Reading QOTD (2009-03-22)

From my gender and sexuality reading, a list called “What Every Young Girl Should Ask!” drawn up by the High School Women’s Liberation Coalition—no date, but I’m guessing sometime in the ’70s; please comment if you know specifically! I don’t have much to add, just thought it was worth quoting in full because of its relevance to modern high-school girls:

1. Can you play basketball, soccer, football?
2. Were you ever taught to use a saw?
3. Did you ever pretend to be dumb?
4. Do you babysit? What do boys do for bread?
5. Do your brothers have more freedom than you? In what way? Why?
6. Are your brothers asked to help clean house?
7. Is education more important for you or your brothers? Why?
8. How many boys are there in your typing class?
9. Would you be interested in birth control information as a service in your school?
10. Did you discuss masturbation and lesbianism in your sex education class? Did you discuss intercourse? Orgasm? Abortion?
11. Would you know what to do if you needed an abortion?
12. What do you want sex education to be?
13. How many famous women do you know about (not counting Presidents’ wives and movie stars)?
14. How many paragraphs (pages) cover the women’s suffrage movement in your history texts?
15. Who are Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mother Jones, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth?
16. How are women portrayed in the books you read?
17. How do your classes react to “ugly” women teachers?
18. Have you noticed that there are college scholarships that discriminate against girls (football scholarships!)?
19. In extra-curricular coed organizations, do girls make decisions? Or do they take minutes?
20. Did you ever hesitate to speak up in a coed organization?
21. Are girls with boyfriends winners? What did they win?
22. Did you ever lie about having a boyfriend? Why?
23. Do you ask boys out? If not, why not?
24. Do you believe boys get sexually aroused faster, at a younger age, and more often than girls? Who told you that?
25. Are you hung up about being/not being a virgin? Why?
26. Should boys be more experienced sexually? Why?
27. Do you ever hug or kiss your girl friend?
28. If you were in a dangerous situation would you rather have a man defend you or defend yourself? Can you defend yourself?
29. Are you the teenybopper, bitch, cheater, foxy lady, or “honey”-type portrayed in rock music?
30. Are you flattered by catcalls on the street?
31. Do you like your body?
32. How much time and money do you spend on your makeup? Why?
33. Why did you start wearing nylons and bras?
34. Will you be a failure if you don’t get married?
35. Do you think of unmarried women as “bachelor girls” or “old maids”?
36. Are these the best years of a woman’s life? Why?
37. Is your mother an oppressed woman?

Well, I certainly can’t speak for my mother, but a lot of these questions ring very true to me, even maybe 35 years after this document was written. Personally, I’ve felt insecure about a lot of these things, especially body-image and sexuality issues. We might not have typing class anymore, and we might learn about Harriet Tubman and the 19th Amendment in school, but you try to find me a teenage girl in a mainstream school (public or private) who’s never felt insecure about her body or her sexual expression. I think it would be very, very hard.

I had another conversation tonight with another young woman my age who doesn’t feel that “feminism” as a word, as a cause, as an ideology, or as a set of goals applies to her. From what she said, I got the impression that it seemed outdated, and too radical to be relevant or appealing. But I think that if today’s girls and young women were to look within themselves very seriously and ask these questions of themselves, maybe they might find reasons why “women’s liberation” is relevant and important in the 21st century. Like I said, things haven’t changed that much in the high-school hallways.

On a related note: I think a lot of folks don’t really consider claiming or reclaiming ideology terms when they hear them. A young woman, for example, might hear someone else or someone else’s actions described as “feminist,” and think, “I’m not like that person, and I wouldn’t commit those actions. Therefore the term ‘feminist’ does not apply to me.” But feminism has had as long and varied a history as has adolescent womanhood. It’s been adopted by moderate liberals and radical leftists alike, women of every race and culture and sexuality and ideological position. “Feminism,” other than generally meaning equality and fairness for women, means whatever you want it to mean. I mean, I like overturning the patriarchy and subverting the heteronormative ownership paradigm, but if your main goal is to feel at ease with your own body, or to have a leadership role in an organization or a business or a political group, that’s totally cool too. “Feminism” is a term that should be accessible to every woman—and, well, it’s a crying shame that a lot of the young women my age whom I talk to don’t feel that way.

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One thought on “Reading QOTD (2009-03-22)

  1. Janet O'Hare

    I think that document is one we used in NYC HS Women’s Liberation in 1960-70. Contact Pam Charney, MD who works in the Bronx at Montefiore I think. She probably would know and may in fact have written it. I found your post googling HS Women’s Liberation because I am writing a 40th anniversary piece on the Manifesto Nancy Harrison and I wrote for the group.

    Ah those people who certainly aren’t feminists, God forbid, but of course want good reproductive health care(and to not be called a slut while accessing it), equal pay for equal work, sports in school and to choose a career based on their talents and not their gonads….annoying aren’t they? But we can’t expect people to be grateful to have rights otherwise they are not rights. Change only happens when people offend other people by demanding it. Not everyone is able to risk that. Rejoice that you can. There has been an enormous cultural change but it is a very large mountain we care trying to move. Feeling comfortable in your own body and taking leadership IS overturning the patriarchy but you are quite right to reject the tiresome language and quite right to talk about specifics. That is what attracted me to the women’s movement in the first place. I was interested in radical/left movements but they were often about boys showing off their propensity for violent words and occasionally action and the feminists were talking about health care and child care and jobs for real people right then. And we still are. You are right. Things that were radical when I was in HS are normal now because we moved the norm. Getting castigated all the way. Some of your friends will see the light in time- marriage and childbearing are often eye-opening. And you will find other people who think as you do.

    Yes. You don’t have to take typing- or earn your living as a secretary. And you get taught about Harriet Tubman in school. From our manifesto: WE DEMAND THE INCLUSION INTO THE CURRICULUM OF WOMEN’S HISTORY: we refuse the 1/2 “allowed” in most text books to the suffrage movement”

    If you find an ancient copy of Sisterhood is Powerful you can find Pam Charney’s interview on a radio show. And if you look in the back under Rita Mae Brown’s afflilation you will find it is the Harriet Tubman Brigade of Redstockings which Nancy and I joined a few months after we wrote the manifesto. I suggested the name and some of those very radical feminists didn’t know who she was. Yes you learn about Harriet Tubman. It is a large mountain. Keep pushing.

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