there was a solidarity between us. Not sure that exists anymore in the newer indie/’punk’ scene.

  • Danielle @ at 8:20 pm, May 4th, 2010

    So is Alex Catgirl’s comment going to go unchecked? How about the many trans* people who don’t identify as feminist because of nasty comments like that?

    Trans women = women.

  • LSharp @ at 8:37 pm, May 5th, 2010

    I really don’t like how the media likes to go “Feminists! How droll/outdated/crazy.” And society lets them.

    Its very sad, actually.
    I suppose it doesn’t help much trying to promote feminism at school when I don’t really know anyone, on account of enjoying reading more than socializing. Mostly because I don’t really see anything of myself in anyone else.
    I blame my interests. Being a freshman with junior-level PSAT scores who enjoys reading, drawing, physics, writing, feminism, and comics along with a slew of other stuff doesn’t make for much meaningful conversation.
    Doesn’t really help that people look at me and say “Look, there’s a Junior” or “She’s a College student”.

    Anyway. I like this blog. Did you know you were listed as one of the “40 Bloggers who really count” by TimesOnline?

  • Amy Green @ at 5:42 pm, May 6th, 2010

    “The stereotype about young women is that they’re ungrateful and inactive – this is utter bullshit…More young women identify as feminists than older women, yet we’re led to believe that the opposite is the case,” – Gloria Steinem

    Ironic isn’t it?

  • Hel @ at 8:57 am, May 7th, 2010

    Marinda, there is a part in an essay in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions where Steinem compares trans women to white people thinking they’re black. To be fair, that was published a while ago, though to my knowledge she hasn’t publicly recanted that. I readily admit I’m not a huge fan of hers, so I may not be the best source of info here. People who follow her more closely, feel free to correct me.

    Alex Catgirl, I’m not going to touch most of what you said (you maybe should read some trans feminists before you start talking smack about them being “men trying to take over the women’s movement), but I did find this unintentionally hilarious: “Being a women is like being a person of colour.” Right, because no one is ever both!

  • Trixie Films @ at 7:37 pm, May 9th, 2010

    Thanks for mentioning our film “I Was A Teenage Feminist!” You can get more info and watch trailers here:
    http://www.trixiefilms.com/teenfem

    Awesome blog!

  • The Wholestyle Network » Blog Archive » Where are the Role Models for Feminist Teens? @ at 12:45 pm, May 10th, 2010

    [...] to be their own role models.  This isn’t a completely terrible thing, as is pointed out at f-bomb, but it can be hard going. But who is on our radar? Even in the best case scenario, celebrities who [...]

  • Cattle Kate @ at 1:26 pm, May 10th, 2010

    From a formerly-young feminist… Look for women at the center of conflict and disagreement with systems of patriarchy. If you find climbing mountains and making bold decisions feminist, shoot me an email! I would love to support young feminists–whether they call themselves the ‘f word’ or not.

  • Hannah @ at 8:09 am, May 15th, 2010

    I’m 14 and I’m an eco feminist. I love the environment and being a women. I’ve always realised the world’s unfair treatment towards women. I’m not a regular teenager, I not afraid to speak my mind or lamp one on someone who trys it with me. Oh, did I mention I’m a goth as well and has the highest IQ in my class ^^; slightly embarrassing when it’s in black and white on a screen (my class did an IQ test).
    I too loath sterotypes because if I tell people I am Goth then they think I slit my wrists (I don’t, I far to practical) or people tell me I must have a bad temper because I have red hair, or I tell people I’m a feminist, they think I hate men and women should rule (they already do WOMEN RULE :D ) I don’t hate men, they have their uses and I’ve had two boyfriends so far. and I don’t like labels either. I’m me and I’m proud

  • stellaluna @ at 1:06 am, August 13th, 2010

    “Our society’s obsession with fame is more than creepy or sad. It’s detrimental. We are looking up to people whose greatest accomplishments include grinding on stage in glorified lingerie and flashing the paparazzi.” SO TRUE.

    And I actually agree with this article. I consider myself to be a teenage feminist, but people may not know it. Yes, I read fashion mags- but for the art of the garments, not the models. Yes, I wear makeup- but not for boys- but because I like how I look with some mascara and glitter on. It’s important that more awareness is spread about feminism, like you said! It needs to be known that all feminists are the anti-shaving type, and that no matter who you are, it’s cool AND important to have an opinion on women’s rights.

  • Robyn Sheppard @ at 3:31 pm, October 14th, 2010

    Oh, wow! So transwomen aren’t women? That’s SO good to know! For a minute there, I was beginning to worry that we didn’t have anyone to discriminate against. Thanks for clearing that up for me, girl.

    Oh, wait a minute: *I’m* transgendered! So glad to know neither liberals NOR conservatives accept me. So I guess I can’t be queer, then?

    (P.S. Does this mean I can get a refund for all my medical expenses? Or does it just mean that you have no effing idea what you’re talking about, Alex Catgirl?)

    Kisses!
    Robyn
    (A reluctant transgendered feminist activist)

  • Be your own role model. « "stasis; meet flurry." @ at 11:08 am, November 7th, 2010

    [...] Source: http://thefbomb.org/2010/04/how-are-teenage-girls-supposed-to-identify-as-feminists-with-these-role-... [...]

  • David @ at 9:02 am, January 3rd, 2011

    Cindy Gallop is a good roll model if you embrace porn but don’t want others to do the same.

  • çanta modelleri @ at 6:55 am, February 9th, 2011

    çok ba?ar?l? bir yaz? olmu? modelleride çok be?endim :) ))

  • Hope @ at 12:07 pm, July 13th, 2011

    Maybe people just don’t like to label themselves? The majority of my classmates are for equality amongst men and women, but none of them call themselves feminist. Wouldn’t wanting equality be a popular, everyone can agree on sort of topic. Like murder= BAD, bullying=BAD; and gender prejudice= BAD too. I’m against racism and homophobia, but I don’t label myself anti-racism, anti-homophobic, anti-whatever or pro-whatever. I just believe and do. If you labeled yourself for every little thing you believe in—honestly it would get super exhausting. I’m not saying it’s bad to label one’s self feminist—I just don’t necessarily think it’s bad for people to not label themselves as such.

  • An Ode To Sheryl Sandberg’s Awesomeness | fbomb @ at 11:02 am, August 9th, 2011

    [...] always bitching about how few really positive female role models are out there for young girls. Considering the celebrities we have worshiped / continue to worship [...]

  • Isobel Connell @ at 8:58 am, December 5th, 2011

    ‘The fact is: we’re not always the hairy-legged girls with makeup-less faces scowling through the daily grind of the high school experience, clutching a battered copy of The Second Sex. Sometimes we are.’

    Well, I am, kinda- I fit this description except for the scowling. But anyway. Sick of seeing feminism, feminist and lesbian being used as dirty words! So thank you!

  • Julie H. @ at 11:27 am, March 15th, 2012

    I’m 32 and so many women my age do not associate with the F-word. They wear pants and work outside the home, so I know they enjoy feminist ideals.

    You’re a genius for saying “be your own role model.” You give me so much hope for the future.

  • They’re Everywhere! « thefeministblogproject @ at 6:15 pm, April 6th, 2012

    [...] http://thefbomb.org/2010/04/how-are-teenage-girls-supposed-to-identify-as-feminists-with-these-role-... [...]

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