(If I did manage to say anything offensive in this post, please leave a comment below telling me what I did wrong so I may correct it. I wrote this in a not very long amount of time with almost no preparation or revision. Thank you.)
I grew up (and still am growing up, I'm still an angst-ridden teenage junior in high school) in a fairly small town in a Midwestern state where not a lot really happened. To call it sheltered might be an overstatement, but growing up I wasn't too aware of the problems facing our society. It just wasn't something that I really worried about because, as a child, it wasn't something that directly affected me.
I was a pretty goody-two-shoes kid, but I had a really, almost dangerously strong moral compass. (At least I like to think so.) I wanted everyone to be my friend; I was nice to anyone I met. I wouldn't hurt a fly, physically or verbally- not that I would start shouting at an insect, but you get the point. Granted, this made me a bit of a pushover because I didn't want to make anyone mad at or disappointed with me. To an extent, this is all still true today. I try to be a little more carefree, but I still try to be as nice and kind as possible.
For the most part, people were nice to me as well, and I thought the world was a pretty swell place. It was somewhere people could all get along: everyone was equal, no one had any reason to fight or disagree, all was at peace.
As I grew older, things changed. I began to see the prevalence of racism, sexism, and other injustices in our society. It baffled me. I was still approaching the world with a everyone-gets-along mentality, and thus I was pretty confused. Why would people be mean to each other in this way? I thought everyone was friendly? All of this was something that I had trouble wrapping my mind around.
I learned about the significance of racism long before sexism and gender stereotyping, and even then I didn't really understand the full scope of racism until much later. As far as late-grade-school me was concerned, racism had stopped at the Civil Rights Movement. I didn't realize how blatantly wrong I was until much later. Maybe it was because I was in a fairly sheltered environment; we quite simply didn't discuss things like this, and as a result I didn't know that they existed.
But I soon learned. Going into middle school and high school, my eyes were soon opened to the injustices of the world. Yes, discrimination against races and genders and other groups was frequent in the world, not everyone got along, not everything was at peace. To put it lightly, this baffled me. I couldn't accept that I had been living in a world where these things happened. For a while, I didn't accept this. I didn't accept that I lived in a world where feminism was necessary because I didn't think it should have been necessary. Why couldn't we all just be equal? Why couldn't we all just be friends?
Thus began the deterioration of my innocence. I began to question, I began to learn. Learn about stereotyping, learn about how unequal some of us were and how privileged others were. I approached it from a unique perspective because I think I managed to avoid a lot of the bias and discriminatory views that would have been ingrained in me just because of my innocence. Granted, I'm not completely unbiased (especially as a straight half-white male coming from the community that I did), but I was emerging from a simulation where everyone was equal and entering a reality where everyone was not.
I was scared. But I soon came to accept this, and began to formulate my own opinions about things in high school. One of my closest friends (and probable soulmate) helped me with this. She opened my eyes to racism and sexism in our society and how unbalanced everything and everyone was. In addition, the fact that the internet began to spotlight these things with greater frequency also helped. Yes, that means you, BZP.
So I soon became an advocate for social justice. I now know that racism and sexism are present in our society. I know everyone isn't equal, and I know that we have to fix that. I know that feminism is necessary. I'm not the innocent kid that I used to be, and part of me misses that kid because it was a lot easier being that kid and not worry about saying the wrong thing or doing something offensive. But I had to accept the reality that I live in a society where those things can happen, and I had to accept how I had to change in order to not do that.
Granted, I'm certainly not perfect. I'm still learning, and every once in a while I might say something wrong or do something wrong, and I apologize for that. But I'm getting there. I know first-hand that it's a journey.
And, even though I'm certainly not at my destination, I've come pretty far.