The day my inner feminist was born

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Raleigh, by James Willamor / Creative Commons license

When I was about 15, I went to my first TeenPact camp in Raleigh. If you were homeschooled and a huge dork like me, active in debate circles, you were aware of TeenPact. TeenPact is a super-conservative camp that indoctrinates teens to become libertarian warriors, trained to infiltrate the government from the ground up. I participated because I was really “into” politics at the time, but after my first day at camp, I began to feel that something was terribly wrong with these people.

If you had the misfortune of being born female and wanted to attend this camp, you had to learn the rules first. Most important of all: You had to follow a Victorian-era dress code, which mandated that you had to be dressed in “business professional attire” for the duration of the camp. Except that their definition of “business professional” meant skirts well below the knee without any slits and all shirts baggy and well below the tantalizing elbow. (You can even read this ridiculous dress code here. They’re apparently still going strong. My favorite line from the Code is on shirts girls can wear, which outlaws any “tight” fabrics, requesting that “no shape [should be] too obvious.” Pretend you are not a girl! Breasts are SINFUL!)

The kicker is that girls are not allowed to wear pants–even pantsuits or trousers. Silly woman! Pants are for men! You can imagine how difficult this was to find any “business professional attire” to meet these standards, especially since I wasn’t one of the homeschoolers who made my own clothes.

On top of this stifling dress code, all of the speakers at all of the events were male. Also, if you were a girl, you were not allowed to lead a committee; only boy interns were allowed to lead committee meetings. Boy interns led all the discussions while the girls participated when spoken to. (Weirdly enough, however, girls were allowed to “run” for office. This struck me as a big contradiction in terms, but whatever.)

When I arrived, I was quickly made aware of the Dress Code Police, a militia of girl interns who ran around armed with needles and safety pins, scanning to make sure all of the girls were very modest and not violating any of the seemingly innumerable dress code rules. I showed up in a floor-length black skirt, which I thought was very safe. It hits the floor! It’s black! Totally unappealing in every way! But I was wrong.

Not half an hour after my arrival, I was taken by the elbow by a girl I’d barely met and pushed into the nearest bathroom. This girl intern looked me in the eye explained to me that my skirt was violating dress code. “Wait, how? It hits the floor!” I protested. She spun me around and pointed to the five-inch slit in the back of the skirt. The back! Apparently, the backs of my knees were a “stumbling block” to my young male colleagues. So, the slit had to be remedied. If you are a woman, you are well aware that to wear a floor-length skirt, slits are essential for movement. You cannot walk more than a half a mincing step if you have no slit. But TeenPact doesn’t care about that! She swiftly jabbed some pins into the back of my skirt and told me I was appropriate now.

My feelings were a little hurt, but I decided not to mind it. I hobbled along for the rest of the day and dutifully attended my committee meetings. My group, led by the cute boy intern, was going to take a field trip to sit in on the real House meeting. We were running behind schedule, probably because some girl was dressing like a tramp, showing a sliver of knee or something. Our committee leaders told us we needed to book it, because we were going to be late.

So, we set off for the House of Representatives. The boys in their pantsuits were striding ahead. We delicate ladies were trailing behind, because none of us could move quickly, as all of our slits had been taken away from us. We minced and shuffled along, trying not to rip our pinned skirts. The boy leader, yards ahead of us, suddenly turned around and shouted at us, “GIRLS! Hurry up! We are going to be late!”

That was it. My AWAKENING. I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked straight at him and shouted back, “YOU try to walk in a skirt that’s all pinned up!” He paused and then looked at us, a group of homely penguins. He even seemed to think for a moment. It wasn’t a great comeback, I know, but I was 15. And the clouds had opened.

This silly story is the first moment that I started thinking for myself and stopped being ashamed of having been born a girl. So, watch out TeenPact. You may have unknowingly birthed a whole army of late-blooming feminists.

(This post is for Lauren Lankford Dubinsky, who I think will know what I am talking about…)
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19 thoughts on “The day my inner feminist was born

  1. I cannot tell you enough how much I love you for writing this. I laughed until I cried. YES yes and yes. I wish I’d had my inner feminist awaken the same day you did. Unfortunately for me, mine took several more years. (But hey, I’ve made up for lost time with Good Women Project, yeah?! Haha.) Also, I just went to skim the dresscode they have up, and about keeled over realizing that my little cousin is now the face of “Dress Code Boys” on that page. Uhhhh-mazing.

    Anyway, I’m still mildly bitter about 1) starving to death after missing Banquet Night at Nationals because I was sent back to the hotel for wearing a dress shirt that indicated I did have breasts, and 2) that I was kicked out of TeenPact the following week for that same dress code infraction. Although right now I’m just finding it hilarious.

    LOVE to you.

    1. You! Such a rebel! I didn’t know that about Nationals… I wondered where you disappeared to during dinner. Now I know. So terrible!

      Also: I found tons and tons of old letters from you from over the years. They are so sweet. I am starting an archival project now.

  2. I enjoyed this post a lot but I can assure you TeenPact is not libertarian but is super conservative as you say. Small l libertarians would definitely let dress how you want and would not be involved in the state politics of getting John Oxendine elected in Georgia. I’ve just seen the word libertarian thrown around a lot lately without the understanding of the non-aggression principle among others. Thank you.

  3. Abby, what an experience! I had no idea you had been through something like this…of course you have hinted at some of the more ridiculous aspects of the church community you grew up around, but this really just takes it to a whole new level. I’m curious as to how you managed to separate the “followers” from God as so many who have been in similar bizarre situations eventually leave their community and anything associated with it (ie: God). My gut tells me you’re too much of a critical thinker to do something like that, or perhaps you have stories about how you were able to separate out your faith from the ultra conservative folks you were around at that age. I would be interested to hear more of your journey. You should write more pieces like this! Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Oh, how this made me laugh! I never had the pleasure of attending TeenPact, though I did go to a rather conservative Christian High School, with many of the same dress code rules. My favorite was when Cap Sleeves became pretty popular, and they seemed to fit into the dress code. I’d been wearing them for a month, and was in 8th grade, when I got pulled over by the dress code enforcer. I was told that my shirt was against the rules, as were my pants, since they weren’t a 100% cotton, and my shoes had stitching on them that didn’t blend into the shoe. My mom was furious, because 1. The shirt and pants were not in the rules, 2, the rule about stitching on shoes was to keep kids from wearing tennis shoes, and 3, the fact that I’d been wearing these for a month and no one said anything until it was definitely to late to return anything.

    Since my mom is awesome, she went into the office as if on a war path, and demanded to know why. The dress code enforcer indicated that shirt sleeves should be at about breast level, and since she was a heavy set, older woman, that was at her elbow. My mother, in all her rage and fury informed her that I was in 8th grade, and my boobs were a bit perkier, and that the cap sleeve hit at just about the right place. The other woman in the office, who are usually terrified of the dress code enforcer lost it with laughter.

    My mom brought me some clothes to cover up the hideous shame that was my female form. I got my dad’s XL polo, some old highwater, way too tight pants, and a pair of high heels with matching stitching.

    I’m glad to say that after the many battles my mother fought with the school over dress code, (I mean, how does your sock color affect boys sex drive?) the school has gone to a much more lenient stance on dress code. But if you ever want to see my mom get worked up, bringing up the dress code is certainly the easiest way to do it.

  5. As I am currently a homeschooled high school junior, I so enjoyed this post! I have totally been through the Teenpact, debate, Generation Joshua, etc. dress codes before. I’ve also shed many tears because of those darn dress codes and trying to meet them without looking homeschooled or Amish. I haven’t done Teenpact for a couple years and I don’t think I will ever again, (but I think I will always have a soft spot for speech & debate haha.) Thanks for the post. Praise Jesus for freedom. 🙂

  6. LOL is an understatement. I was belly laughing. I tried to read it aloud to the “Practically Perfect” husband of mine, but a football game must have dulled his senses. He didn’t get it. Or had never had to have his fly pinned closed. Always missing you and your wit…
    Your nitwit friend…

  7. As a mom of two girls I am loving every minute of this post. Honestly, Christians can get some of the most silly ideas sometimes. Homely penguins…too funny. Linking to you today, by way of my daughter!

  8. Wow, just wow! I am amazed at the attitudes I am reading in the comments as well as the original story. I am a conservative Christian woman and have two children, a girl and a boy. Our son went to the same private, Christian school from kindergarten to graduation and we never had issues with the dress code. Our daughter, being 10 years younger only went there for 2 years and she was adorable in the cute skorts and polo shirts she had to wear daily. Fast forward through 10 years of homeschooling her and she has now attended 2 TeenPact sessions and is leaving for National Convention next Monday. Our experience with the dress codes have been nothing but fun. We enjoy preparing and shopping for appropriate, but cute suits, together. The TeenPact we attend in Tallahassee, FL, is full of gorgeous girls in appropriate and precious clothing. The dress code is discussed that first day to set the boundaries, even though the info has been on the website all this time, so none of what they say should come as a surprise. I sat in on the discussion since I was a driver for the week so I know what was said and not said. It was all done in a winsome, loving manner so as not to embarrass anyone.

    I suspect that you have been involved with a legalistic group rather than the kind we have experienced. I hate that for you since legalism hurts us all. In regards to the young men who were yelling at you, they obviously did not listen to the rules about how they are expected to treat all the young ladies. It sounds like they needed to hear the lecture all over again. Again, our experience has been that the males in my daughter’s group put the girls’ comfort, etc. above themselves since that is what the Bible tells them to do and it’s good practice for them.

    As for labeling it “Victorian” I suspect you really don’t know what the victorian dress code was with ankle length skirts and blouses high up the neck and blousy sleeves with nothing form fitting. So, no, TeenPact dress is not Victorian, but is encouraged to be approprite but adorable. Again, we have never had an issue with finding skirts long enough. We found shopping at Ross was the perfect place to find appropriate suits for way, low prices. The fact that my daughter is tall meant we have had to continue to get new suts for her since she is growing so much and even though the suit jackets still fit, the skirts weren’t long enough to be TP appropriate. Again, that’s no problem since this is a chosen activity. Nobody made you go to TeenPact. It is an optional activity. For optional activities it is the prerogative of those in charge to set boundaries that will enhance everyone’s experience. You don’t have to live up to those boundaries since you don’t have to attend. Some people are just looking for a way to whine and complain about whatever is going on in their lives. Others stick to the boundaries and end up having a great time since they have a positive attitude. I’m so sorry that you are so focused on how you are are being misused by going to this voluntary event and whining about the rules. Boo hoo for you.

    I’ll continue in Part II since this is not allowing me to finish.

  9. Your attitudes about the dominance of males within TeenPact really show your lack of training and embarrass you and your parents, not those you are making fun of. I have been involved for many years with leading young brides and mothers in how to partner with their husbands to build a Godly home. You sound exactly like some of them who have had no model at home where the father is the leader of the home and the mother is loved dearly and held up to her children by her husband with love and respect. Our culture has brainwashed girls with all this “rebel” talk because they have no problem with women trying to be the head of the home. They know that anything with two heads is called a monster and this culture has no problem with that. However, if you truly believe all of God’s Word rather than just the parts you like, then you know that God placed men under His umbrella of protection and then daughters and wives fall under the umbrella of protection of the husband or father. I hate to say it, but it sounds like you have bought into the world’s ideas of submission by making it a bad word. Just remember submission to one’s father or husband is really about submission to God. If you are not submissive to those He has put in authority over you then you are really rebelling against God, not them. Now, of course, I am speaking of men who are not abusing their leadership place and abusing their daughters and wives physically, sexually, etc.

    So yes, you have a funny story, but I wish you would think a little on how your writing and sharing has an impact on those who read it. I personally, do not ever want to be responsible for placing a spirit of rebellion in someone else because I don’t want to have to answer to God for that when I meet Him face to face. And please don’t come back and say this piece is just satire and fun and meant to be funny. That may be true, however, we are still responsible for attitudes and ideas we place in others’ minds that may influence them. Please remember, too, that TeenPact is one of the few places where males can get these leadership skills since the culture doesn’t want them to learn how to lead their future homes effectively and for the Lord.

    I’m sorry to go on and on with this, however, the attitudes I’m reading here in the piece as well as the comments are the attitudes I’ve been dealing with in my own life since I wasn’t instructed as a young lady correctly and those of school age girls and young brides and mothers. Marriages and families are hugely affected by these rebellious attitudes written here and the enemy is just thrilled about that.

    I know I’m going to be bombarded that I am being legalistic or don’t have a sense of humor, etc. Both of these are incorrect, but I know I’ve suffered and impacted others in a negative way in years gone by due to these same ideas and just want to communicate with others to not make the same mistakes. God has allowed me to lovingly help others who have the same difficulties in their thinking as I did and to help others turn their attitudes around before they do impact their families and marriages by placing me in many roles as a mentor for high school age girls and young brides and mothers. So call me a fuddy duddy if you want. It all matters, trust me.

    1. Hey silly lady who has the mentality of a toddler, please learn how to think for yourself and not demand people to act in a way that seems pleasing to you. K?! 😀
      A woman does NOT need to be a fragile little organism who “requires” the protection of another male organism, who just so happens to have different genitalia and hormones that make him SO much better than a woman, if they don’t want to be- and even more so, if they are SANE. This isn’t the 1900’s anymore. We live in progressive times, and you’re going to have to come to terms with that if you don’t want to be butt hurt all the time, ya dingus!!!!

      1. What a terrible moniker. You are wrong. And there will always be girls like you and the other unhappy girls who desire the ways of the world. And yes your poisonous views will infect others and lead them on your destructive path of searching but never finding. Then if you are fortunate your eyes will be opened but you will have all the wasted years of feminism to live with. TeenPact is an excliusive group of leaders who impact their generation for God. You either are able to do it or not. Those that can’t are usually unable to live within Gods parameters in their personal life and certainly can’t in public. It’s sad to watch but it happens. And it really doesn’t matter because TeemPact endures, grows and makes a difference in homes, communities and government. Unlike the disappointed people who leave it because they didn’t get to wear what they wanted or be the line leader.

  10. It sounds like you had a bad experience. You should check up in the rules again. It says you can’t have sleeve-less shirts and skirts can’t be above the knee. This is the norm for modesty and very appropriate. Some of the girls who went still fudged (a lot!). They had slits well above the knee and short shorts at camp, but none of the staff said anything. Everyone was super sweet and easy-going. I personally think it’s fine for women to be in a position of authority. I was actually nominated by a guy to be head of the committee. I think you should brush up in the rules a bit. I am sorry you had an experience like that. When I went, I learned SO much and I’m sorry you didn’t have the same opportunity. I’m a Christian conservative. And to all the comments, please don’t
    stereotype and judge, thanks 🙂

  11. I would like to attest that this is, from my experience, a slight exaggeration of TeenPact dress code. I have been many times, and though they def. have a strict policy, I haven’t seen it meet these standards. And it isn’t all for men, it is too provide that we stand out and look professional in an atmosphere where any teenager can walk in wearing jeans and a tank. Also, hair colors are now permitted. I asked, since I was contemplating dying my hair blue, and they said as long as it is well managed and styled (pulled back nicely, or straightened/curled, not just a mess) it would be okay. I’ve seen other teenpacters with dreadlocks or boys with longer hair; it’s okay. And I would also like to add that these policies are only while at the state capital, which is for half the day. Back at the campgrounds, everyone can wear casual clothing. The very camp counselors who made sure the dress code was followed at the capital wore t-shirts and shorts around afterwards like normal humans. I’m sorry that you have had a negative experience with some teenpact events or staffers, since beyond the surface absolutes that turn people off, if you give a little, you will get back a LOT from the experience.

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