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Here's my problem: I'm in a club at school, it's called Women's Issues (feminist issues). But a lot of the girls are faux-feminists: their #1 priorities are fashion and flirting, "Seventeen" is their bible. They project an image of being sluts that stick desperately to boys, even though it's those boys who abuse them and insult them. Grades are at the bottom of their list of importance. School is #1 on mine, and I'm seriously interested in real women's issues. Their attitudes have a large effect on the discussions we have, and I don't feel comfortable stating my opinion because I'm nervous of a backlash from the whole group. How do I get them to think for themselves and realize the positions they're in, without calling them idiots?

Also, I have a personal problem. I've been a very shy person since age five or so. Before that, I was very outgoing and said exactly what I thought. I can still have a big mouth if want to, but I'm scared to death of speaking in front of groups and people I don't know. I dread working in pairs and groups because I'm so nervous that the people I'm with will jump on me if I slip-up, or possibly hate me (I know it sounds stupid, but I can't help it!). If a person insults me, I turn the other cheek. I hate myself when I do that. It takes me a whole year to be comfortable with a teacher, and with boys - forget it, it's a lost case. When I go into a room and sit by myself (if there are no friends to sit with), it's just because I'm afraid of being rejected. I walk with my head high because I have pride in myself. But my parents tell me (it's probably true) that people can see me as snobby or aloof, not knowing that I'm just shy. I'm assertive and loud (obnoxious, really) with my friends and family, but I can't get over my shyness otherwise. Help! Sincerely, Sarit Henig

When I was reading your note, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts when I was your age. I had an additional problem, too, which is that I was convinced that everyone knew more about anything than I did. I also for too long felt that I was so lucky when someone was my friend not understanding that they were lucky, too. So the good news is that you are many steps ahead of me when I was your age--so the really good news is that in most instances life works itself out and you are able to put all of those akward feelings aside. Actually, what you are going through is a very common occurance for women/girls. This phenonmenon has been talked about a lot in recent years--by Carol Gilligan in her book In A Different Voice, Mary Phipher in her book Reviving Ophelia, and by the Ms. Foundation for Women in their program Take Our Daughters To Work Day. (Many others have talked about it, too--these are just the most visible cases.) What these people's work has revealed is that girls tend to "lose their voice" at age 7,8,9,10--and retreat inside of themselves. This self then re-emerges later in life. For me, it was in my 20's, for some women it wasn't until they were in their 50's. How this self emerges -- or what helps it along -- is another story and one I'm not quite sure about. I think that it ultimately comes down to belief in yourself. I think that it also comes down to other people's belief in you--parents, supportive friends, maybe a boyfriend, or a mentor. Essentially, any person who is going to say--you are special, smart, unique, wonderful. You seem to have that--now you just have to trust it more often. It also involves taking risk. For instance, the next time you walk into the cafeteria, ask if you can sit with someone else. If they say "no"-pretend like you didn't want to sit there in the first place. I bet you will find that they are happy sitting there. To get over your shyness, just treat everyone as if they were friends or family. This goes back to the risk taking part.

As for the other girls in your Women's Issues club--the reality is that their fakeness is likely to catch up with them. The other reality, unfortunately, is that if you try to "out" them there will likely be a backlash. So I think it's best to try to get to them more subtly. Maybe you have to fight "fire with fire." For instance take an issue of Seventeen that has an article about "sex"--and let that be your topic. You can pose questions such as--what is safe sex? how can women enjoy sex? Or take Seventeen's models--you could talk about whether or not they were healthy or do they encourage eating disorders. These issues--sex and eating disorders--might be too much for those girls--so you might have to find something else. The point is to find something that is seemingly about Seventeen, but underneath really has a much greater weight on women's lives. I went to school with these girls too. The funny thing is that later in life when I was talking to the guys we went to school with, they all saw right through them too. So, these girls, too are probably revealing more than anyone understands right now.

I hope this helps, but if not, please write again so I can give you more incentive to be the naturally wonderful person that you obviously are. Good luck and thanks again for writing and sharing.



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