Gender Issues

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 71–95 | Cite as

Girls Are Equal Too: Education, Body Politics, and the Making of Teenage Feminism

Original Article

Abstract

This paper traces the origins, tactics, and reception of teenage feminism between the late-1960s and mid-1970s. Letters and essays written by teenage girls during this time demonstrate how girls saw feminism as a tool to challenge gender role socialization and build a supportive and collaborative community of girl activists within this revolutionary context. When compared to male or adult peers, teenage feminists during the Second Wave were perceived as illegitimate and inconsequential (Graham in Young activists: American high school students in the age of protest. Northern Illinois University Press, Dekalb, 2006]. These perceptions have inadvertently positioned teenage feminism as a post-Second Wave “girl power” movement (Snyder in Sisterhood interrupted: from radical women to girls gone wild. Palgrave Macmillan, New York City, 2008; Siegel in Signs 34(1):175–196, 2007]. However, using primary sources written by girls, this paper illuminates how teenage and adult feminists created space within the women’s liberation movement to identify, discuss, and combat the particular gender oppressions experienced by adolescent girls. Through consciousness-raising groups, essays, and direct actions, teenage feminists focused on the materiality of sexual objectification and gender discrimination. Framing their own form of body politics, they fought against sex-specific dress codes, sex segregation in schools, courses, and sports, as well as lack of access to sex education and birth control. Teenage and adult feminists argued that these gendered customs trained girls for subservience that prevented them from attaining full citizenship. Vivid personal narratives by girls illuminate the impacts of feminism on their gender identity and relations. Ultimately, by challenging age divisions between the adult-dominated face of the Second Wave and the girl-focused Third Wave, this paper uses the voices of teenage girls to shed light on an earlier movement of “girl power” that has yet to be excavated.

Keywords

Feminism Youth culture Girl studies Education Sexuality Sexism 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the American Studies Program and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University, as well as the Charles Eisinger Award at Purdue University and a travel grant from the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University to present this research at their groundbreaking symposium on women’s liberation, “A Revolutionary Moment,” held in 2014. Thank you to the reviewers of Gender Issues, Dr. Nancy Gabin, Dr. John Larson, Jaime Hough, and Melissa Esh at Purdue University, as well as Dr. Lori Rotscoff and Dr. Stephanie Gilmore who all served as invaluable editors and advisors throughout all stages of the process.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.American StudiesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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