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What is feminism anyways? One of the girls in my prevention class asked me this the other day. She has this long brown hair that reaches down her back and sometimes she wears red lipstick and Metallica shirts.

Feminism is the idea that women have the same rights as men. It was the only thing that I could think to tell her, the easiest way I could describe this idea, even though I knew that it left questions unanswered and that it didn’t fully answer her question to begin with. Do you think that women today are treated the same as men are? I asked the question to all of them.

Yeah, I mean, women can do the same things that men can. I mean, we gained the right to vote a long time ago, right? They told me that, and various other things about women’s suffrage and how we can go to work, just like men, and then the conversation switched to boys and boyfriends and I had the fleeting idea that maybe, possibly, they were right. That in their world women and men were treated the same. Maybe they were too young to understand the various inequalities, and maybe they were young enough to change those things and to live in a world where feminism doesn’t exist, where it doesn’t need to.

Then we talked about one boy, one boy that they talk about a lot, who has lots of girlfriends. Girlfriends that he cheats on and more waiting in the wing. They told me that if he attended my class he would tell me I have nice legs.

Why do you think these girls stay with this boy that treats them badly?

And they told me because they really like him, and then, with more prompting, because they may have low self esteem.

What if the roles were reversed? What if the girl were the one with lots of boyfriends? What would people think of that?

Well, then she’s a hoe.

And my heart broke a little then. At twelve and thirteen these girls, most of whom have never had a boyfriend and have never been through heartbreak and have not yet even had a first kiss, told me without even knowing that women in their world are not equal to men. Girls are not equal to boys. Some part of me had held on to the idea that my little princess bird could understand that she is a girl woman child, that she will be different than her brother and that she will grow differently and that she will understand differently, but that the rights that they share will be the same. I had hoped that maybe her world wouldn’t need feminism.

I knew that even after I explained the unfairness in that situation, and how harmful the word “hoe” is in the first place that it was one of those conversations that will take years to catch in their minds, if at all.

When I left class that night I stopped at the gas station to fill up so that I didn’t end up stranded on the side of the road. When I walked in to pay I blushed. I wore my work clothes, a conservative skirt with tights and a button up blouse and as I handed my money to the cashier he mentioned that I was “Dressed real nice”, as I turned to walk out a man nodded at me, another winked. I’ll be honest when I say I was embarrassed. Ashamed that I had worn heals to work, that maybe my skirt was too short. I’ll be honest when I say a very real part of me was terrified. It was 7 o’clock at night and my car is small and old and not very fast, it was dark out and cold and had any one of those men wanted to attack me, wanted to act out any scene that began to play out in their heads when I walked into the gas station, they very easily could have. I was defenseless. Because I am a woman and I am small I am almost always defenseless.

Girls from my counseling class, girls and women everywhere, and my tiny Wren baby, and even more my beautiful little boy-this is why we still need feminism.

Feminism is the idea that no matter how small bodied we are, no matter the outfit we choose to adorn our bodies with, no matter the way we walk or drive or speak, we have the right to be viewed as something other than an object. Feminism is the idea that I should feel safe when walking into a gas station. It’s the idea that men do not claim us or own us simply by looking at us or ever at all. It’s the idea that rape is rape and there is no in-between-and those that say otherwise are ignorant, because no matter how drunk a person is, and no matter how much make-up that person wears or doesn’t wear it is never okay to take from them the right to be a person and not a thing that has been put to use.

This is the frustrating thing about my job. I feel like most of the time when I’m confronted with these issues from these young people I can’t think of the right thing to say fast enough and before I know it the conversation has turned to boys or clothes or how “rancid” so and so is. How do you empower people this age? How do you change what their parents have told them and what they have seen on t.v. and heard on the internet? How do I, being a woman and small and maybe too young and inexperienced tell them that I’m learning with them (of course without telling them I’m learning with them), change things?

 

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My dreams

At this moment my life is kind of sort of playing out like some of my dreams come true. I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t want to be a mother. As a child I wrapped my arms around my dolls at night, one cradled around the waist, one around the neck. I honestly believed that they existed past the plastic and fiber fill that they were made of and I apologized when I felt they were neglected. My little flesh and bone babies now occupy the spaces between my arms and against my chest at night. When I wrap around and cuddle them to me some part of me is that little girl again, and I hold them and smell them and whisper to them. Sometimes I feel like I can smell the Cabbage Patch kid baby powder that filled so many nights of my childhood.

It’s not just the babies, though they would be more than enough, but I have a job that I love. I get to work with Middle School youth. I get to encourage them to speak without fear, to talk about what they look like and what they feel like and their fears and their accomplishments without being afraid of being judged or laughed at. I get to pretend that I’m guiding them, when in reality I’m just listening. The girls that come to me all have names that remind me of flowers; as if their mothers could feel them growing and blossoming inside of them and they couldn’t help but form words like petals that would belong to them for the rest of their lives. The boys are skinny wonderful half-men who take pride in the cracking of their voices and the way that their skin will blister with acne, “Like a man.” They tell me that they don’t speak Spanish, but as they describe their family in far off Spanish lands their voices take on a poetic tone and every word comes out uncracked and beautiful. Every time I’m around them I smile. I can’t help but think of my beautiful little people. My tiny little rose bud who will grow and flower and my silly little man child whose voice will crack and splinter and become entirely new one day. I love their baby years and mourn every day the loss of them, but I do get excited for watching them grow and seeing the wonderful people they will turn into.

Other than the babies and the work my life has taken on this chaotic and wonderful rhythm. Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in a ball of string that keeps on bouncing down a flight of stairs, wound up pieces of me being left behind. We are almost always on the move, my little family and me, and if we’re not I’m finding time between feeding the baby and snuggling the toddler to write up lesson plans and do artwork. It’s a good feeling, like my body and mind have finally settled into the kind of pace that they have needed all these years.

That’s not to say that it’s easy. Even dreams can be difficult. Our days are hectic and most of them have at least a few tears (and usually not only from the babies). And the job, even if it is a dream and I get to work hours that work for me and do things I love and have a boss that encourages and understands me, does not pay much (as is the case with most dreams). I also miss writing. I also miss reading. I also miss bathing regularly. But, I know that all of these things will appear again in due time, and in the mean time I’m living my dream.

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