by Ty Slobe
I can’t remember a time growing up when I didn’t idolize older girls. When I was in middle school, I dreamt of being in high school and having cool friends with licenses who frequented concerts and looked awesome at proms. When I was in high school, I dreamt of being in college and having mature intellectual friends with stylish glasses who went to trendy parties every weekend and talked about super worldly things like coffee and bands.
Then at some point when I was 20 I took a hardcore look at my goals and realized there wasn’t really any obvious stage of life that I was looking forward to entering. I wasn’t sure who I wanted to surround myself with as I finished up my undergraduate degree and made the transition to entering the Real World. That’s pretty much what the problem was though, that I had always been conceptualizing the Real World as something different from where I was. I had bought into this idea that high schools and universities were somehow outside of the Real World, and that the people who lived and functioned in those spaces were somehow lesser members of the Real World by virtue of being outside of it.
Those Real World anxieties were happening precisely when I first encountered SPARK. The team was working on the Seventeen campaign at the time, and Julia had published this article in the Huffington Post that caught my attention in a serious way. I was completely blown away because it was the first time I had ever seen a teenage girl given such a supposedly “grownup,” Real World platform to talk about teenage girl problems. It was epic. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into at the time, but I applied for SPARK with that mindset—I wanted to be a part of a kind of team that infiltrated Real World spaces with teenage voices.
Since I wasn’t even a teenage girl myself at the time that I joined SPARK, I’ve always been one of the oldest members. Yet for one of the first times I found myself involved in something that wasn’t hierarchically based. For me, SPARK deconstructed boundaries that I had always been taught about age and power. Being surrounded by SPARK girls—which includes teenagers, twenty-somethings, and our grownup helpers—made me realize that not only do teenage girls have good ideas, they have some of the best ideas, the most motivation, and more passion than anyone else I know.
I was lucky to find SPARK when I did. I was on an upward trajectory into “adulthood” and never thought to look back. Here’s the thing I learned though about being a teenager versus being an adult: there’s not really a worthwhile difference, these are arbitrary boundaries we’ve created. People talk about teenage girls as if they’re not good for anything other than boy-band and makeup consumerism. Like they’re only around for grownups to mock and complain about. But those people have clearly never worked with teenagers before or if they have they’ve been doing it with an age-based hierarchical mindset.
Being a girl is awesome at all ages, and it’s super unfortunate that teenagers and young girls in general are so often left out of feminist conversations. Being in college doesn’t make you any better or smarter than teenagers; even being a CEO of some Fortune 500 company doesn’t make you any better or smarter than teenagers. Teenage girls don’t live in Girl World that’s contained in the hallways of high schools and in the blogosphere. They live in the Real World, they’re part of the Real World. Their perspectives are as important as those of women of all ages, if not more important because they’re among the most marginalized. Girls deserve spaces to express themselves in the Real World too.
The biggest gift that SPARK has given me is the all-too-rare gift of intergenerational feminism. I could have graduated from college and slipped off into the grownup oblivion without ever realizing the power of voices of girls younger than me. Intergenerational feminism is important because we shouldn’t be judging each other based on perceptions of age and life experience. Girls of all ages face violence, discrimination, and objectification. While our experiences may be different relative to our stages of life, we need to learn from each other to help each other and make the lives of future generations of girls easier.
I am turning 23 this week, and after two years with SPARK, I am aging out as an official SPARKteam member. While I am sad to be aging out myself, I am more excited that someone else gets to take my place. Though I plan on continuing to be a part of the SPARK community, I am excited to take what I know about the awesome power possessed by teenage girls as my own age allows me to enter more “grownup” spaces. Feminism without the inclusion of girls and women of all ages is not nearly as exciting as intergenerational feminism, nor does it have the same amount of the potential.
If you’re “an adult” and you’re not already working with girls younger than you, figure out how allowing girls to enter your spaces and projects will benefit your projects–and then get to work! If you’re a young girl yourself, keep being loud, proud, and awesome, and know that there are bonafide adults listening. I am.
Want to support SPARK’s intergenerational activism? You can contribute to our Piggybackr campaign here!