Click! Hmmm, Aha! and Oh no!

I had my first feminist stirring, or “Hmmm” moment, in grade school when I noticed teachers always asked boys to help them carry boxes, move the mobile TV or assist with other physical chores. I accepted this at first because, I guess, I bought into the idea that I was just a weaker-than-the-boys girl. But I remember thinking, “Hey, I want to help, too!”

Then, in eighth grade, I had my first “Aha!” moment. One day, when we were studying World War II, a classmate insulted Eleanor Roosevelt by remarking that she was ugly. I replied, “No, she’s not! And, even if she were, why would it matter?” It was such an egregious example of a woman of substance and integrity being judged in such a shallow and incongruous way. A shrug was all I got for an answer, and for the rest of the class period I sat there wondering how this classmate could only see women superficially. Click!

Unfortunately, I recently encountered my first “Oh no!” moment. As we discussed women’s rights in my high school government class, my teacher asked if anyone believed women did not deserve the same rights as men. I laughed, because I could not imagine anyone agreeing to such a ridiculous statement. But, lo and behold, a girl in my row raised her hand. A girl! Not some boy thinking sexism is cool or joking around, but a girl, and a smart one, too!

I now realize I should have spoken to my grade-school teacher about both boys and girls being able to help her. And though I did speak up for Eleanor, I wish my words had more power to affect my classmate’s unconsciously perpetuated sexism. As for the idea that anyone could still think that women don’t deserve equal rights, it reminds me to keep speaking up, to resolve to find the right words to break through the thick, invisible-to-some barrier of sexism, and to learn how to gracefully pick my jaw up off the floor.

Photo by Flickr user twid, under license from Creative Commons 2.0.

This post is a part of a week-long blog carnival in honor of Feminist Coming Out Day.


  1. pica_scribit says:

    I wish I had been as smart, articulate and socially aware as you are when I was in high school. I'm 32, and although I've had a few "hang on a sec" moments over the course of my life, it's only in the past year or so that I've really started having serious "click" moments. Stay strong and keep speaking out.

  2. I'm curious about the "smart" girl behind you who raised her hand, and wondering if she offered any reasons. I'm also wondering if maybe she didn't confuse "rights" with "responsibilities" or "obligations"—not that I believe these should not also be equal, but I guess it's a shorter stretch to see someone being fooled into thinking that equality had some serious downsides. In any case, don;t kick yourself for what you didn't do in the past; be proud of what you are doing now. And sit with that girl at lunch, listen respectfully, and then show her where her logic falls short so that when she (and you) reach voting age we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

  3. I love this! I spearheaded a campaign in the sixth grade to allow the girls the dubious honor of leaving class to go dig a ditch at the baseball field with the janitor. I spent several years (high school through very young college) as a "conservative" (it's hard not to at some point when you grow up in rural Texas) but as an adult look back on this and several other hilarious stands I took as a young radical. 🙂

  4. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher called my mother in for a conference to complain that I insisted on helping the little boys put the chairs up on the desks at the end of the day. She was upset because this was clearly a job for the boys and not the girls, and I wouldn't stop doing it! It's nice to know I wasn't the only little girl who believed I could do anything the boys did.

  5. I get the stupid immaturity, but how is a high school student calling someone from a textbook "ugly" sexism? If the student was trying to purvey that Eleanor Roosevelt was "ugly" because she was a woman by calling out on it, then I can admit that was "unconsciously perpetuated sexism"; but I think in your case, this student was just being an immature high school boy, not a supremacist.

  6. michelekort says:

    The comment about Eleanor Roosevelt being "ugly" reeked of sexism. Did the young man in question call Franklin Roosevelt ugly? How about Teddy Roosevelt? Herbert Hoover? Calvin Coolidge? Probably not. Eleanor was not a stereotypically pretty woman, and this country is programmed to expect First Ladies (let alone other women in politics) to "look good." Instead, Eleanor was someone who "did good"–and that was outside of ordinary gender roles in itself. Somehow men–even young ones–are given the right to judge women's looks very publicly. If she's not someone they'd like to … you know what …. she's easily dismissed.

  7. @michelekort, I'm sorry, I think you're reading too much into it. This is just a high school student, not that it justifies the immaturity. Also, men and women are expected by society in the same way to be "hot" or "pretty". So, I'm pretty sure that if Abraham Lincoln is ugly to that student's eyes, then he'll say it in class the same manner he did about Roosevelt (because he is immature, not because he thinks of women lowly). Anna I love your articles though.

  8. I love this post! I am in high school too and girls’ fears of speaking up about sexism is definitely a huge issue. I recently published an article in my school’s newspaper about sexism in the school community, quoting many female students complaining about sexist behavior at school. My school’s administration was shocked and a little disturbed to find that there were so many complaints about sexism, because none had ever been brought to their attention. I was really happy to have been able to bring these issues to the school’s attention but was disappointed that so many girls, who were happy to speak to me about sexism, did not feel comfortable going to the administration with these issues. These problems can’t be solved unless we speak up!

    I am starting a zine called Grrrl Beat and am looking for contributors! More information here:


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