So if you’re like me, you became a full-on feminist cliché in college. You’ve been known to quote Lean In and casually reference bell hooks. You either love or hate Jezebel.com and you can identify 3 examples of rape culture before breakfast.
It’s fun and exciting to be around so many empowered women and men who have a stake in feminism! The super-feminist college girl is a tale as old as time (or at least as old as Gloria Steinem), and maybe we would mind being so damn predictable if it wasn’t so much fun.
But this late-in-life feminism is actually a little troubling. And it’s a public health issue.
I had always vaguely identified as a feminist, but I only really began to own it as a part of my personality about a year ago. But you know when I NEEDED feminism? When I was 11 years old and decided it was time to begin a strict diet regime. When, in seventh grade, I wished every day at 11:11 for the boy in my science class to ask me out. When my best friend came to me with a problem I had no idea how to solve.
No one wants to dwell in their middle school memories. It’s easier to simply forget that time and dismiss “Tweens” as “the reason Justin Bieber is famous.” But the average age of the onset of eating disorders keeps dropping. 95% of people struggling with eating disorders are between 12 and 26. 8% of adolescents suffer from a “severe” anxiety disorder, however; less that 20% ever receive treatment. This is a mental health issue, and it’s a women’s issue–females are 60% more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder and 70% more likely to deal with depression.
Few experiences are more isolating than the experience of being a 13 year old girl. By the time many feel empowered enough to seek help, the mental health problems have oftentimes manifested themselves into a integral part of the patient’s personality. Adolescents suffering from anxiety and depression don’t have the words or knowledge to communicate that something is wrong–and even worse, no one is asking.
So instead of bemoaning the lack of positive role models for young girls, and debating among ourselves when we can start talking to them about sex ed–how about we start talking to them ourselves? Let’s start talking to them about feminism and how much street harassment sucks and how seventh grade boyfriends don’t really count anyway and how it doesn’t matter if you dress like Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift because they are both strong, successful women in their own ways.
I remember learning about depression in sixth grade health class and thinking “oh god that sounds like the most embarrassing and saddest disease in the whole world.” What if instead someone told me how anxiety and insecurity and body dissatisfaction are normalized behaviors for women but they sure aren’t normal and we should be mad about that?
You know who rocks? Demi Lovato. If you don’t have strong feelings about her, go read her wikipedia page right now and then youtube some interviews and get back to me! She took a break from her public career as a Disney actress/singer to deal with issues such as an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and self-mutilation. And then she came back, using her public platform to speak openly and honestly about her struggles, and about her recovery. About accepting your problems and dedicating yourself to getting better.
Is it helping her sell albums? I couldn’t tell ya. But no one else is speaking to young women with such openness and respect. She’s forcing us to accept that adolescents struggling with mental illness are not the exception. Once we accept that they have the capacity to suffer, we also need to accept that they have the capacity learn how to get through it unscathed.
My super-feminist college friends are fantastic. We love each other and we love ourselves–and once you have that, you aren’t afraid of anything. But what if instead we found a way to make the “typical feminist” a 12 year old girl? Instead of spending our college years undoing the psychological damage society inflicted upon us in high school, we could prevent it completely! Don’t laugh–middle school girls are real people. They feel everything intensely and their hurt can last a long time. We could tell them that “it gets better”–or we could actually give them the benefit of our experience, and make it better now.