Teen feminists changing the world in 2015

Challenging cultural appropriation and school principal censorship, meet the new generation of girl power icons

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Willow Smith
Willow caused controversy posting this 'topless' photovia Instagram

It's safe to say we've come a long way from pigeonholing 'girlishness' as sticker-collecting and living between poster-covered walls – in the age of social media, young women are now at the forefront of today’s new feminist wave. You only have to see how Tavi Gevinson transformed teen consciousness with Rookie to see that this is a generation more empowered, engaged and yes, enraged than ever before. From posting viral Tumblr videos giving the world a cultural appropriation 101 to discussing trans representation in the media, these are the girls defining what it means to be a feminist today. Remember their faces: you’ll be voting for them someday.


Joining in the discussion on cultural appropriation, 16-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg (best known for her role in the Hunger Games) made headlines last week when she gave the world a crash course on privilege and racism in the media and music industries. In her Tumblr-posted video entitled Don't Cash Crop on my Cornrows, (originally a homework assignment) she sets the record of appropriation very straight, giving examples, discussing privilege it in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, and opening dialogue – as well as refusing to see her criticism be passed off as girl-hate and pettiness (as shown on her Twitter). Read her discussion about youth feminism with Tavi for Dazed here.


#IDESERVEFREEDOMOFEXPRESSION was the hashtag created by 13-year-old Sophie Thomas to protest her school’s decision to photoshop out the word FEMINIST from her homemade t-shirt in a school picture, after the term was deemed “offensive”. “People around here misconstrue the word,” Thomas said on the matter. “Like, 'Oh, you’re a feminist so you hate men.’ I just want to spread equality, and a lot of people here don’t agree with me.” The teen and her mother took the matter to social media and confronted the school, and, after first labelling the reaction "out of proportion", the school’s headmistress will now be working alongside the teenager to give pupils lessons on feminism. Result.


Having started to publicly discuss her gender identity at the age of six, activist Jazz Jennings has been making a name for herself by standing out as one of the most influential and youngest trans advocates of today, openly discussing gender expression and identity. Chronicling her story and journey through a YouTube channel, now 14-year-old Jennings discusses the parallels between gender and sexuality, her family life and more, openly hoping to increase the visibility of the trans community and shine a light on what it means to be a trans teen. She was recently chosen to profile Laverne Cox as a trans icon for the Time 100 most influential list, and will be starring in her own teen documentary, All That Jazz.


From the early days of whipping her hair back and forth, Willow Smith has shown that she is a force to be reckoned with. Joining her mother at Black Girls Rock, candidly hanging out alongside the likes of Janelle Monaé and Erykah Badu and advocating a teen girl’s (or boy, as recently seen in Jayden’s gender nonconforming attire) right to self-expression and individuality. She’s donned an "ain't no wifey" tee, and joined the #freethenipple discussion after a torso-printed crop-top caused a media stir. At 14, Willow passionately advocates for black women worldwide and never shies away from debate, brushing aside ageism as she goes.


Sugar, spice and everything nice: this Oakland-based Girl Scout outfit and Black Panther attitude-inspired group of 12 pre-teens is guided by justice and empowerment. Composed exclusively of girls of colour aged from 8 to 12, the badges that adorn their uniforms are not for manners or for learning how to sew, but for alliance with the LGBTQ community, radical self love and supporting Black Lives Matter. The organisation every WOC feminist wishes she had in her town as a tween, the Radical Brownies boldly empower girls during a time of police violence and racial injustice.

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