01/27/2012 12:48 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2012

A New Generation of Feminists

For the longest time, I thought the world we lived in was one of complete equality. As a child, you learn about the abolition of slavery in the United States, about the removal of "separate but equal," and many other positive changes in society and the "norms" it imposes upon us. I really thought that as a woman I was so lucky to be living in a time where I have the right to vote and to wear pants.

But after my 11th grade biology class, I realized how backwards things still are for women today. As a woman, there are so many things to think about that would never even cross a man's mind. As a woman, I have to think if my clothing is appropriate for the part of town I'll be in at any point. As a woman, I have to bring my pepper spray with me when I walk my dog after dark. As a young woman, I have to make good grades to prove that I'm just as intelligent as any man.

And that's not even the end of it. The concerns of a young woman form a never-ending list. Even after adolescence, women are confronted with seemingly impossible choices, the most common one being having a successful career versus having a family. I seriously thought I wasn't going to be able to handle all the problems that come with womanhood.

But I had a great friend in that biology class with me: Jade Iovine. She, too, was awakened to injustice by our lovely teacher, Ms. Enns. But she had already been planning a girl's affinity group. The group really took off. Now she, along with many other girls and me, has been working hard to plan the first ever Young Women's Conference. I asked Jade a few questions regarding her ties to feminism and the Young Women's Conference.

SS: What first made you aware that women really aren't being treated equally in today's world?

JI: My desire to start a girl's group actually didn't start that way. Although, being in Ms. Enns' biology class definitely made me aware. She showed us TED talks, gave us statistics about women, and explained feminism in a way I'd never thought of before. I initially wanted to start a girl's group to create a safe place for girls to go where they wouldn't be judged, where they could raise their hands without being afraid of being scrutinized, and where they could bond and share with others. I saw the way men or boys interacted and how close my guy friends were and, although I have great girl friends, I didn't feel that girls were as supportive of one another. I wanted to change that. 

SS: What made you decide to plan the conference?

JI: I saw that the girls in the group were learning and growing, and it made me realize that girls my age actually weren't too young to be aware of the way they are treated or the way they present themselves. I wanted to reach more people than just those at my own school. I think that it's so important how girls treat each other and that begins with them feeling empowered. I'd been going to Maria Shriver's Women's Conference for three years and I desperately wanted to create one that was targeted to a younger audience. I deeply believe in my generation and that we have more power than we are aware of. We need to be educated early on that way we can fulfill our potential to actually change the world. 

SS: What has been the hardest part of planning the Young Women's Conference?

JI: Honestly, the whole process is 100 times harder than I had anticipated. It has definitely taught me how to articulate my self, how to pitch an idea, and most importantly how to make other people believe in that idea. That's been the most rewarding part. Prior to this conference I didn't realize how many people it takes to put on an event of this size. From parking to programming, there are so many people that have to be involved in this event; it's truly astonishing. Teachers and students are both working up to eight hours a day working on the conference. They are beyond supportive, creative, dedicated, and smart and I consider myself incredibly blessed to be working with them. 

SS: What do you want people to walk away with after the conference?

JI: I think the word of 'feminism' is given a bad rap. I was always afraid to classify myself as a feminist. I'm not entirely sure any one really knows what it means. I tend to believe the meaning is different for every person. It's hard for girls or women to distinguish the characteristics of this "strong woman" we are supposed to be like. I think girls think they have to choose between sexy and smart, assertive/bitchy or meek, "ball busters" or head-over-heels in love with a man? I think all of these questions will hopefully be answered during this conference, and that is what I hope for the girls -- that they can create their own perhaps untraditional meaning of a "strong woman" and understand that that meaning can be forever evolving. They don't have to know who they are just yet, and that that's okay.