Image: The cover of Britney Spears' first album, ...Baby One More Time.
I’ve gained quite the reputation as a hand-wringer and a self-flaggellator about privilege, and that’s fine with me. I expect it’s well deserved. I don’t face a whole hell of a lot of oppression, comparatively speaking - society validates me pretty well, considering how much it invalidates others. Feminism's major flaw is that it privileges me for the reasons the rest of society privileges me: my race, my trans status, my evident able privilege, my size. So I try to mention these things frequently, though probably not often enough. As long as I’m writing about oppression, I figure I should make obnoxiously clear that I’m not really an expert on many of its most nefarious manifestations.
But in spite and because of these flaws, I’m still very emotionally tied to feminism; feminism alone got me through years when I did feel the weight of having a non-standard body. When I was a teenager, I hated myself. I was smart, but no one would listen because I was a teenage girl with non-evident disabilities. I hated my body, and so did everyone else, because I was big and because I actively rejected beauty standards. I felt judged, harassed, and hated - by my peers, by my teachers, by society at large. It was not some conspiracy theory: I was not well-liked by most.
But feminism loved me, feminism understood me. Feminism told me that I was still okay, that I was still worth loving, that I was still worth being. Perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had the many privileges I do, but I am still thankful for the deeply flawed movement at that stage. Feminism was there for me, even when I was in conflict with my main conduit to feminism - my mom. I didn’t like my name, I didn’t like my body, I didn’t like my face, but I liked my feminism. I didn’t know what I was ten years ago, but I knew I was a feminist.
Feminism couldn’t keep me from hating myself, but it was a safe space, my only safe space.
But since I shed my awkwardness and turned into the physically lovely and confident person I am today, I have not shown the same kindness to girls in that tenuous position. I have had little regard for teenagers. Teenagers are silly and loud and don’t know shit about shit. Teenagers project their insecurity on other people. Teenagers are stupid and inexperienced.
I found myself adding to the conventional wisdom about teenagers - teenage girls in particular. That they are silly and shallow and not worth listening to. That they try too hard, particularly for male attention. That they have nothing of worth to contribute.
I wrote women and girls, female people, off because of their age. I didn’t pay attention to them when they spoke on important topics. I mocked their interests and fads (Twilight) not just because of their problematic content, but because teenage girls liked them. I laughed at jokes in South Park that compared the object of mockery to teenage girls to prove their lack of worth. And I’m not the only one: even in feminist spaces, younger people are often decided to be a lesser concern.
This is internalized sexism.
Hatred and fear of women in my once and future positions is a function of (what else?) the kyriarchy. I heard so much bullshit about women and teenaged girls as a teenaged girl that I started to believe it, and hate myself, and think I deserved this abuse. And then when I grew up and got stronger and stopped hating myself, I still believed that I’d deserved what I’d felt because I was a teenaged girl, and believed that teenaged girls deserved ridicule.
The kyriarchy insists I hear, see, believe a lot of bullshit about my body. But it’s not just about my body now: it’s about the body I had, the body I will have.* I feared being a teenager before I was a teenager, and that made the wonderful and awful changes of my body - my weight, my hips, my breasts - distant and shameful. Looking back on that body, I see not the beauty of my struggle and the pride I should have in myself for surviving, but the pain that I felt and the feeling that I deserved it. And it makes me think that I was awful, and that being a teenager is awful, and that teenage girls are awful. I envy teenage girls who like themselves and think themselves worth the same consideration I get, and I pity or sneer at the teenagers who are struggling at I was, and I fear them all.
My distaste (which I’m working through) is indicative not of the innate qualities of teenage girls. Teens are not necessarily obnoxious, oversexed, or any other particular quality. Actual teenagers are just as likely to be insightful and witty as the next person - and that’s what they are, people. Not mutant people, or incomplete people. Just people, at a vulnerable stage of their life. People who are worthy of the same respect and consideration given to older folks, as teen blogger Chally wrote at Zero at the Bone:
If it’s a surprise to you that I’m a teenager, maybe this would be a good opportunity to examine what assumptions about the blogosphere, who writes and on what topics and so on went into that. If I lose some authority or respect in your eyes because of my age, that is your problem.I took the bullets of the kyriarchy made specially for teenaged women and somehow survived it. That is something to be proud of, and something to work against. Teenage girls are not a fearful or less-important category of woman: they are full and wonderful and worthy of respect and attention and protection. When looking at teenage girls henceforth, I will strive to take them seriously as individuals, and not some reflection on my past and future self-worth.
*In the same way, I hate and fear my future body. The age privilege I hold that I will lose as I become more lined and less youthful. The creaks of age, the fragility that might come. I am taught to fear my transition, to avoid becoming my mother - my beautiful, brilliant mother.