In classrooms across Sacramento, Inga Manticas and dozens of her fellow high school students are taking on the feminist fight and updating it for the 21st century.
The C.K. McClatchy High School senior has helped build a regional alliance of Sacramento high school feminist clubs, including at least five that have started only in the last year. In their meetings, students talk about the challenges facing women today, such as online shaming and continued barriers to equal pay in the workplace. They also widen their discussion to the challenges facing all races and sexual orientations.
Although women have made gains, Manticas said, the next generation of young women still has much hard work to do. Corporate boards and legislative bodies across the country remain largely male and white, while social media and other digital tools have ignited an explosion of sexist slurs.
When Manticas brought up women’s rights in her debate class, for instance, she said she got what she felt was a patronizing pat on the head from a male classmate – an episode that she said typifies the attitudes toward women she often encounters in school.
“I think people have this misconception that feminism isn’t necessary anymore because we have the right to vote, we have our own finances, we can own property,” Manticas said. “But really when you start to look at the social aspect of the way women are treated, we don’t have full equality.”
In April, the alliance organized its first conference, which featured Megan Seely, author of the book “Fight Like a Girl: How to be a Fearless Feminist,” as well as appearances by local transgender advocate Rachael Hudson and representatives of Community Against Sexual Harm, which serves victims of sexual exploitation. The conference also helped students design feminist “zines,” which the alliance and several high school clubs already publish.
Alliance members plan to organize another convention and put on a prom for women at shelters who might have missed their own prom years ago.
C.K. McClatchy High School teacher and coalition supervisor Lori Jablonski said her school’s club has invited speakers from the domestic violence and sexual assault victims’ service group WEAVE Inc., or Women Escaping a Violent Environment, to address relationships, dating violence and sexual health.
“Something that started as a discussion with a lunchtime weekly club expanded into a schoolwide education program,” Jablonski said. “(This activism) is advancing the education regarding these issues well beyond the club.”
The students clearly see themselves as the champions of a tradition that began in the 1840s with the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Since then, waves of feminists have focused on issues such as reproductive rights, economic inequality and sexual empowerment. Some in this third wave of feminists have reclaimed and used in their own ways derogatory slurs for women and adopted hyper-feminine dress.
On a weekday this summer, one of the local clubs met at a midtown art gallery filled with protest-themed art. Sitting in a circle, the students shared all the actions they’ve taken out of their feminist convictions, such as speaking up when they hear catcalling or sexist slurs or see groping. They have also urged girls to express themselves in class and not be intimidated. Many said they plan to join feminist clubs in college, such as one formed by Sacramento State University in 2013.
Sacramento’s schools are part of a national movement to launch such clubs. One activist group, Girls Learn International, is working with more than 100 high school chapters nationwide and providing material on human rights and girls’ education. At the same time, debates about women’s issues such as abortion and on-campus rape continue to dominate the national political scene.
A common theme in the Sacramento clubs has been the rise of digital tools to both empower and harass young women.
Mac Harrington, a 17-year-old Rio Americano High School student, said he recently stood up for a girl humiliated by a boy who accused her on social media of promiscuity.
“He looked at me as a human instead of just this type written on a screen,” Harrington said. “Then he could really ... realize what he was saying could really hurt (the girl). And in the end, that actually helped. That person went and apologized.”
Yet many of the local members first learned about feminist thought and history through social media.
“I think social media has been extremely helpful in raising awareness about feminist issues,” Manticas said via email. “Nowadays, more and more young people are identifying as feminists in part because of the strong feminist communities and influential figures on tumblr and Twitter.”
Manticas and alliance co-founder Zelia Gonzales, a 17-year-old student at The Met high school, said they’re recruiting younger students who can help expand the alliance after the founders graduate. Ultimately, they hope to build a statewide institution with chapters throughout California.
“We kinda wanted to set the stage for people while they’re young so that when they go to college they have a feminist mindset,” Gonzales said. “So that when they grow up, they give a woman a chance when hiring or they stop harassment on the street.”
Ashiah Scharaga: @AshiahD