I am a feminist, and feminism is not a dirty word. I am not an expert on the issue, but I am a passionate kid ready to shape the future.

Being a feminist doesn't mean you think women deserve special rights; it means you know we deserve equal ones.

I am a 17-year-old senior at Sartell High School. Last year I performed a social experiment by wearing a feminist shirt to school for a week straight. The results were appalling. I was told I was too sensitive and was labeled as an obnoxious outcast - for wearing a shirt with one word on it: Feminist.

I decided that this is an issue that needs to be shared with the community because I want to raise awareness among youth, and hopefully spark thoughts for a better future.

When I was little, I didn't understand what feminism was. To me, I just lived in a world where women were bossy if they took leadership, where the girls couldn't be as smart or strong as the boys. A chatty girl like me didn't understand why I was the rare, voluble girl. That was, until I learned that observations like these were upsetting to Emma Watson, a well-known feminist.

Her United Nations speech in 2014 changed my beliefs. I learned if I didn't act now, who would?

So beyond the fact that women earn 23 percent less in the workforce than men, why else do we need feminism? Well, at the root of our government, women still hold less than 20 percent of seats in Congress, even though we make up more than half the population.

You could choose to blame it on the women not trying hard enough to get those jobs, but how do you expect women to do that when, as little girls, we are told we are bossy if we want to advance ourselves?

Another ridiculous issue is rape. Why are we teaching girls to prevent rape? Instead we should teach everyone that humans are not objects.

We need feminism because, sometimes, a movie's rating (PG-13 vs. R) depends on how much a female appears to be enjoying sex in a certain scene.

We need feminism because female genital mutilation (cutting off and re-stitching female genitals to avoid enjoyable sex) can happen to girls as young as 5 months old and is still practiced in 29 countries.

We need feminism because more than 120 countries don't have laws against marital rape. Many still allow child brides, some as young as 6 years old.

We need feminism because even in the United States sexism is still an issue. Being a feminist is not a gender issue; it is a humanity issue. If you are a feminist, you believe women should be treated the same as men - not because we're better, but because we're human.

So if you ask me why I wear my feminist shirt to school and put up with unrelenting oppression by classmates, I'd tell you it's because I imagine a world where men and women have equal political, social and economic opportunities.

Katherine (Katie) Kulus lives in Sartell, Minn.

Editor Note: This essay was originally published in a longer format in the St. Cloud Times.

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