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Before I Knew the Word "Feminism"
By Kristen Rebelo
The writer, age 3
In fifth grade, I approached my mother in the study room of our house and asked her, furious, where in the United States Constitution it said that boys had more rights than girls. I was incensed by a recent confrontation between the separate tables in the elementary school cafeteria. I cannot remember the content of the argument now, but I clearly recall it ending with, “Well, you can't do that because you're girls." This occurred after my third grade phase of wearing wind pants and T-shirts as an effort to prove I could be just as good at soccer as the boys (I wasn't, I was terrible). And after a note about me being passed among the boys in second grade that I wanted to have S-E-X—yes, spelled out—with the boy I had a crush on. I don't think I really understood what S-E-X was at the time, but I spent all of recess trying to decipher the handwriting to figure out which of the boys was teasing me.
So when I approached my mother that day in fifth grade, I was angry without really knowing why. I had not yet been introduced to the word “feminism," and I would not use that word proudly for another ten years. My mother's confused response to my query was something along the lines of “There are no laws saying that boys have more rights than girls." She meant to say that everyone was equal and should be treated that way. But she wasn't exactly correct, as there are many laws, historical documents, and political actions supporting the idea that yes, boys have more rights than girls, and that there is a very complex history of gender relations. But as a fifth grader taught in public schools sticking to non-progressive agendas, how was I supposed to know better? I searched in our household dictionary and atlas for answers, but of course found nothing.
So I took to the Internet. I had exactly one hour of internet usage a day, as allotted by the parental control settings on my AOL account—either HamsterGirl365 or Retrogal09. (I forget exactly in which grade I decided that retro was in and hamsters were out.) So while IMing with my friend Rachel, who was just as angry about the confrontation as I was, I used my limited knowledge of Ask Jeeves (in a pre-Google era) to search terms such as “girls rule, boys drool," “are boys better than girls?”, and probably the most significant question upon reflection, “why do boys think they are better than girls?" I did not know yet to look up the word that would have given me all the answers I was looking for: feminism. In my sad attempts at research, I did stumble across Susan B. Anthony's role in the movement for women's suffrage. So it was decided that Rachel and I would give a report on Susan B. Anthony to our fifth grade class.
For about a week, we used our allotted Internet time to do research, giggled with excitement during school hours, and called each other any time we saw an example of girls being just as good as boys. I specifically remember my excitement over an episode of Sister, Sister, where the twins wanted to play hockey with the boys but were not permitted to try out for the team. Before this, I had seemed to think that no one else noticed sexism (another term I was not yet familiar with).
When our report was finished, carefully penciled in my Lisa Frank notebook, we began to get nervous about how it might be received. Would the classroom boys just mock us even more? The idea for our report was presented to our teacher, who I vaguely remember claiming support but saying we did not have time that day. I was discouraged, and grew even more nervous looking around the classroom at the boys who had teased us in the first place. In the end, the report was never given and my Lisa Frank notebook was stuffed under my mattress.
Quail Bell art director Kristen Rebelo does not consider herself a writer but enjoys reminiscing about her early attempts at subverting the patriarchy. Just like in fifth grade, she is nervous about speaking up but is trying to get over it.
#Feminism #SusanBAnthony #Reflection #EarlyFeminism #Childhood #LookingBack #LisaFrank