There are a lot of Tennessee rules that I feel, as a teenager and a girl and a person, need to be broken. In Tennessee, it’s totally legal to own a personal semi-automatic firearm (aka the sort of weapon used to massacre innocent people at Sandy Hook, a number of the 142 school shootings since then, and now the Orlando shooting); it’s totally legal for therapists to refuse LGBTQ+ patients for “religious reasons”; and it’s totally legal for tampons to be taxed as a luxury.

Wait, what?

Yeah, that’s right. Tennessee’s primarily male congress has decided that menstruation is a luxury and those of us with vaginas should have to pay 20 extra dollars a year for being allowed the joyous luxury that is shedding our inner organs for roughly 7 days consecutively. They’ve decided that tampons will be expensive as heck but sure, they’ll give out condoms for free, even though periods are a lot harder to refrain from than sex. Even though Tennessee has a 17% poverty rate, and for 17% percent of our state, that extra $20 is nearly impossible to come by.

I’ve done Youth Legislature for 2 years. For those who don’t know, in Youth Leg. you get to be a mini-Congressman for a year, in which you design and write a bill, pro/con debate it, and then ultimately go to a city-wide conference where you and other youth get to present and pass/fail all the bills. It’s one of my favorite things on the planet.

The funny thing is that though the actual Tennessee Congress and the US Congress are primarily male, at least half of the kids in the Memphis Youth Legislature are girls and all but 1 of the bills that got out of committee in my House were created by girls. One of these bills was by my good friends Jessica and McKinley, and was to take off the luxury tax I was talking about earlier. It passed! It makes me so happy that the youth of Memphis (particularly the female half) are realizing that government is for them. Why leave it to the old guys when we’ve all got so much to say as well? Girls in government are becoming more and more common, active, and aware, and are making more and more of an impact by the second.

Young women aren’t taken seriously in many political fields, and I have been a victim of that. I had a bill about guns last year, and my knowledge on the subject was seriously questioned and scrutinized since “guns aren’t girly”. I’ve been told to shut up because it’s unladylike, but that’s only made me raise my placard to speak more. I’ll keep on raising my placard until people quit focusing on the controversy of my existence in a male-dominated field and start focusing on the controversy my actual bills propose, because I’m here to change the game.

I’ll wrap up with this Paul Wellstone quote: “Politics that does not speak to and include all people is an intellectually arrogant politics that deserves to fail.” In America, there are a lot of issues to be solved that are selectively permeable in that certain voices are overplayed while others are muted. If you think that that’s wrong, there’s no way better to fix it than to act. I love youth legislature because I feel like we live in such a sensitive culture in which bringing up anything even remotely political in everyday conversation can be dangerous. In government classes, I’ve gotten to meet and work with people that love challenging that. I’ve gotten to be in an environment where controversy is encouraged and rewarded rather than shut down. For a really long time, we females have been locked out of that environment and that world, and it’s time we take it by storm. The all-girls St. Mary’s team took home the most wins at the 2016 Memphis Youth Legislature conference. Some people will deny it, but the world needs girls; and we’re giving it to them.

Love,

proud Outstanding Delegate Award winner, Outstanding Bill Award winner, and Grrlpuncher,

Ruby