At the request of her Ohio middle school principal, Sophie Thomas’ ‘Feminist’ shirt was digitally edited to appear all black, reportedly to avoid controversy. (Photo: WXIX)
One middle school class photo is getting a lot of attention — because of what it doesn’t include.
Eighth grader Sophie Thomas wore a black t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Feminist” in silver for a recent picture day at Clermont Northeastern Middle School in Batavia, Ohio. Yet when the teen — sitting in the front row of assembled students — saw a copy of the photo last week, she was floored to find that “feminist” had been digitally removed.
“I was insanely upset,” the teen told FOX19 of the airbrushed edit. “I was just showing everybody that this is me, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to be my friend.”
According to Thomas, Clermont Northeastern’s Principal Kendra Young insisted that a class photo is no place for a statement that she deemed controversial. The student said that the administrator declared, ‘It was mine and the photographer’s decision to photoshop your shirt because some people might find it offensive.’” (Young did not immediately respond to Yahoo Parenting’s requests for comment).
Yet Thomas says she wasn’t intent on making a school-wide statement with the shirt. She just wore it that day to assert herself after a high school student made a sexist comment to her. “I’m going to stand up for what I believe in,” says the teen, who, with her parents, has since met with school officials about the incident. (Thomas insists that she wasn’t given any notice about the shirt being censored but the school’s superintendent, Ralph Shell, told Today, “The parents were contacted, the young lady was contacted…They said it was OK to remove it.”)
Now the middle school will reportedly be holding group discussions and welcoming guest speakers to address the issue.
All this drama is clearly a teachable moment, however it went down, says Jennifer Baumgardener, executive director and publisher of the Feminist Press at The City University of New York. “If this incident’s smoke can be separated from the flame of insight, it could be really cool opportunity for the students and teachers to talk about feminism and freedom of speech,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “’Feminist’ is an identity that people have a strong reaction to, both positive and negative.”
A recent poll, in fact, found that despite 85 percent of respondents agreeing that they believe in “equality for women,” just 18 percent identify themselves as feminist.
Why is the term such a hot button topic? “People used to think that it meant something queer, like associating with being a lesbian,” says Baumgardener. “Now it’s possibly associated for some with abortion. I’m not sure exactly why it’s so polarizing, but it’s not surprising to me that something labeled ‘feminist,’ is threatening. What it represents, on the deepest level, is the fact that women have all this power to make or not make life. For girls and women it can be hard to make friends with that power.”
Thomas, for one, has no such difficulty being a feminist and identifying herself as one. “People around here misconstrue the word,” she told Today. “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."
Having an 8th grader wear that word on her shirt “is like opening up a Pandora’s Box,” admits Baumgardener. “But if the school wanted to avoid controversy, though, they made the wrong move by editing her speech on her shirt.”