Being a feminist in public often feels like shouting my cause into the void. Whether I'm having a conversation with real humans or leading a discussion on social media about the concept of basic human rights for female-identified people, a very small percentage of folks I know actually want to engage. A post on Facebook about feminism usually brings out the other two dozen "known feminists" in my world, and the rest of the 1,500 or so "friends" in this vast social network stay quiet. In 2015, feminism continues to be a concept that polarizes. Apparently it's just too scary to align yourself with basic human-rights issues in the public forum of life.
I recently spent six days volunteering at the Denver edition of Girls Rock Camp. For one week every summer, I get to watch kids (many of whom have never even picked up an instrument prior to the experience) learn how to play music, start a band, write a song and then perform it live on a stage in front of hundreds of people. As a Band Coach, I help a group of eight- to ten-year-olds navigate this process with a light hand and as little personal influence as possible. Much of my time at Girls Rock Camp is simply overseeing key moments and making sure that each kid's ideas are acknowledged and integrated into the final product.
But here's the thing: In 2015, the kids I work with don't really need much help with this part of life at all. I don't interact too much with children during my regular life, so maybe they aren't all like this. But the campers who walk through the doors at Girls Rock Camp seem acclimated to the idea of fairness, and they work hard to be inclusive without any adult saying they have to be. They treat each other with respect, allow for each member of their band's voice to be heard and support each idea brought to the table by their bandmates. In observing these young folks for a short amount of time, I realized that they were upholding some of the basic tenets of feminism before the adults at camp had even started talking about the idea of feminism (which is something integral to the program's existence).
More obvious this year than in previous editions of the camp was the notion that regardless of age, these kids had been introduced to ideas and concepts related to feminism long before they arrived at Girls Rock. Most grownups I know are still not totally comfortable with the idea that "he," "she" and "they" are flexible, chosen identifiers — but here I was, hearing five nine-year-olds discuss their personal-pronoun preferences. I caught myself saying, "Listen up, girls" many times and quickly correcting and using more inclusive language like "friends" and "homies" to address my band of kids.
When we weren't working in our smaller band sessions, we joined the sixty other campers for group activities and discussions. This year, one of our star campers and a veteran of the program, radical middle-schooler Molly McGrath, presented her own documentary on riot grrrl. It was incredible: Molly traced riot grrrl's roots through music icon Kathleen Hanna, telling the movement's story by connecting events like Hanna's first experience at a women's rights rally, the opening of seminal punk club CBGB's and the 1993 murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata. As the campers attentively watched Molly's work, I looked around the room and saw the other adults tearing up; it was like vindication for all of the years we've been shouting into the void.
Molly then went on to lead a short group discussion on feminism and feminist bands and artists. She touched on the importance of intersectional feminism, a concept with which most of our campers seemed well acquainted. At one point, a camper yelled out, "Do you know the song 'Everglade,' by L7?" and my heart dropped into my stomach. It's not that I wanted or expected these young people to care about the music and social movements that made me who I am — but knowing that they were on this path of personal power and discovery at an early age made me feel happy and hopeful.
Observing all of the work, conversations and art that these kids were putting into motion as feminists forced me to take a second look at how I was viewing my own actions. If I believe I am only shouting into the void, I am dampening the message of my own cause. Believing that change is possible is just as important as implementing the change itself. Oh, yeah — and if nine-year-olds are down with feminism but you haven't made it a point to get on board, what's your excuse?
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