A Letter From an Editor
Welcome! My name is Alice O’Neill, and I am the new co-president of FemCo. I remember seeing the FemCo sign at the clubs fair in the fall of my Freshman year, and immediately thinking that I should join. I went to my first meeting in which we started by explaining why we identified ourselves as feminists. I remember an instant feeling of belonging, and I knew that I had found my place in the BB&N community. I was blown away by the unapologetic passion with which members of the club spoke on issues regarding women’s rights and equality (the donuts were also a plus). I am absolutely ecstatic to be one of the new club leaders, and I already have so many ideas that I would love to pursue. My main goal for FemCo is to bring in more diversity, both in the kind of people who attend the club and in ideas and viewpoints in general. I want to challenge the club and the larger BB&N community to step outside of their comfort zones and consider difficult topics from multiple perspectives. I also want to encourage the club to take a more active role in the push for equality through volunteer work and political engagement. More than anything, I want to maintain the same warm, welcoming environment that drew me to FemCo in the first place.
Throughout my years here at BB&N, I have matured, made new friends, tried new things, and challenge myself. While I have been growing and changing, however, FemCo has remained a constant in my high school experience. Every week I look forward to setting up in the drama room and spending my time in the club that has become integral in forming my identity, and I can’t wait to lead the club alongside Nilu for the next year.
The Dress Code
Several weeks ago, I sent an email to all BB&N students laying out the general issues some have taken with the dress code and a survey asking for personal stories relating to the dress code. The responses I got (quoted below) make it abundantly clear that there is an undeniable lack of respect and concern for women in this community. Obviously that's true of the world, but we seem to act like it doesn't exist at BB&N. The dress code itself is perhaps the most minor aspect of this issue, but the events following that email revealed several forms of negligence. While there are some, in my opinion, ridiculous things for which women are dressed coded, the greater problem is the way they’re called out for it. There is no good reason for publicly shaming anyone for breaking any rule, much less one that relates to women and their bodies. Students are feeling “awful” and “humiliated,” leaving class “on the verge of tears” in front of their peers in a small, talkative community. Being a man, I won't go into too much detail as I have never experienced this problem, but it’s also absurd that girls of different body types are treated disproportionately. They see others wearing certain outfits and, reasonably believing them to be allowed, are later coded for the same clothes. The dress code is unevenly and inappropriately enforced. People on the opposite side have posed the question: if students come and break the rules, why should I be nice about addressing it? My view is that it's not an issue of kindness. Being treated with decency shouldn’t a privilege to be earned. How can any style of dress be more inappropriate than public humiliation and, in some cases “slick” (degrading) remarks? To my surprise, the email provoked quite the reaction from men as well. The men in this community, rather than deal with a problem that impacts women, are more interested in turning the conversation to silly and insignificant topics. And still there are people who try to claim male privilege doesn't exist, but I almost never see such a gross sense of entitlement in any woman. We have to be better. It's important to note that kids, consciously or not, follow the example of adults. Everyone needs to think more carefully about the impression they leave on the people of this school and what behaviors we allow and encourage.
“The major issue I’ve faced is with wearing tank tops and 'low cut' shirts. Other girls wear the exact same thing and don’t get crap for it because they don’t have as large of a chest. Like sorry, I can’t help the way my body grew. But if other girls can wear it then why can’t I?”
“I was wearing a dress with two small cutouts on the side and spaghetti straps. I wore it with a nude bra. The day was very hot; it was this time last year when the temperature reached above the nineties. I had taken off my jacket and left it in my locker believing my nice dress was put together and appropriate for school. In math class, I was told that I was 'half-naked' and that my bra was clearly visible and that I was breaking the dress code. I was told to go and get my jacket and that I was not allowed to take it off for the rest of the day. On the verge of tears, I left class and had to walk all the way across school to get my jacket from my locker. I was sweating and embarrassed but nonetheless, I returned to class, having missed nearly five minutes of notes as a result.”
“At Bivouac, a lot of girls were dress coded for wearing tank tops and we also couldn't walk back to our camps while wearing our bathing suits. The boys could do both of those things.”
“My english teacher forced students in my class to wear a sweater if their back was showing while wearing a tank top. The experience was not only incredibly humiliating for that person, but also uncalled for.”
“I remember wearing an outfit which consisted of a shirt that exposed about an inch of my stomach when my arms were raised and being dress coded for it. Now, I am a female with a bigger butt and boobs. I have seen many girls with different body types at BB&N wear short shorts and skirts [and] they are not dress coded. That is completely unfair. Also, as faculty they should not address students in a shaming manner by making slick comments when trying to address the dress code or by doing it publicly. And we should not only be calling out people with a certain body shape.”
“My teacher called me out personally in front of my whole bio class for wearing a crop top and made me promise never to wear another one again. It felt awful.”
Your Gender, In The Eye of the Beholder
It’s 2018, and if you’re living in a blue state such as Massachusetts, you’ve probably encountered the terms assigned sex, gender identity, gender presentation, and sexual identity. In case you haven’t, I’ll break it down for you right now. Your assigned sex, or sometimes biological sex, is what an intern writes on your birth certificate, peering desperately through the crowd of nurses, doctors, and relatives to catch a glimpse of your privates before you’re whisked away to be weighed and measured and your poor mother takes a nap — just a simple M or F. It’s often confused with gender identity, but when your assigned sex is a shallow categorization based on physical appearance, your gender is determined by you and you alone. It’s entirely self-perceptive, and doesn’t have to match your assigned sex, nor fall inside the checkboxes of M or F. And while the way you define yourself might be affected by how you relate to other people, gender is also different from sexuality or sexual identity. That’s how you specify who you’re sexually and/or romantically attracted to — words like gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual. Now we’re left with gender presentation.
Take Francis. Francis has a vagina, high estrogen levels, and is AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth.) Francis knows that despite all this, he’s male, but he hasn’t yet come out to his friends and family. Until then, he might wear a skirt, keep his haircut feminine, and generally present himself to imply femaleness. He makes the choice to present his gender in a way that contradicts his true identity. But even if he’s the only one in the world who knows it, Francis is a man.
If you can’t quite wrap your head around it, imagine this. All your life, people have taken one look at you and decided your favorite color is orange. Your teachers, your doctor, a CVS cashier, a flight attendant, the clerk at the RMV — we just knew when we saw you, they say, you’re an orange kinda gal. But that’s not true. You would know, right? From an entirely objective standpoint, your favorite color is purple, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says because it’s not their color, it’s yours. Oh, you want purple to be your favorite color? they say when you protest. Yeah, we can help you change that. The process will take a couple years, a lot of paperwork, and a minimum of three thousand dollars, but surely it’ll be worth it for your favorite color to finally be purple. The offer is really appealing. To walk down the street and not have to correct strangers on your favorite color, to never feel the ache of dismay when they assume you like orange more than purple — man, that’s the dream. So you go for it, and after jumping through all those hoops, you find yourself happier than you were before. You like purple about as much as you used to, but now your outwards expression matches your inner perception.
So identity is introspective, and presentation is performative. Identity is saying to yourself, I’m this kind of person; presentation is telling everyone around you, this is who I am. Identity is relating to certain groups of people; presentation is showing those people how they relate to you.
Disclaimer: This was written using research, my experiences with identity and those of my friends, and I've used utmost care to be respectful and factual. However, I am cisgender and so my interpretation of any trans person's experience is not guaranteed to be accurate because of the innate ignorance my privilege allows me.
Women in Iran
In the country shaped like a cat,
A folded shawl rests on my hair.
My arms must remain covered.
My legs should never be shown.
Fabric must protect society’s eyes from my shoulders.
If not, I am pulled away by the “hijab police”
the way so many women are everyday.
If not, I am called scandalous.
I am welcomed into a home full of smiles and laughter.
I am told to be loving and happy.
But not allowed to laugh out loud because it is “unladylike.”
I am told I’m beautiful,
But not beautiful enough.
Apparently I need a nose job.
They say I can be anything I want to be.
But I can’t be a judge,
Because that’s a man’s job.
I can’t be president.
That’s a man’s job as well.
They ask for someone to move a table into another room.
But not me.
What they meant was for a man to move the table into the other room.
Someone who is strong.
Someone who doesn’t have delicate, precious hands.
A young woman is too fragile for something like this.
Women shouldn’t be strong.
Women shouldn’t laugh out loud.
Women should cover up and be polite.
“Oh wow! Do you know how lucky you are to go to BB&N? Their financial aid program is just great, right?,” exclaimed a middle-aged white woman.
She had seen my BB&N sweatshirt under my Star Market uniform while I was ringing her up and assumed that I, a sixteen year-old black woman, was on financial aid. Now at first, I didn’t really think much of her comment. I just awkwardly smiled, and attempted to ask her whether she preferred a paper or plastic bag.
“You’re really lucky they chose you... And you live in Roxbury? I know a lot of kids there must not have the same opportunities that you do,” she interrupted.
Needless to say, this was one of the most uncomfortable encounters that I have ever had. Did she know any “kids” in Roxbury? Had she ever even been there? Probably not. I am sure that somehow this lady meant well by assuming that I and other students in Roxbury are poor and therefore must to slave away at jobs like mine, but she was wrong.
First of all, to her surprise, I do not have to work at Star Market; it was and still is my choice (although my mom would prefer that I focus primarily on school). Secondly, I do not consider myself to be any luckier than any other student at BB&N, as we are all lucky to attend a school with such great opportunities. Whether I am on financial aid or not was none of her business, but for some reason she believed that she had a right to question my family’s financial status because I just happened to be a cashier at Star Market. As a person of color, I have to wonder if this would have happened if I had fairer skin and said that I lived in Needham or Newton. Even at BB&N, my white counterparts sometimes ignorantly comment on my economic status. Regardless, I never assume that they have bad intentions or are all wealthy. No one should ever assume another’s social status based upon skin color, period.
Defining the Feminist Movement
What is feminism? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” It is the idea that since women and men (and people of different gender identities too) are all human, everyone should be treated as equal. This dictionary has its definition, but different people also have their own interpretations of feminism. I agree with the idea of equal opportunities between all people and consider myself a feminist, and I also wondered how other people perceive feminism and what the concept means to them. My interest in this question led me to talk to members of my community.
When I asked a white, middle aged woman what she thought of feminism, she said that feminism is “believing that women should not be limited in their lives by being female... being female shouldn’t rule out any opportunities or lifestyle choices.” This woman thinks of feminism as the idea that people should not be treated differently based on their gender. I also wanted to get a man’s perspective on feminism. One man said that feminism is “the notion that women have rights that men have suppressed in society... they can do whatever a man can do.” This statement is consistent with both the dictionary definition of feminism as well as that of my other interviewee.
The woman I spoke to also said that “now it’s becoming complicated because there are transgender and gender neutral people... how do they fit in? How do changing ideas about gender affect the idea of feminism?” This question that she asked is really important to consider. There are people who do not identify with being female or male, so if the technical definition of feminism means “equality of the sexes” and the literal word “feminism” comes from the Latin root femina, which means “woman,” how can these people be included in the fight for equality? Intersectional feminism, which takes into account the different systems that affect marginalized people in our society, is crucial in addressing this issue. Today, intersectionality has become an important principle of feminists across the world. While earlier feminist movements tended to fight more for cisgender, straight, white, and more affluent women’s rights, intersectional feminism helps to include people across races, classes, and other identities. Feminism without intersectionality does not accomplish true equality.
These two people had similar perceptions of feminism as equality between genders or freedom from judgement because of gender. The ideas of these two people also align with the fundamental ideas of feminism. Like many movements, feminism has core principles such as intersectionality that are the driving forces behind political and social change. The shared desire for equality unites feminists across the world, and a diverse range of identities promotes inclusivity within the movement to uplift everyone.