Is it possible/OK to be a pro-life, pro-monogamy feminist?

For me, feminism is about equality, plain and simple, which means trusting women to make choices that are right for themselves and for their families.

Being pro-life and pro-monogamy for yourself and yourself only is your choice—the problems arise when people impose their values on others. IMHO, no one should have the right to regulate anyone else’s body or their consensual relationships, including the government. You can be a pro-life feminist and make those choices for yourself, but I don’t think you can be a feminist who doesn’t believe other women can make those choices for themselves. We all deserve to have access to the resources and support we need to make healthy decisions about our life. Whatever kinship makes you feel good, free, safe, and supported is what I want for you—and I hope that you would want that for me and for everyone else.

As for monogamy, a one-on-one partnership works for me and my partner. We’re choosing to get married next year because of our personal, spiritual, and family values. I’m glad that we’re able to make this decision on our own, without government interference. Before 1967’s Loving v. Virginia decision, we would not have had the right to legally recognize our partnership because I’m African-American and he’s white. It’s outrageous to think that, almost 50 years later, we’re still having to fight for legal recognition for all relationships and family formations. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all relationship. Monogamy isn’t the only legitimate expression of family. All of us are worthy of having the freedom to thrive, live, and love peacefully, openly, and equally. —Jamia

Is it important to play sports in high school? I’ve been practicing to try out for the lacrosse team this year, but I work and ride at three barns, and lacrosse practice would drastically cut into my barn time. Riding is really important to me, more so than lacrosse (which I’m bad at), but I’m worried that if I don’t play a school sport, I might not look as appealing to colleges. —Hallie

I hate the idea that extracurricular activities are something you HAVE to do. They should be something you do because they’re FUN, and you enjoy them. I would never advise someone to do something they didn’t want to do, whether it was sports or volunteering or an academic club, just because it will look good on an application.

And here’s a secret: when it comes to extracurriculars, colleges don’t really care what you do—they care about your passion. And you already have a passion. It doesn’t matter that it’s not a school activity. If you love riding horses, then work that into your essays and interviews, and the interviewers will be impressed. I mean, THREE barns? I’m impressed, and I don’t even know you.

I wasn’t on an athletic team in high school. I was in some other groups—choir, drama club, an academic quiz team—but most of my college essays were about my work with 4-H and Junior Fair Board. Those had nothing to do with school or sports, but I dedicated a ton of time to them and really loved working at the county fair, which came across in my interviews. I got accepted to every college that I applied to, and I even won quite a few scholarships!

If you’re looking to make social connections at school, there are other options. Activities that require lots of practice like sports or marching band can be really time-consuming, but your school probably has clubs or groups that meet less often. I found choir to be a really great social opportunity, because we only had after-school events a few times a year, but we got to see each other in class every day. And in my high school, some classes were actually set up more like workshops: Web Design was about building the school website, and Journalism meant working on the school paper. It’s worth finding out if a boring-looking class is actually an opportunity to collaborate with other people and maybe make new friends! But forget about your applications—as long as you’re doing something you enjoy and are dedicated to, those applications will practically write themselves. —Rachael

Why are Abercrombie & Fitch and Gilly Hicks such a big deal? Why do kids think you are a freak if you don’t wear them? Is there any way to get over that, or to get clothes like that for cheaper?

From fifth to seventh grade, there were all these kids in my school who wore Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister (not Gilly Hicks, but the same type of clothing). They didn’t just like the clothing—they built entire wardrobes from just those stores. I remember an older friend of mine actually told me, “You will get beat up if you don’t wear Abercrombie & Fitch in sixth grade.” Though I never got beat up, I did get made fun of for wearing anything other than those labels. Like you, I didn’t really get why Abercrombie & Fitch was such a big deal. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that those preppy polo shirts and strategically ripped denim jeans with the moose label weren’t just articles of clothing. They were symbols.

Stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Gilly Hicks are filled with pictures of half-naked young people having fun at the beach. They blast club music and smell like tropical body spray. But more important, they’re filled with expensive clothing. A $70 pair of jeans might not seem outrageous for some people, but it is for most of the American population. And yes, of course, you can get that same pair of jeans at Target for way less, along with the pastel-pink polo and madras blazer. But a lot of kids don’t just care about the actual piece of clothing—they want that little moose. They want people to know that they got it at Abercrombie & Fitch, where the clothes are expensive.

These brands sell very basic-looking clothing that you can no doubt get for a better price elsewhere. Trust me, you can find a pale gray cardigan at Target or Old Navy. Here’s a dress at A&F for almost $100, and one at Forever 21 for $28—and I like the Forever 21 version better!

For some reason, some people think it’s uncool not to wear what everyone else is wearing. Even if your outfit looks and feels and smells like an A&F shirt, it’s not right because it doesn’t have the label. It doesn’t have that stupid moose that somehow makes the most boring cardigan covetable to teenagers. People our age also seem to like things that are only available to a certain group of people and will then make fun of anyone who doesn’t have those things in order to make themselves feel better for having them.

Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for not wearing a certain label. And remember: getting dressed should and can be fun, and there are no rules or requirements for how to dress! —Hazel

Recently, a few “friends” started spreading false rumors about me around school. Any tips on how to confront this and deal with them? —Amanda

Oy. THIS. I can tell you that this happens a lot, but that’s not really going to help you, is it? When people resort to this kind of conflict, the grossest thing about it is how hard it is to actually end the fight or settle the issue. After a while, it’s all a big headache-inducing mystery—everyone’s hurt, but no one knows why they’re hurting each other. If they had been willing to sit down and talk to you about their issues, this could have been resolved with zero splash back. But they’ve chosen a different path. Now it’s up to you to resolve it.

Basically, the root of this rumor-spreading is probably their inability to say—or even know—what it is that’s really upsetting them. Your “friends” are probably experiencing some feelings that make them uncomfortable. Maybe they’re jealous, or maybe they were hurt by something you said, or maybe they’re offended for another reason. But they were either scared or they didn’t know how to say it, so they tried to hurt you without actually having to look you in the face. Attention rumor-spreaders in the reading audience: this is a terrible strategy!

At any rate, retaliating will only make things worse. You have got to be the more grown-up party here, and go to these people and ask them, as politely and nicely as you can possibly manage, why they felt it was necessary to do this. Be willing to listen. I won’t guarantee that their reasons will be good, but they will probably have reasons, and if those feelings are even vaguely understandable, you should try to create a situation where everyone’s happy. And the thing is, the problem at the root of these things is often much smaller and more fixable than anyone tends to imagine. Sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding. Sometimes it’s a grudge that’s been held for so long that it seems much bigger than it is. This isn’t about unconditional forgiveness—they’re going to have to apologize for spreading the rumors and do what they can to correct them. It’s about creating solutions.

Of course, once you’ve done that, the ball is back in their court. They may react in a way that’s helpful, or they may continue to be jerks. If they are jerks, you can say the following to anyone who asks: “[X] was just mad at me, so she decided to make up that story. I tried to figure out what her deal was, but she wouldn’t tell me. I think we’re all a little too old to care about rumors, don’t you?”

BLAM. Now you look responsible and your “friends” look like mean gossip-mongers. This is both honorable and satisfying because, unlike the rumor-spreaders of the world, you are telling the truth. —Sady

I’ve been having sex with this guy for about a year and a half. I’m 17 and he’s 43, married with children and a pregnant wife. I don’t want him to leave his marriage, and I know we will never be a couple. I wanted to ask for help from someone who wouldn’t look at him as a pedophile or me as an idiot, because sometimes I really do feel that I’m in love with him. He helped me go through a really rough time in my life. But I want to have a real relationship, and this is changing the way I relate to guys my age. I know that I should leave the relationship, but I can’t seem to do it. It’s not easy leaving something you’re so attached to, even if you know it’s not the right thing for you. Because when we’re together, I really am happy, but I want a normal relationship with a guy who only wants me. I don’t know what to do. Please help.

First of all, I sure don’t think you’re an idiot. I was in a similar situation when I was 15—the guy wasn’t 43, he was 24, but he was also married with a child and a pregnant wife. He was the first person I had sex with. It was exciting, and the sex was great, and I wasn’t having the best time at school or at home, so having this sophisticated (so he seemed at the time) older “boyfriend” really helped me feel like I had something good in my life, something that other people in my high school, the people who made fun of me for being shy and dressing weird, didn’t have. I loved it when he’d pick me up from school in his car, before anyone in my class had a driver’s license. That shit was fun, you know? And I’m about to say something possibly controversial: I don’t regret that relationship for a minute. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re damaged because something like this happened to them, and just because I was 15 doesn’t mean I didn’t on some level understand what I was doing. I don’t feel like I was dumb to get into it, and I don’t feel traumatized or damaged by it now. I needed it at the time, and even though I now understand that he was kind of a loser (more on that in a minute), he was never mean to me. He was nicer and smarter than most of the boys in my class, and he made me feel special. For a little while.

That feeling ended when I was talking to a cool, loud-talking girl from another high school and I mentioned his name and she said, “Have you had sex with him yet? It’s like a rite of passage.” I mean, I was naive enough to believe that I was the only person he was seeing outside of his marriage. I was also naive enough to believe him when he told me that his wife was a bitch, that they never had sex anymore (then how’d she get pregnant?), that his parents made him marry her when she was pregnant with their first kid, etc. I bought all of this bs from him even though I was a smart person. Why? Because I was 15 (which doesn’t mean I wasn’t savvy; it just means I didn’t have a ton of experience) and I wanted him to love me. When I realized that what was, like, rainbows & kittens LOVE for me was just a piece on the side for him, I cried for like two days and never slept with him again.

Now that I’m 41, basically the age of your guy, I see this all really differently. I feel for the wife of the guy I was with. I understand now why she was bitchy to me—she probably knew her husband had a thing for teenage girls, and saw that I was always hanging around, and put two and two together. Poor woman, right? Can you imagine that feeling? I hope for her sake that they’re not together anymore.

I also see, from this side of the age gap, that your dude, sorry to say it, is an asshole. Listen to what he’s doing: he is lying to the person that he married, who is about to give birth to their baby, and carrying on a relationship with a teenager. If any of my my-age friends were doing this…well, honestly, they wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t be friends with a person who did this! A man my age who was cheating on his wife with a high school student would seem like a person with a problem. He would seem gross and sad. I really wouldn’t want to hang out with him.

I asked one of my 43-year-old guy friends, Chris, if he would ever consider dating a teenager on the side, and what he would think of a peer in that situation. Chris is married and has three kids. He is really cute and funny and smart and decent—the kind of person you will be friends with when you’re our age. Here’s what he said: “Middle-aged dads with wives and kids who sleep with teenagers are, by definition, skeevy liars with power issues and deep unresolved sex stuff. As much as he may pretend it’s all normal and lovey-dovey, he knows how slimy and awful and embarrassing he’s being.”

I agree with Chris! The man you’re involved with knows full well that what he’s doing isn’t fair to his wife, their kids, OR YOU, but he keeps on doing it. That is because he sucks! Even though he’s nice to you! (I also feel obligated to inform you, even though you probably have already Googled this, that depending on where you live, this guy might be breaking the law.) It’s OK! My guy sucked, too! I still don’t regret it. But: I carried on with him for only six months. If I had kept up the relationship for a year and a half, I might feel differently. Six months I feel I can chalk up to “Oh, that was an interesting and helpful, though not ideal, experience.” A year and a half starts to get into “Why did I waste so much time on this person?” I don’t want you to live to regret this relationship, so here is my advice.

You say that you want to have a real relationship, and that you know that your relationship with this man is what’s holding you back, and you KNOW you should leave. So you already know what I’m gonna tell you. Leave. Now. Go have a normal, fun, teenage relationship with someone closer to your age. Know that you’ll feel sad for a while and cry and cry and want to call/text/email him. But RESIST. I know it’s hard, but a lot of things that are worth it in life are hard. Be brave. You already know that you’ve outgrown this grown man. Zoom past him. Go to your next thing. When you’re 30 you’ll see him the way Chris and I do, I promise. But for now, find someone who can be your actual boyfriend, and don’t look back. <3 anaheed We’re having a debate in my English class about abortion. The pro-life people were on the right side of the room and the pro-choice people on the left. I’ve always felt pro-choice, so I sat on the left. For 45 minutes, everyone yelled back and forth about what was right and wrong. The pro-life camp was saying that you’re a murderer if you have an abortion. The pro-choice set was saying that it’s up to the person. I didn’t know what to say. My English teacher is obviously pro-life. She claims she saw a video of a fetus squirming around with a face like this :O as the doctor tried to vacuum it out. Is that even possible? The debate is going to continue next week. I want to say something, but I think that people stick to their opinions, even if they know they’re wrong. What should I say?

Well! First of all, you should definitely not measure your success here by whether you change every single mind in the room. That’s a pretty impossible goal! As you’ve noted, people who’ve chosen sides—especially on abortion—tend to stick to them.

So that’s the bad news. But it is also the good news! Because the fact is, even if you are not going to change EVERYBODY’S mind, you can definitely change SOME people’s minds. I was strongly anti-choice when I was a kid, and I am pretty much the opposite now, so clearly opinions change. The thing is, as you’ve noted, the process of sharing these opinions can get really emotional, and people yell at each other. And when someone is yelling at you about your opinions, you tend to disagree with that person even more strongly. That’s not to say that yelling is always wrong. You just have to choose your response based on whom you’re talking to at the moment.

In a classroom situation, I recommend quiet confidence. Do some research before going into the classroom, marshal your facts, and then explain calmly why you are pro-choice. Leave the “good person/bad person” talk out of it. Just have some facts about the concrete ways that you believe abortion can help people. You can talk about how it can sometimes be necessary to save lives, you can talk about how it happens even when it’s illegal and is often very dangerous under those situations, you can talk about how it can help people to stay afloat financially. What matters is that you’re describing facts, not personal judgments. Honestly, lots of people will just be impressed because you’re not yelling! When everybody in the room is fighting, being the calm, reasonable one earns people’s respect and attention. The people who aren’t yelling or participating in these debates are often undecided, waiting for someone to present them with a perspective that makes sense. You can do that for them.

You may have noticed that I am taking it for granted that you will speak up in class. Because: YES, DEFINITELY, YOU SHOULD SPEAK UP IN CLASS. There are precious few opportunities in life where someone explicitly asks you to share your opinions on the issues that are important to you, and you should take ALL of those opportunities. You won’t change everyone’s mind when you speak up, but you will change no one’s mind when you stay silent. —Sady

How can I prevent bleeding on my sheets when I’m asleep and on my period? It always seems to happen, and it’s super annoying. Tampons give me major anxiety, but is that the only way to prevent it? —Emma

Hi Emma! Hmm, OK, so tampons give you major anxiety, but is it because (A) you don’t want to stick something up there, or (B) because tampons aren’t always reliable overnight, and you want your vadge to get some air while you sleep?

If it’s A, there’s a couple of different things you could try. You could ask your mom for, or invest in for yourself, “period sheets”—sheets in a dark color, like brown, wine, or navy. My friend Alice did this, and her mom laughed, but thought it was a great idea. I could never do that, ’cause my mom and I aren’t LIKE that, but maybe you two are. You could also sleep on a towel. There are also these, which are underpants with a super-absorbent pad BUILT RIGHT IN!

Now, if you don’t like tampons because you feel weird leaving them in for eight hours, or you don’t always wake up before they leak onto your sheets, then allow me to introduce you to my best on-the-rag friend, the Diva Cup.

Yeeees, GOD, the Diva Cup. Invented by women! The company is female-owned and run! I’m obsessed with mine. Like really obsessed. Like tell-everyone-I-know obsessed. The Diva Cup has changed my life—it’s so easy and convenient and reliable and travel-friendly and cheap that I SOMETIMES FORGET I HAVE MY PERIOD AT ALL. I’m not kidding.

The Diva Cup is a bendy, soft silicone cup that you stick inside you right where a tampon goes. You can’t feel it. For real. It stays in for up to 12 hours, held securely in place by your muscles, and fills up with menstrual blood, so you only have to take it out twice a day. NOW I KNOW THAT SOUNDS CREEPY, but it holds a lot more blood (a whole ounce) than tampons or pads can absorb, and, just like a tampon, you can feel when it’s time to change it. NO MORE BLOOD ON THE SHEETS.

It takes a little practice putting it in and taking it out to get used to, but once you get it, you’ll become a pro, fast. When it’s full, you reach up, grab it with your fingers, and pull it out, dumping the blood into the toilet. If you’re at home, you can rinse it with water from the sink, but if you’re in a public restroom, you just dump the blood into the toilet, wipe the inside with some toilet paper, and pop it back in. And it’s tiny—you can always keep it with you in the adorable little drawstring bag it comes in, which is perfect if you’re one of those people who, um, cannot keep track of your cycle and are PERPETUALLY SURPRISED to find yourself bleeding.

Best of all: using a reusable cup like this is good for the environment, and keeps money out of the big, male-run corporations that sell women tampons—corporations that put bleach in tampons, and advertisers that tell us our natural vaginas are disgusting and need to be scented with “deodorizers.” Fuck them. Women’s bodies don’t smell bad. And unless you want to, you don’t need to be paying upwards of $10 a month for the privilege of having your period without bleeding everywhere.

Women have been bleeding successfully, on our own, for thousands of years. We got options, ya know? —Krista

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