I was a closeted teenage feminist.
When I picked up Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists, I did so in part because I had no idea when my own “click” moment was. Perhaps, I thought, it was junior year of high school, when a belligerently conservative classmate called me a “baby killer” for being a Democrat. At the time, I had neither the word with which to label myself nor the strength to argue my position, which boiled down to the radical belief in the equality of all people and the ability of women to make their own decisions. Then again, maybe it was my senior year, when we were assigned Pride and Prejudice and I was the only member of the class who defended Jane Austen’s brilliance. Perhaps my “click” came freshman year of college, in a Sociology of Inequality class, when I first confronted my own white privilege. In that class, I met several passionate young women who encouraged me to take Women’s Studies, which eventually became my second major. Maybe it was in that Intro to Women’s Studies class, when I learned the history of feminism and tied those issues back to the difficulties I faced as a woman in 2010. Or maybe it was the moment I stood up to male coworkers who belittled me for being a spoiled college girl, the moment I claimed the label “feminist” and paid the price.
It’s only now that I realize I laid the groundwork for my feminist future in ninth grade, the moment I bought a marble-covered notebook and decided to fill it with my thoughts.
For a spoiled white girl, I was a very bitter fourteen-year-old. I exhibited all the classic angsty teenager symptoms: the irritation with my parents and their banal discussions, the disgust with my appearance, the smart kid’s boredom with high school classes, and the dangerous obsession with boys (well, generally one boy in particular at any given point in time). I complained a lot, so much so that one of my best friends frequently requested that I stop being so negative. I think it was this that prompted me to start journaling, as if to prove to her that I could, in fact, shut up.
How, you ask, was journaling a feminist act? It goes back to that friend who silenced me, to my parents treating me like a child despite the fact that I was growing up before their eyes. I lived in a society that treated teenage girls as frivolous and told us, more or less, to shut up. My voice, imbued with passion from everything I read, was silenced, so I turned to the one thing that always has to listen: a blank page.
Once I started expressing my thoughts, uninhibited by what anyone else might think, I couldn’t stop. One notebook became two, two became four, and so on. I switched to 3-subject spiral notebooks in tenth grade, but even those only lasted a few months at most. A lot of what I wrote in those days was repetitive and often frivolous, sure. I hated geometry so much that I sat at the back of the class and scribbled my thoughts in my notebook, looking for all intents and purposes like I was being extra studious with my notes. Seasons changed, boys came and went, leaving nothing but regret in their wake, and still I kept writing. I started working on a novel at the same time, the kind of love story I wished was happening to me, with the strong female character I wished I was.
As I wrote in my journal, amidst the general tone of angst, I discovered things about myself. I realized that I was tired of my peers treating me like some sort of freak, that I experienced an intensity of emotions that seemed to baffle even my closest friends. I began to question things that were taken for granted in my world, the ways that I was gifted and lucky and privileged, despite the fact that I didn’t have the sociologist language. I traced patterns in my life, from one unfulfilled crush on a boy to the next, looking for reasons to explain my deep unhappiness.
Eventually, my senior year, my journal and I came to the conclusion that I was depressed, beyond just general teen angst. I began to use my journaling as a tool to combat what I referred to as The Funk, or Gravity. I would read over passages from previous journals, reviewing moments that had once felt like The End that I had overcome somehow, reminding myself that I would be okay eventually. As I grew into an adult, I kept journaling, although at a slower rate, and I know now that writing down my thoughts has kept me from falling off many an emotional cliff. I tell many people that having a journal is the only reason I’m still alive, which sounds like a hyperbole but is actually quite true.
Keeping a journal made me a feminist before I ever heard the word. The habitual recording of my deepest thoughts taught me the value of my own words, even when no one would see them. It taught me that I can find solutions through honest expression, exploration, and analysis. It taught me to question various aspects of my life and leave no stone unturned. It has taken me years to realize the revolutionary act of picking up a pen as a young woman, the audacity of assuming that someone will read my words when I’m dead. And yet, as soon as I started journaling, I never doubted that my words were important. In a world that silences young women, speaking up, even in a small voice, is a revolutionary act.