By Michelle Sandler
Newton South High School Class of 2017
“So, Michelle, do you want to be a princess when you grow up, or a queen?” inquired the honeyed voice of my preschool teacher as she led me into the classroom for the first time.
“I want to be King,” I replied, beginning to explore the toy bins.
“Oh, sweetie, I think you’re a little confused. Boys are kings and princes. Girls are princesses and queens.”
“Well, I want to be King,” I maintained confidently, rummaging through the contents of a jigsaw puzzle’s box to find the edge pieces.
“And why is that?”
“Because,” I explained, looking up from my puzzle to meet her gaze, “princesses and queens don’t do anything. Kings have all the power.”
On my first day of fifth grade, when I stood up to leave General Studies for Advanced Math, a class consisting of myself and five boys that had met twice a week since the beginning of first grade, my teacher sat me back down, stating that I was no longer in Advanced Math. When I arrived home and explained this sudden change to my parents, they called the school principal, who declared:
“She’s in fifth grade, and the class is all boys. Michelle doesn’t belong there anymore. It’s inappropriate.”
When my dad relayed this to me, I was devastated. This never would have happened to a King, whispered a young, stubborn voice in the back of my head. That little voice only grew louder as I became older, increasing in volume with each obstacle I faced, and reaching its climax this past weekend when I received an email with an attachment regarding my first professional acting job.
Carefully perusing the script, I discovered that my only scene was one in which I stood outside in a bikini for three hours in fifty degree weather for the sole purpose of being ogled by the film’s protagonist, a thirteen-year-old boy. Acting had always been my priority, and I wanted my first paid job so much that it hurt, but if I accepted the role, I would be indoctrinating myself into the silent majority of women who accept the status quo, shrug their shoulders, and allow themselves to be objectified because “that’s just how it is.” The voice of three-year-old me in the back of my head insisted that a King would never settle for “that’s just how it is.”
I listened to that voice when I sent a reply politely declining the job. I will always listen to that voice, because being King does not mean fulfilling some childish dream of wearing a golden crown on my birthday; being King means receiving the same rights as my male counterparts.
Being King means being viewed as a whole person, not just as an object or as someone’s appendage. Equality may theoretically exist on paper, but it still needs to be fought for in practice. It will not be an effortless battle, but I am prepared to fight the lack of well-written, multidimensional roles for actresses. I am prepared to fight to increase the number of movies that pass the Bechdel test. I am prepared to fight to reduce the wage gap. I am prepared to fight for as long as I must until the only place I ever read about girls in other countries who still need to fight for their right to education is in a history textbook. I will not stop fighting until anyone, regardless of their gender, can be King.