05/28/2014 11:13 am ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

Why Iʼm a Feminist

As a high school student, I encounter sexism all too often. In the past few months, several incidents have occurred that have caused me to reflect on the way gender inequality is still so prominent in our culture, especially for me now, as a high school student. It may be hard to grasp that in the year 2014, in a country like Canada where I live, I am still surrounded by sexism, but this is the reality. It often seems like I can't sit through a class without having to speak up in defense of my gender at some point. This doesn't seem fair to me.

Now, I consider myself a feminist, and proudly wear that label. Feminism seems to be a loaded term these days, and there are various forms of it. Everyone has a different view on what feminism means for him or her. Oxford Dictionary defines the term as "the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of equality of the sexes." This is the kind of feminism I believe in. Since I've entered high school, I've clung to this definition, and this label. I've seen the kind of sexism that still exists and I've experienced firsthand how it can hurt. Feminism, and gender equality in general, is now so important to me.

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher told our class that men are stronger leaders than women. Another teacher, when giving examples of heroes in modern fiction, included few female examples, and when questioned about it, stated that, "girl heroes are harder to find." This may be the case, but what does that say about our society? Girls are indirectly being taught in school that boys are stronger, more athletic and better leaders. We are forced into gender roles from the moment we enter secondary school. Boys are football players and girls are cheerleaders. Boys take tech and girls take dance. This is the norm, and we as students accept these roles, because to speak out against them would shake the whole social foundation of our system. A brave few will step outside of the status quo, like the handful of girls that took tech with me last year, and my male peer who took dance. Yet when we do this, it results in bullying, teasing and pressure from our peers.

Standing up for gender equality is so important to me because when they get to high school, I want my little brothers to be able to take whatever courses they want and dress however way they want without pressure or judgment. I don't want them to be afraid to take dance, or family studies, or to join the hair and makeup club or the cheerleading team because those are "girl things." I don't want them to have girls in their shop or tech classes who constantly have to prove themselves to their male peers, like I did.

Gender roles are only part of the problem, though. A few boys followed my close friend home from school one day last year. They spoke crudely about her body and she overheard them daring one another to touch her butt because, "an ugly girl like her would take it as a compliment." Another friend of mine has a teacher who told her that attending an International Women's Day breakfast was a waste of time, and this same teacher doesn't support her school's Young Women in Leadership council. A leader told an adult friend of mine, when she was young, that she couldn't succeed in her dream career because she was a girl, so she changed career paths. Stories like these are so common. There are girls my age who feel like their voices are not being heard because they are female. They feel unsafe because of their gender. For all of these reasons, and so many more, I try to be a strong advocate of gender equality.

There are so many obstacles I have to face in school, simply because I am a girl. Yet, there are girls in countries far away from me who can't even go to school. They are mistreated and abused because they are female. They aren't paid enough, and certainly not as much as their male coworkers. These girls are the reason why I speak up. Because I have a voice, something that many girls my age aren't given. I am a teenage girl who is allowed to go to school, and wear what I want and say what I want, and these are facts I take advantage of often.

Trust me, I too am guilty of sticking people into roles and stereotypes because of their gender. We all are, because itʼs easy for us to do that. Itʼs easier for us to go with the crowd than to speak out and do something different. My hope for the future is that one day we can live in a better world, where people are loved and treated equally despite their gender. I don't think that's an outrageous goal. For now, I will do my part by standing up for equality in the ways that I can as a 15-year-old high school student.