In Experience: Finding passion in feminism

By Phoebe Tsao

If you’ve been following my column, you will have noticed that I tend to write about new experiences that take me off campus and offer some perspective on what I’m doing well—or not well—in my life at school. I’ve complained about trying to find a summer job, complained about trying to do roundhouse kicks on an injury, and even complained about trying to provide service with a smile at the food pantry. But there are some experiences of which I am proud. 

Those of you who know me outside of this newspaper know that I’m pretty invested in social justice causes. Most obviously, I’m a co-president (and, sometimes, the email composer) of the BB&N Feminist Coalition, or Fem Co. This club was the source of a series of firsts for me. Until last spring, I’d never before headed a club. In fact, Fem Co—formerly the school’s Women’s Issues Group, or WIG—was the first school club I ever joined. That was when I was a sophomore. In Hong Kong, where I attended elementary school and most of middle school, we didn’t have many school clubs. Or I might simply have been unaware of them due to my refusal to participate in anything I didn’t absolutely need to do. When I came to BB&N in eighth grade, I remained similarly uninvolved. 

In tenth grade, though, my perspective on the society where I lived began to change. I guess this is what it is to “mature.” My friends and social media brought issues to my attention that I hadn’t realized even existed at all. I started absorbing any information I found about gender inequality, modern racism and homophobia, and all the issues that make most people label me a “radical liberal”­­—even though, of course, nothing about basic equality should be considered a radical concept. I stopped thinking rape jokes were okay. I stopped answering people who asked me who I was wearing short skirts for. (The answer: my reflection in the mirror.) In short, I joined the feminist club and haven’t left since. 

Last year, I helped my fellow leaders of the club create a coalition of feminist clubs across Greater Boston (see “WIG partners up,” Vol. 44, Issue 2). We may or may not have given it a pretentious name—the Boston Area High School Feminist Coalition—but in any case, it was the first contribution I’d made to the feminist movement that felt significant. We purchased the rights to show an important film and then organized a screening, booking the location, making flyers, baking treats, and ordering waffles and pizza. We had a clothing swap in Harvard Square to raise money for transgender shelters that was a pretty great success, albeit one that left us with three times as many clothes as we gave away.

I experienced too many anxiety-inducing phone calls from yet another venue unwilling to host our screening and too many nights when, in the name of charity, I baked three separate dessert batches in a five-hour span, arms sore from kneading dough and mixing batter. But I felt for the first time as though I was making a difference. We might not have been featured on CNN, but in high school communities in Cambridge, Newton, Boston, Brookline, Lexington, and Belmont, we were spreading the word. 

I imagine many people at BB&N experience the same sense of isolation from the school that I felt when I first arrived: outside of society and lacking a guild to be in, a cause to support. Originally, there’s this inkling that something’s missing. Maybe you’re not sure you have a specific interest that you want to explore within the school community; maybe you have strong feelings about something but don’t have a space to express them. If you do feel this way, don’t worry. Keep an open mind, take any and all opportunities you encounter, and you’ll figure it out. You’ll find your community. (If I could, you can too.)

This is my last year in Fem Co. Co-President Cearah Peck ’16 and I have plans and projects that we want to accomplish before we graduate, from donation drives to feminist zines (themed mini-magazines) to more screenings. Pulling it off will be hard work, but I have faith in the club I joined.

It often seems that everybody has something they care about or a belief they uphold, but, actually, a great deal of us haven’t found anything yet. So join clubs! If you’re already in one, stick with it. Just make sure it’s a club you enjoy representing. Figuring out what you’re passionate about takes time, and it doesn’t matter when it happens, as long as you discover that part of yourself eventually.

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