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Real Girls, Real Leaders
by Rachel Simmons and the Girls Leadership Institute

Lilly's Blog: Ten Commandments for a Teenage Feminist

So you’ve decided to become a feminist? Awesome! Welcome to the club! Inspired by Feminist Fatale’s Ten Commandments of pop culture feminism, I have created Ten Commandments for a teenage feminist. Though I may not always practice what I preach (who does?), I certainly try to keep these “commandments” in mind. They have helped shape my short career as a proud feminist. I hope readers find these tips as helpful as I have. Please feel free to add your own in the comment section below.

1. Thou Shalt Verbalize

It is not enough to simply believe that women deserve treatment equal to that experienced by their male counterparts. It is essential that young women share their beliefs with others. Chances are many of your peers share the same hope of an egalitarian society. If, at a young age, you have the smarts (pronounced smahts) to be prematurely aware of the sexism and injustice around you, you have a unique and amazing opportunity. You can verbalize your awareness and share your observations. It is a privilege, nay an obligation, to start conversations.

2. Thou Shalt Not Waffle

It is hard to be constant in your convictions. Especially when yours is not the popular party line. When I first came to understand the unfairness and hurtfulness of words like “b***h” and “slut” (words that have no male equvilant), I removed them from my vocabulary (and replaced them with classier versions such as “harlot”…..just kidding). I then began gently encouraging my friends to consider the impact of using such poisonous language.

But I was afraid to speak up when others used sexist language. Sometimes I even let myself slip and say something offensive when around less familiar people. I now understand being a feminist is a 24/7 practice. It is a disservice to myself and to others to be inconsistent in my expression of my feminist beliefs. I no longer second-guess myself about speaking up and I therefore no longer feel guilty for not speaking up. Additionally, people who know me no longer receive mixed signals about what I do and do not find appropriate.

3.    Thou Shalt Have A Sense of Humor
I cannot emphasize to you enough the importance of having a sense of humor. People will be much more receptive to what you have to say (see 1 and 2) if you can kill ‘em with kindness…and a bad case of the chuckles. Take a note from the hilarious Sarah Haskins and make your commentary both profound and palatable. Instead of lecturing someone for using “gay” to describe something unlikable, say something along the lines of, “Hmm I didn’t realize the broken pencil sharpener had a sexual orientation.” Okay, so it’s not pee-your-pants funny but it’s more amusing than ‘how dare you!?’ As a future leader and up and coming face of feminism, we must not only know our message but also know how to spread it.

4.    Thou Shalt Educate Yourself
It has never been easier to learn about all of the wonderful aspects of feminism. There are so many  resources available to young feminists online. Want thoughtful analyses of current news? Jessica Valenti and Co. are only a few clicks away. Fbomb is at your service when you find yourself wondering what’s up with other young feminists. Jezebel is the place to go for to see how pop culture and feminism intersect. There are so many facets to feminism and it is possible to really enjoy finding your niche through reading.

5.    Thou Shalt Not Vilify
Though it may feel most logical and most gratifying to unequivocally hate the people and things that contribute to our sexist society, this strategy is often ineffective. Instead of vilifying men and pointing fingers, we must include them in feminism. After all, inequality affects everyone negatively, even those who seemingly have the upper hand.

I believe it is far better to be frustrated than angry. Hating Abercrombie and Fitch for their deplorable shirts is paralyzing and unproductive. Being outrageously frustrated with their statements and organizing a “girlcott?” Now that’s young feminism in action. Not to get all deep on ya, but Martin Luther King Jr. really said it best: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

6.    Thou Shalt Be Brave
In seventh grade, I was at a progressive private school where boys regularly commented on the bodies of their female peers. Teachers viewed this as a “boy thing,” but it was demeaning, and I spoke out against the tolerance of this behavior. My efforts were met with derision and ridicule. Boys who resented having been called out on their conduct bullied me mercilessly. Not only did my teachers turn a blind eye to my mistreatment, they too seemed unwilling to discuss the inappropriate comments. But through persistent dialogue, the administration ultimately agreed to establish single-sex meetings in which girls and boys would be able to talk openly about the situation.

Speaking up wasn’t easy. The bullying got so bad I resorted to being super unoriginal and ate lunch in the bathroom. (Yup, just like in the movies.) But I do not regret what I did. It was my first moment of mini activism.

Standing up for yourself and for other young women will be difficult and unpopular. But it will open up for you a world of female empowerment that, once you enter, you won’t be able to imagine doing without.

7.    Thou Shalt Eat Chocolate Cake
Okay, so this one isn’t exactly related to feminism. I just think it’s important to eat food that makes you smile (show me cake and I’ll show you a smile so big you can see my molars). The fine print of this commandment reads as follows: Thou shalt also shamelessly watch trashy TV, be goofy with friends, stop studying after three hours, cannonball into the pool, buy a Snuggie, give yourself a day off from school and say no to impossible requests just because you can.

8.    Thou Shalt Be Creative
Whether you excel in sports, fashion, cooking, the arts, academics, or magic tricks (juggling anyone?) I guarantee there is a way to use your talents to be a proactive young feminist. Love to write? (My first screen name, embarrassingly, was writer303…my brothers will not let me forget how obnoxious that is for a ten year old) Start a blog! Athletically inclined? Check out groups like Girls on the Run. Good with kids? Friends of mine have volunteered to babysit the children of women living in domestic abuse shelters. I could go on and on but the point is, all those things you’re doing to make your college application crazy cool? You can use them to make your community crazy cool as well.

9.    Thou Shalt Not Waste Time
Why wait to start exploring feminism? We won’t be young forever (or so I’ve heard. I don’t know. It might just be a rumor). And as young women we have an invaluable voice and perspective the feminist world needs. Unlike drinking, driving, or wearing heels, you’re never too young to be a feminist.

10.    Thou Shalt Say it Loud, Say it Proud
I am a feminist. I am a feminist. I am a feminist. These four words may feel like social suicide in middle and high school. But I promise you they are not. The people worth being friends with will appreciate who you are: a constant force of outspoken, humorous, educated, compassionate, happy, creative and youthful… (drumroll please) feminism!

Lilly graduated from high school in June and is a weekly guest blogger for RachelSimmons.com. Read more about her here.

Rachel Simmons and GLI featured in The New York Times: Girls, Uninterrupted

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Previous "Real Girls, Real Leaders" Columns:

  • What Price Success? Girls, Stress and Being Your Own Worst Enemy By Rachel Simmons
  • Princess Tiana—Real Girl or Perfect Girl? By Lauren Herold, Girls Leadership Institute
  • How to Talk to Your Daughter About Cyberbullying Now By Rachel Simmons

    About Rachel Simmons and the Girls Leadership Institute
    Rachel Simmons is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls , and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls.

    Rachel Simmons founded the Girls Leadership Institute, a non-profit that runs camps and workshops to give girls and women the skills, courage, and confidence to live authentic, engaged and more fun lives. The Real Girls, Real Leaders bloggers include Rachel Simmons and the alumnae, teachers, and parents of the Girls Leadership Institute.

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