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What’s so of-fem-sive?
30 / 11 / 2015
This month for First Person we’ve had an original piece submitted to us from the depths of the unknown. Our writer discusses her experiences with Catholicism and Feminism, two concepts known to have stark and contrasting modi operandi. We say good on our writer and her friends for braving this operation, and keep letting your voices be the voices of our future.
*names changed for privacy.
No one ever got in as much trouble at our Catholic girls school for the F word as Julia and I last year.
We were the two f*minists on campus. In the first week of year twelve Julia declared to me, “I’m sick of everyone saying they ‘agree with’ feminism but don’t identify with it because it’s too complex or scary. We’re starting a club.”
An email to Ms Brighton, the Vice Principal of Faith and Mission, and a condescending meeting later, we were told we didn’t have the authority to teach our peers, weren’t educated enough to grasp feminist theory, and that no one would commit anyway.
So we sought out the Principal’s higher power; eventually she granted us her blessing and we were good to go. Well, barred from using the word ‘feminism’ or any of its variants in the group name (“too much baggage”), allowing any participation from girls younger than year ten (“it’s too heavy for them”), or discussing abortion (“you know what the Church says”), but good enough to go.
While year tens watched videos about a woman’s abortion regrets as their only sex education, Julia and I plastered toilet doors with Beyoncé posters promoting ‘Queen Teens’.
We made a Facebook group, prepared a basic slideshow, and waited calmly, hoping a few friends might sympathetically sacrifice lunch to walk two flights of stairs to our dinky discussion group.
That was the start of March, and we got maybe twelve the first time. By the end of May, the senior school had a sisterhood of 78 proud ‘QTs’.
“I read a really good gender article in The Age, I’ll link you in my free period!” Claire called out to me in the locker room, actually pledging to take a break from chemistry.
I smiled big and warm when Lea, one of the most hesitant people to speak publicly that I know, eloquently shared her thoughts for the first time in week six. She never participated in extra curricular activities but came to every meeting.
I lost count of the girls who posted their confronting encounters with #everydaysexism in the Facebook group and the overwhelming support they received from girls they never knew before.
“Sinead and Lucy and Beth did not stop talking about how empowered today’s session made them feel! And that they already feel so included and can’t wait for next week!” My sister told me excitedly one walk home.
I neglected study to spend nights preparing for another week’s session, because this was the most purpose I had ever felt in my life. Julia and I were always learning.
We consulted with the school counselor about how to deal with sensitive topics.
We had a circle seating arrangement to be inclusive; thank Goddess the classroom we used had sliding doors we could open to the neighbouring room, or we would never have fit.
If a teacher wanted to sit in, they waited for us to get the group’s consent. Everyone always said yes, but it was important that everyone felt the group was safe and autonomous.
Queen Teens was our little utopian model of a world where girls could freely explore what they had never dared challenge in society. Schools for ‘ladies’ like ours claim to empower us, while telling us our talents should be used “responsibly” and don’t let us into socials with boys schools in spaghetti straps. For once, we ran the discussion.
Rose’s older sister worked for a sexual health education organisation. Would we like a free box of goodies like safe sex brochures and slap bands? Sure! Bring them in, we said. We’ll leave them at the door at the end of next week’s racism session for anyone who wanted to take something.
The Wednesday after, while pouring over the GAT exam, one of the supervisors told me I’d have to see the Principal as soon as time was up.
Miss Brighton found the letter that came with the goodie box; Julia and I were to be interrogated separately by the college leadership. Judgment Day had come early.
I know I finished the exam and got myself to the leadership offices’ foyer, but I don’t remember any of it. I waited over an hour, anxiously wondering what was happening upstairs to my sister in crime. She came down crying, as did I almost two hours later. We were told our actions could endanger the wellbeing of our girls and seriously distress some parents.
Queen Teens was being “dismantled”.
Would they explain this to all the others? Queen Teens wasn’t just our soapbox – it belonged to everyone.
They didn’t. We were swept under the garish orange carpet. The group vanished completely from college records.
Apparently we broke the rules, but we didn’t feel we did anything wrong. An isolated moment of naivety cost the school with the motto ‘empowering young women’ a thriving sisterhood of girls who told us through tears that Queen Teens gave them the most empowerment and independence they ever felt.
But God forbid girls feel confident enough to use the word ‘feminism’, challenge #everydaysexism, or look after their sexual health, right? How offensive.
“There’s been a conflict of views. You can’t use having a ‘different opinion’ to justify what you did! By that logic, I can get some racist, sexist person to give you a talk about their world views in the hall!” the Principal said in an uncharacteristic expression of frustration at our pointless follow up meeting six weeks later.
The very next day in religion class, the year twelve cohort received a presentation Miss Brighton had organised with a priest. He preached that the “vocation” of a woman is to marry, become a nun, or be a working, but chaste and single, lady.
Six weeks is a long time, and Miss Brighton had forgotten Queen Teens. But my sisters hadn’t.
When he finished, Julia stood up to articulate a list of all Father’s problematic points. Girls followed, uniting in a truly holy chorus. We marched off triumphantly to the common room to further critique the session. “This is QTs right here! They can’t stop us talking!” Lea exclaimed excitedly to me in the middle of it all.
That’s f*cking feminism for you.
The writer is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and gender studies. When she isn’t studying or writing, she loves anyone who will talk to her about Simone de Beauvoir, intersectional feminism, or how underrated good smells are.