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Patricia Martin Headshot

Cybersexism Meets Its Match: High School Girls Demand Respect

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The girls at my local high school are fighting back in outrage over a Social Network-style website that rates girls using sexually explicit and racist remarks. Their counter movement, RESPECT, is making headlines. Because many boys joined in solidarity with the girls, the ruckus says a lot about the future of gender politics in America.

Let me explain.

Hundreds of Oak Park-River Forest High School students donned black T-shirts with the word "RESPECT" on the front, and on the back a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

A total of 800 shirts were ordered, the next morning another 300 were ordered after the supply fell far short of demand. Large black and white RESPECT banners appeared in hallways and gathering spots.

Over the last few decades, it seemed as if feminism had lost its oomph. Its been noted that Gen X women felt anxious about the F word, and sought to separate themselves from the label.

Some pundits proclaimed feminism dead. The RESPECT uprising says otherwise.

According to recent Census data, women constitute 51% of the overall population, with a 57% presence on college campuses. Notoriously, women still earn less--81 cents on the dollar. They hold fewer positions of power, while multitasking frenetic career and child-rearing lifestyles.

As the economy haltingly recovers, it's clear that men and women may have a new level of economic interdependence. Survival may depend on new norms of socialization based more on collaboration than dominance/dependence.

The RESPECT skirmish tells us that cone of silence on sexism is being lifted by a rising generation of females, and males. After all, many boys helped the girls fight back.

Feminist author Susan Faludi observed in her controversial book, Stiffed, that men had been equally harmed by societal norms that contorted what it means to be a man. The future, she theorized, would be won by men and women working together.

Now that's an idea worth respecting.