Clayman interns discuss state of feminism for teens

You are here

Clayman interns discuss state of feminism for teens

High school students Lauren Gong and Rachel Ward started a gender equality club at their high school--and learned first-hand about the word “feminist”

by Lauren Gong and Rachel Ward on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 9:52am

Lauren Gong and Rachel Ward interned at the Clayman Institute during the summer of 2013. They are now seniors at Mountain View High School. In the article below, they describe their experiences launching a high-school club called “Strength and Equality for Women”

"this is what a feminist looks like" tshirtAt our high school, we’ve been asked many times in hushed tones if we’re, you know... feminists. The question is a puzzling one. Of course we are feminists, if that means someone who stands for equal rights and women’s ability to pursue anything they wish. Is there something wrong with that? Is equality just that controversial? 

Throughout the summer of 2013, both of us interned at the Clayman Institute. But this isn’t our first experience working for gender equality. Last year, our junior year of high school, we co-founded a club known as SEW, or Strength and Equality for Women. 

Through our experience founding this club, and through our time at the Clayman Institute, we have gained a deeper understanding of the societal and behavioral factors that have stalled the gender revolution.

The trouble with starting a “feminist” club

Bright eyed and bushy tailed on a fall day, we walked down our high school hallways with a mission. Along with another friend, the two of us had set our minds to starting a feminist club. Now we just needed to collect student signatures. 

Like the idealists we were, we assumed that everyone would be ecstatic about the addition of this new club at our school. But as time passed, our excitement waned. Not because we lost our will to run the club or passion for gender issues, but because the way others perceived our club was far from the glowing exuberance that we were expecting. 

Many students--including those who signed our form--seemed skeptical and admitted that they probably wouldn’t join the club. As more and more people expressed hesitation we found ourselves trying to remove our club from the feminist stereotype; hedging that it wasn’t really a “feminist” club but one advocating for gender equality. 

Pressured by societal factors brewing in our own school, we were presenting the club as a watered down version of feminism. Unknowingly, we were giving into the very issues that we were trying to combat. 

Once launched, our club held weekly discussions on current gender issues that werein the media at the time. We discussed topics ranging from the recent Ohio Rape Trial to the‘Why I Need Feminism’ Campaign taking place on university campuses in the UK. These meetings allowed our members to put feminism in context, linking national and international events to our own personal experience as young women.

Looking back, the problem wasn’t that our school was collectively anti-feminist. Instead, they were tentative about associating themselves with the words.

This year, we hope our club can take a more public role at school, raising students’ awareness about gender equality. 

Looking back, the problem wasn’t that our school was collectively anti-feminist. Instead, they were tentative about associating themselves with the words "feminism" and "feminist." For some reason, many people perceive feminism as too extreme, too anti-men. For them, the word feminism has evolved and taken on a new, and largely negative meaning. 

The invisibility of gender inequality

For some reason, gender inequality in the United States isn’t apparent to most people at our school. After all, women can vote. And women can--at least in theory--have any career or lifestyle of their choosing. Many students don’t realize that women in this country still don’t receive equal pay and aren’t afforded the opportunities in the workforce that men are. They don’t notice that women are simultaneously shunned for being too provocative and ridiculed for being too conservative. 

I <3 feminism graffiti

At the same time, we’ve observed that people our age seemed to have shifted their focus from fixing gender equality issues in the U.S. to fixing gender equality issues overseas. This shift in focus became apparent when another, very worthwhile club to help educate girls in third world countries was introduced to our school and received a huge welcome. 

We were pleased that this new club received such a positive welcome--even as we were surprised that our own club did not. After all, we fully support helping women and girls worldwide. 

But we want our peers to understand that gender equality requires activism in our country as well.

A new approach

After spending our summer working at the Clayman Institute, we’ve discovered a new approach for our school. We’ll try to tie the ideas together--to help girls in developing countries while also helping girls in our own.This way, we can show people what it means to be truly feminist. At the same time, we hope to end the discrepancy of rejecting the label “feminist” while having feminist ideas and supporting feminist organizations doing work abroad. We hope to bridge the gap between how feminism is perceived and what it truly is. At the end of the day, feminism and advocating for gender equality are the same, though many still do not see that. 

Now, when asked the question if we are, you know, feminists, we will both proudly say “yes.”

Lauren Gong

Lauren Gong is a senior at Mountain View High School in Mountain View California. She became interested in gender equality and women’s rights her sophomore year after joining the Student Advisory Board for Anna Eshoo and writing a paper on the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. Lauren is interested in the fields of Law, Neuroscience, and Psychology, though she is unsure what she wants to major in.

Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward is a senior at Mountain View High School. She is currently interested in getting a psychology degree to later work with victims of trauma and those dealing with grief. She also wants to use psychology to study the effects of society on women, especiallyteenage girls. Rachel is particularly interested in changing the negative stereotypes that accompany feminism. She enjoys dance, reading, and being outside.