Cain holding a pro-choice placard outside the Capitol building in Texas. Photo: Facebook
As a boner killing feminasty, there are few things I love more than seeing a witty takedown of irrepressible sexism. When traditionalists and straight up fools take to the public space with their attempts to educate young women on propriety and self respect, it fills my blackened heart with joy to watch as every one of their ridiculous arguments is shattered by someone who actually knows what they're talking about.
But when those scathing ripostes come from the young maidens themselves who form the targets of asinine conservative arguments and (more worryingly) an increasingly successful political agenda? Well, for a joy-hating sorceress like me, that's just like all your pagan festivals come at once.
So it was that I read 14-year-old Tuesday Cain’s rebuttal to this blog post, a ludicrous open letter to teenage girls penned by a ‘Christian Mom’ concerned about the number of sexy selfies teen girls are posting on their Facebook page, but who frankly spends far too much thinking about young girls and their underwear choices. With such pearlers as “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t quickly un-see it? You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” and “men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls…there are boys out there waiting and hoping for women of character”, the post was quickly dissected and satirised all over the internet.
Tuesday Cain. Photo: Facebook
Appearing on XOJane, Cain wrote:
“I'm constantly hearing messages -- like what you wrote -- that parts of my body are not to be seen in public because it is not socially accepted. Women are expected to cover up more than men. People try to make us feel bad. That we are "asking for it" or that we have somehow lost our character because we took a picture with our lips pursed? That's crazy and rude…The bodies of young girls are not dangerous. But you know what is? Teaching young women they should be ashamed of their bodies.”
Cain’s response wasn’t necessarily the funniest or even the most elegantly penned, but it was certainly the one that resonated the most with me. In the wall of noise that surrounds The Girl Problem, there is rarely any room made for the girls themselves to actually speak. How can we presume to know what the real challenges to their autonomy and self-esteem might be when we don’t even appear all that interested in hearing what they have to say?
It isn’t the first time Cain’s attracted attention for demonstrating a supposedly preternatural affinity for social activism. She first shot to internet fame back in July when a photograph of her holding a pro-choice placard outside the Capitol building in Texas went viral. Protesting against the Texas Legislature’s plans to severely limit reproductive health care rights in Texas, Cain’s sign read, “Jesus isn’t a DICK; so keep him out of my VAGINA!” She received quick accolades, with outlets like Salon calling her ‘awesome’. But she also attracted waves of sickening abuse, as the internet’s detritus rushed to call her a slut and a whore (because wanting to maintain the legal right to control your own fertility is apparently something only girls who actually like sex want or need). Following the attacks, Cain wrote:
“I’m going to be honest about what it feels like to be called that as a 14-year-old girl who has never had sex and who doesn’t plan to have sex anytime soon. I feel disappointed. It’s hard for me to understand why adults would be calling me this. It’s hard for me to understand why anyone would use this term for a 14-year-old girl. It’s not anyone’s business, but as I said, I am a virgin, and I don’t plan to have sex until I am an adult. But none of those facts make me feel any less passionate about fighting for a woman’s right to choose and the separation of church and state in my home state of Texas. I also don’t think this makes me — or any other 14-year-old girl who agrees with me — a whore.”
No, it doesn’t. Nor does it make them stupid or impressionable or (as was also suggested of the Cain family) pawns in their parents’ political agendas. As amazing as it might be for some people to grasp, teenage girls are capable not just of speaking for themselves, but of being able to develop sophisticated political thoughts and ideologies. And while it has to be acknowledged that Cain experiences a degree of privilege not available to everyone (her parents appear dedicated to her education and certainly seem to enjoy a middle class lifestyle, while chance and opportunity have landed her with regular access to a widely read feminist website), these elements alone aren’t responsible for the construction of her thoughts.
For all its potential harm, the Internet has been vital in creating feminist networks and access that allows girls like Tuesday Cain (and all the other ones we have yet to meet and discover, who’ll join the ranks of girls like Malala Youfsafzai and Razia Sultan) to take back the rights to tell and determine their own stories.
The bodies of young girls might not be dangerous. But their brains sure as heck are.