Every other Thursday, a group of about eight girls gathers in an otherwise empty classroom to scarf down lunch before starting to use the F-word.
But how much chit-chat can be made on the topic of one single word?
“They make judgements about who you are by just this one word alone,” Gabi Gonzalez (12) said.
She and Zoe Catz Johnson (12) serve as co-presidents of a TPHS club dedicated to the F-word. They facilitate those bimonthly meetings so that club members can have a place to voice their opinions around like-minded people.
No, this is not a forum for etymology enthusiasts.
It’s the TPHS Feminism Club.
The club discussions cover a variety of feminist issues, including social and political equality, as well as female empowerment. But a prominent area of discussion among the TPHS feminists concerns the negative implications commonly associated with feminism.
“Since continuing with [Feminism Club], I get made fun of a lot,” Catz Johnson said.
This could possibly be the result of the widespread idea that, as Rosie Mouannes (9) said, “[a feminist] is someone who thinks that women are better than men.”
Although there are groups of women who identify as feminists and consider women the superior gender, feminism is actually defined by Merriam-Webster as “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
Equality, not superiority. Encounters with people who do not know the real meaning of feminism happen on a regular basis to Gonzalez and Catz Johnson, but they have gained experience when it comes to educating their peers on the subject.
“I cite the literal definition of it,” Catz Johnson said. “You’d be surprised, many people think the definition is “hating men.” I try to have a normal conversation about what feminism does for women everywhere.”
The misunderstanding of the feminist movement is likely a key cause of many people’s reluctance to identify as feminist. After all, most women don’t feel they are superior to men but are afraid they might be categorized that way if they call themselves feminists. According to a national survey conducted by Vox, an American news and opinion website, only 18 percent of Americans identify as feminist, yet 52 percent believe in “equality for women,” demonstrating the deep disconnection between public opinion and public perception that hampers understanding of the goals of feminism.
Aside from viewing herself as superior to men, the feminist of the erroneous stereotype is “angry all the time and just a buzzkill in general,” Catz Johnson said. But where did this image come from?
“I think, like with any movement, you have extremists or people who push the boundaries. And they’re good for movements, but sometimes they frighten people … There’s always a fear when people are trying to push new ideas and open new doors,” English teacher and Feminism Club adviser, Lisa Callender, said.
The unappealing image of the stereotypical feminist is not the only thing making people resist identifying as feminists.
People are beginning to wonder if feminism is even relevant in today’s society.
“[Some feminist opponents] basically believe that women already have equality, and they just have to, individually, try harder; that there’s no institutionalized discrimination,” said San Diego State University professor and chair of the political science department, Ronnee Schreiber.
That interpretation of the facts might make sense to some, given that we just came through a presidential campaign season that featured the first female presidential candidate for a major political party. But their perception might change if they knew that, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, female, full-time workers made an average of 80 cents on each dollar a man made in 2015. And that’s just in the United States.
“It’s not even about us really because we have that privilege that comes with living here compared to other women in the world. So for me, feminism is about those women and helping to make sure that everyone everywhere has the same rights that I do or that a man does,” Gonzalez said.
In some countries, girls aren’t even allowed to go to school, but Mouannes is under the impression that “[feminism] is not that big of a deal.”
There are many people in school, perhaps especially teenagers, who have not been educated on the meaning and goals of feminism or have deemed them irrelevant.
“Oftentimes, when I poll my classes, and I talk about simple tasks that are being done at home, or mothers who stay home, or how many mothers are educated, there are a number of affluent moms who had to make those difficult choices [to stay home and raise their children], or the ones who are very successful in their careers are still handling so many of the tasks that we assign to women,” Callender said. “The girls and boys might not recognize it as much, but because society has said that this is the norm they don’t consider it abnormal.”
In other words, teens and children may not realize that having a mother with a successful career is relatively unusual or that it might be more common in wealthier areas. Because of this, a child may not have had any negative experiences as a result of having a working mom, therefore, may see gender equality as a goal that has already been achieved.
When it comes to ways of promoting feminism and educating the teenage population, Gonzalez and Catz Johnson have ideas that are suited to the interests of people their age.
“There needs to be more representation in the media, especially in kids’ shows,” Gonzalez said.
Despite the disparity between male and female representation in roles with power, both girls agree that the feminist role models that do exist in the media today, such as Rowan Blanchard and Beyoncé, have an impact on young girls and women.
Gonzalez also stressed the importance of gender equality education in schools.
“In history classes they talk about women’s struggles and Susan B. Anthony and then in 1920 how [women] got the vote, and that’s kind of the end of it,” Gonzales said.
By ignoring gender struggles as an ongoing subject of study, schools also may have contributed to planting the idea in students’ minds that feminist activism is not necessary
Although feminists are united by common goals, their generational differences are revealed in their discussions of their personal experiences with feminism.
“When I was a teenager, most teenage girls would not have called themselves feminists. Even if they [had] supported some of the goals of feminism, I just don’t think it was as common for people to do that, whereas I actually see more younger girls embracing the term in general, so I’m optimistic because of that,” Schreiber said.
Feminism Club meetings tend to attract fewer than 10 attendees, but the co-presidents are by now well aware of the reasons that teens might not want to tell their friends that they want to enjoy their lunch with the Feminist Club instead of joining them off-campus. Catz Johnson admits amid light-hearted laughter that “We hoped there would be more people in the club, but it’s an [F-word] club.”