When I was in middle school, passion manifested in the spectacular, overproduced format of boyband One Direction, in my case. Uninhibited expression of emotion is a trait we routinely mock and demean in teenage girls. Onlookers would guffaw at my compulsive, addictive attitude, and I was often torn between being defensive or, more often than not, being ashamed of something I genuinely, overwhelmingly loved.
One of my male friends explained, with kindhearted intentions, that he feared One Direction was “dumbing me down” as if my love for something mainstream somehow disparaged upon my intellectual capabilities.
The belief that femininity and intellectualism are mutually exclusive is not a new one, but it has recently re-emerged in American culture through the increasingly hostile political environment that encourages us to belittle and attack one another. We have too little concern for understanding or compromise, we focus instead of aligning ourselves defensively alongside our given parties and acting as religious proponents of an agenda of polarization that figures such as Trump fuel. In particular, gender has taken on new meaning in this complex climate. The evolution of gender norms is certainly not destroyed by the misogynistic undertones currently inhabiting the presidency, but the way we allow our politics to affect that evolution is self-defeating.
Several months ago, renowned Teen Vogue journalist Lauren Duca was publicly belittled, interrupted, and dismissed on Fox News by the infamous anchor Tucker Carlson. Duca appeared on his nighttime show to discuss her statements regarding Ivanka Trump’s contradictory feminism, and defended her accusation of “sinister complicity” in Ivanka’s behavior. The downward spiral that followed this proved to be a blatant misstep or rather, a clear exposure of the hyper-partisan agenda he so adamantly pushes for Carlson. Carlson interrupted Duca an inane amount of times, to which Duca justifiably refuted as him being a “partisan hack.”
Rather than engage in thoughtful, critical discussion and respectful debate with an award-winning journalist, Carlson finished his stream of consciousness by throwing in a petty jab, saying, “You should stick to the thigh-high boots. You’re better at that.” Carlson was referring to an article Duca wrote for Teen Vogue praising Ariana Grande’s choice of footwear, neglecting the fact that she is a respected political journalist and vital voice in the conversation surrounding our new state of politics.
Rather than responding with what would’ve been understandable silence at the misogynistic comment, Duca bluntly pointed out something that has stayed media norm for too long: “A woman can love Ariana Grande and her thigh-high boots and still discuss politics.”
I am unembarrassed to say that I screeched a frighteningly loud “YES! THANK YOU!” while watching this. Whilst the simplistic equivalence between femininity and stupidity has been acknowledged before, Duca declared the absurdity of the concept in a mere sentence, for the thousands watching. The 2016 election redefined public discourse, and a huge aspect of that is gender and age. Regarding most arenas of culture, teenage girls are arguably the most underserved, underestimated, and invalidated demographic in American society.
From the age of 12, I’ve noticed the primarily male assumption that any display of passionate emotion in teenage females– particularly anger– is somehow synonymous to our menstrual cycles. I have been asked “oh, it’s that time of the month, isn’t it?” more times than I’ve sighed wearily at Paul Ryan’s hypocrisy, which is, by my standards, a whole lot.
I have heard the, “you’re so bitchy, stop overreacting, you’re definitely on your period, huh?” Menstruation can certainly be a disorienting, hormonal experience for some, but invalidating every girl’s feelings as mere consequences of her biological makeup is neurosexist, unfounded misogyny, even if inadvertent. I have given more than a few fiery diatribes about politics in class, and there is too frequently the usual snickering, and I quote, “She’s acting like a crazy Feminazi because she’s definitely on her period.” It may seem harmless, but I assure you it is not.
Here’s the thing: we’re not going away, so listening to us, respecting us, and taking us seriously is in the best interest for our continued political discussion. We see that politicians fear us. Male fear is unsurprising; an overwhelming amount of young white men voted for Donald Trump, and the cult-like, hyper-masculine fervor that erupted out of many of those men can be interpreted as a direct reaction to the way young women are getting involved in politics and “giving a damn.”
Partisanship is clearly at a faultline at the moment, seeing as only 4 out of 10 young people identify as a Democrat, and 3 out of ten as a Republican. The next movement will not stem from the backroom deals, the way so many of our leaders attempt to distract us from corruption and incompetence.
As put best by Tavi Gevinson, “Why should it be shocking that mainstream pubs reckoning w/ accountability culture & the rising currency of feminism are suddenly feminist?” Young women are holding politicians accountable. The Women’s March, although certainly imperfect, gave young women a space to unify and call for that accountability that our democracy now so unapologetically disregards.
It is condescending to dismiss publications like Teen Vogue for engaging their readers in politics. That mentality assumes that we never cared at all, that we intrinsically, as that publication’s target audience, aren’t supposed to care.
Teenage girls have always cared about politics, but particularly at this moment in history, we’re vocalizing our discontent, and the male, white dominance in political journalism is terrified of us. The automatic response to young female anger is invalidation. We are recognizing that these policies that we are often detached from, through no fault of our own, are going to directly, and often brutally, affect our lives.
Planned Parenthood, an organization that helps 4,970,000 Americans a year gain crucial, often life-saving (and life-changing) access to contraceptives, STI and cervical cancer screenings, abortion, comprehensive (and LGBTQ+ friendly) sex education, prenatal services, and a number of other services that are inherently important to young women. Sixteen percent of these patients are under 20, and adolescent women comprise the majority of those young people. It is in fact estimated that around 579,000 unplanned pregnancies are averted due to Planned Parenthood, as well as 197,000 abortions.
I am an adamant pro-choice activist, but what we have to recognize is that, with issues such as reproductive rights, the fundamental ability to claim bodily autonomy is much more than a physical capacity; it is a social necessity for the ambitions of intersectional feminism because it equips young women to have access to the resources they need to partake in healthy relationships and sexual activity without feeling constrained or caged by their sex’s part in that. Womanhood should not be a punishable offense. The neglect to allow young women to gain respect in politics is a huge part of why men are making life-or-death decisions about women’s healthcare and lives.
I am certain that the erosion of democracy lies not in giving young, inexperienced people the chance to shape our futures, but in prohibiting us from doing so. Multifacetedness is human; I can genuinely adore creating Pinterest boards regarding Olivia Pope’s killer pantsuits, cry over Harry Styles, and be a fierce advocate and serious political force in this world.
The new format of political dissent and activism is social media. Young women, and young people in general, are a thoughtful, whip-smart, unyielding force to be reckoned with online. We organize, write, and advocate via our networks, and that should not come as a shock. We certainly need to, as a consistently low-voting-rate demographic, actually vote more, but that lack of engagement cannot be merely attributed to political apathy. It is more likely due to the way the politicians we are choosing between undervalue us regularly. We have to refuse condescension and dumbing-down; we deserve far more than that.
New York Times article regarding Generation Z, UCLA student Hannah Payne aptly says, “We are the first true digital natives.” It is an unfamiliar thing for older generations of politicians to reconcile their ideas of democracy with, but it is the direction we are turning in, and have no intention of discontinuing– only improving and deepening the conversations and movements we start online.
Look at Rowan Blanchard. Amandla Stenberg. Yara Shahidi. Madison Kimrey. Sejal-Hathi. The names, the women, the ambition and determination is endless– but the point is, contemporary young women believe, as they should, that we can truly do everything we want.
We can dismantle outdated constructs of gendered behavior and dive headfirst into variety, into a colorful collage of the many pieces of our identities. They may conflict now and again, but they do and can coexist.
As Julianne Escobedo Shepherd of Jezebel writes, “it’s all part of the collective male media hegemony that puts women’s magazines, no matter how serious, in the pink ghetto , as it were.” This “male media hegemony” is nothing new, but our fierce capability to destruct and invade that dominance is.
Humility is certainly an admirable, necessary trait, but for women, excessive self-deprecation is the only acceptable form of it. I have campaigned and worked ridiculously hard and I won an election in Youth and Government because I felt a fierce passion so vibrant it consumed me. I connected with other young people feeling the same discontent as me, and the collective sense that we are being undermined because of our age, and often, gender, is not a popular feeling.
I am proud of myself for trying to be bold and unafraid of failure, to be vulnerable, soft, and powerful all at once, and to apologize for that seems a farce to me. To apologize for being a thinking, multidimensional teenage girl is a disservice to yourself.
Duca recently started a brilliant column on Teen Vogue entitled “Thigh-High Politics.” Here’s to the awesome boots and the intense political discourse because we’re entitled to engage with all of it.