Back when I attended high school, there were tons of clubs to join, but had I known then what I know now, I would definitely have started a club that would have changed the environment of the high school. Thankfully, nowadays, there are high school students out there making a difference, like Mickeala Bland. Mickeala is a senior at Union High School in Union, N.J., and she’s making sure that she leaves behind a lasting legacy at the school with the creation of the Feminist Club.
Mickeala says that she discovered feminism at the age of 14, while watching Beyoncé perform on the MTV Video Music Awards.
“At the time, I didn’t know what a feminist was. I took my phone and googled ‘feminist.’ For a week, I picked up every book that I could find. I don’t think I would be a feminist without Beyoncé,” a now 17-year-old Mickeala told The Root.
The Beyoncé performance that Mickeala is referring to is from 2014, when the singer proudly stood in front of the f-word. No, not that f-word—the word “feminist.”
“What Bey just did for feminism, on national television, look, for better or worse, that reach is WAY more than anything we’ve seen,” Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, stated on Twitter.
And reach it did. It reached the mind of a 14-year-old, who was hell-bent on learning what the word meant. And learn she did.
“After I became a feminist, I realized there was a lot of things I didn’t know about in the world around me. It was really shocking to see how the world was,” Mickeala says.
When Mickeala told her family and friends that she was declaring herself a feminist, she was met with mixed reactions. And a lot of that had to do with negative connotations of the word. You see, in some people’s eyes, you can’t be a feminist and not be a lesbian or a man-hater.
“I was afraid about what my family would think. I told my friends first, and their reactions were like, ‘Oh, you’re a man-hater now?’ and ‘You’re a lesbian now?’ My mom was proud that I was declaring myself a feminist. And my dad jokingly called me ‘man-hater', but said he was proud of me. After I told people, they supported me,” Mickeala explains.
It’s one thing when you want to learn for your own enrichment, but it’s another thing when you want to take what you learn and share it with others. Mickeala wanted to make sure that others knew what feminism was about, and the one way to make that happen within a high school landscape was to start a feminist club. But she learned that this wasn’t going to be easy to do.
You’d think that a high school would encourage a club that would provide a safe place for open conversation, but when it came to Mickeala’s Feminist Club, she received a lot of pushback from people like a former principal, and even teachers she held in high regard and looked up to.
Some thought that feminism was too much “bra burning” and would give the school a negative reputation. But Mickeala was determined to make it happen anyway.
“I spent my whole sophomore year creating the club. Writing down proposals. My old principal didn’t want it to happen. But our new principal approved the idea,” Mickeala says.
After Mickeala got more than 100 signatures on her club petition, her next step was to find an adviser for her club. And there was one teacher she had in mind because of his reputation. Yes, his.
Meet Nicholas Ferroni, a teacher and activist and someone who was voted People magazine’s Sexiest Teacher in 2014. He’s also a feminist. But he wasn’t always one. In his own words, Ferroni used to be a misogynist.
“I’m a recovering misogynist,” Ferroni says. “As boys, we’re cultured and conditioned to be sexist. I didn’t realize how much we’re conditioned and manipulated until I got to college. When I was in school, I did stuff that I tell boys not to do now. I try to tell students what I wish someone would have told me at their age,” Ferroni says.
Once Mickeala’s petition reached Ferroni’s hands, he signed it, and then she asked him to come on as an adviser—but now he’s the one learning from his students.
“I get inspired at every meeting of the club, by hearing their beliefs and thoughts, and what they witness and experience,” Ferroni says. “I see things, but I don’t see everything, and every week it reinforces why we need a feminism club. Whenever a man says they're not a feminist, I’m like, ‘Do you hate your mother or your sister?’”
Mickeala’s Feminist Club discusses everything from social issues to racism. From Black Lives Matter to mental illness. From hypermasculinity to rape culture.
"Race is a big topic in our club. And as a black woman, I see how black girls are treated in society and we discuss that as well as colorism and cultural appropriation,” Mickeala says.
Feminism isn’t that difficult a concept, but as Mickeala said, the negative connotations that follow the f-word are hard to get people to unlearn. She’s determined, however, to change people’s ideas about the word. Sure, some of the boys in the high school still think it’s a man-haters club or filled with lesbians, but there are boys who do attend. And it’s not just the boys who hold on to the connotation; Mickeala says that she’s heard girls say they won’t join the club because they “love boys.”
Feminism does not mean anti-men. And with a male teacher as an adviser to the Feminist Club, you’d think folks would realize that. Ferroni’s definition of feminism is quite similar to Mickeala’s own definition, which includes the belief in equality between all people,
“When people ask my definition of feminism, it’s not where women act or get treated like men; it’s when women receive the same rights as men,” Ferroni says.
And it’s just that simple.
As Mickeala prepares to graduate in the spring, her goals for the Feminist Club after she leaves high school are also simple. She wants the club to carry on the legacy of being a safe space for students to come and share and talk about issues plaguing society, and where teens know they have a voice and can make a difference in the world.
“I just want more people to come and see feminism in a positive light, and for the club to remain a safe space so people can learn about issues affecting society. At our upcoming meeting, we’re talking about mental illness and how Kid Cudi spoke about his issues. It’s an outlet for people to talk and learn, and that’s what I want the club to be in years to come,” Mickeala says.
She doesn’t know what she wants to major in at college yet, but she does plan on taking Africana and women’s-studies courses. If she follows the legacy of her family members and Ferroni, she’ll be taking those at Rutgers University. But there is one thing Mickeala knows she definitely wants to do in the future: “I want to use my voice to help others.”
Something tells me she’s already on the right path toward accomplishing that.