Stories that sound familiar have hit our news feeds before. There was that high school in Utah that photoshopped the bare shoulders of young women’s yearbook photos, and that unnamed student on Reddit who came forward with her glamorized, retouched senior portrait. We’ve covered head-scratching dress code policies and talked about teens fighting the system to create change in their schools. But today’s story is a little bit different.
Meet Sophie. She’s the latest teen making headlines for fighting the powers that be. Only, her fight isn’t about hemlines or bra straps—it’s about the word “feminist” itself. Sophie was surprised to discover last week that the word “feminist,” which she wrote across her homemade black t-shirt, had been photoshopped out from her eighth grade class photo. Since taking to Instagram and Twitter with her frustrations, she’s seen her story go massively viral—even so far as The View, complete with this adorable video posted to her Twitter.
And while there’s so much to love about Sophie’s story—her supportive friends and family, her story being written about by famous feminist thinkers like Soraya Chemaly—what gives us the warm fuzzies about her story is simply this: Her story has a happy ending. What began as a frustrating and upsetting incident turned into a teachable moment: one in which her principal apologized, everyone learned a lesson, and hopefully, we all learn a bit more about what feminism needs. This thirteen-year-old rockstar sat down with us for an interview to tell us all about the situation and to drop some inspirational F-bombs along the way. (“F” standing for "feminism," that is.)
MTV: Hi, Sophie! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. I’m sure you must be more than a little overwhelmed between making headlines and, you know, having homework!
Sophie Thomas: Oh, you have no idea!
MTV: Why don't we start with a little introduction? Who you are, where you're from, what you like to do in your free time.
Sophie Thomas: Sure! So, my name is Sophie Thomas. I live in a small town in Ohio. I’m in eighth grade at Clermont Northeastern Middle School. I don’t do all that much in my spare time—I’m not crazy athletic or anything, but I play guitar, ukelele, some piano—and I play in a band with my friends.
MTV: That doesn’t sound to me like nothing—that sounds like you’re a musician! So, tell me more about the incident with the “Feminist” shirt in your yearbook photo.
Thomas: So, I wore the shirt—not to make a statement or anything, just wore it without planning it—during our eighth grade class picture. No one said anything to me about it. They basically just let it go. Got us in the group, sat me down, told me to put my legs underneath me, snapped the picture, and let it go. Last week on Monday, I found out that they removed the word from my shirt when I was in school and they passed out the class photos. I looked at it, saw that the word had been removed from my shirt, and I waited until the end of class to go to the office to speak with my principal, Mrs. Young, about it.
I was talking to her, and she said that she removed the word because some might take offense to it, and she didn’t want to create controversy, didn’t want anyone buying the photo to be offended by my shirt.
I was absolutely furious, and so was my best friend Jade, she was crazy mad, and she posted it on every social media site that she had and so did I. It just kind of blew up in the next couple of days. And some people weren’t too happy about it, honestly.
But my principal talked to me, and really it was all OK. We talked about it, she apologized, we decided together that we’re going to try to educate the students about what feminism is and why we need it. So, I’m on good terms with my principal! We have been frequently speaking together about ways we can make this situation better, how we can use this conversation to be about change. We’re hoping that we can get everyone in our community to realize that it’s not a bad word. We want everybody to know what it really means, and to know that it’s there because there are problems, not just here in America but everywhere. That it’s worse out there for people in other countries, and we need to recognize that it’s needed and to build up that conversation. We all need the same rights. And we need the world to not suck so much.
MTV: It also sounds like you've been really lucky to have such supportive friends behind you all the way. Did you begin the #KeepFeminismInSchools and #IDeserveFreedomOfExpression hashtags?
Thomas: Well, my friend and I got together and made this plan to spread this through the school, to get everyone on Friday the 17th to wear shirts that showed their support that this is important and we believe in this. So, we started the two hashtags, we posted it and people started reposting it. And then it was crazy. So, we made a ton of shirts on Thursday night, over thirty shirts together, and everyone wore them on Friday—we had a ton of people who wore them, a ton of support.
MTV: Why do you think people seemed to be threatened by this idea?
Thomas: Well—in this area, people can be narrow-minded, very conservative. So, I wouldn’t actually be surprised if people did find my shirt offensive. But I think we just have to tell them—look, it’s not offensive, you just have to learn about it. It’s a pretty easy concept, it’s equal rights for all the genders.
MTV: You know, sometimes it can be really hard for young people in situations like this—when it can feel like adults have all the power and control in a situation. How did it feel to be so young, having such adult conversations?
Thomas: Yeah, some of the adults involved—some of them think the whole thing is just a bigger deal than it needs to be. The superintendent, yeah, he’s really not happy with the situation. But all of us who believe in it, we all came together, and they really couldn’t say no to so many people.
And the adults at my school listened, they said: We’re sorry, OK, we’ll fix this. My mom has been amazing with all of this. I couldn’t ask for anything more. She’s been so helpful, so supportive. It’s crazy. I couldn’t do any of this without her.
MTV: I mean, it must feel so surreal to have all of this attention, to be at the center of this viral story.
Thomas: It’s been kinda really weird—no, I mean, OK...it’s been really weird! I mean, yesterday I was on The View! I mean, Whoopi Goldberg knows who I am?
But what’s great is that I’m planning to keep this going. I mean, people have been asking me to make them shirts, I’ve been wearing them every day. I’m actually wearing the original one right now! I’ve been wearing it as much as possible. I just want to keep talking. I’m crazy passionate and protective about this topic. As long as people understand that I’m doing a thing to protect what I believe in. If they understand why I am doing it, then that’s great, then I’m fine.
MTV: That’s amazing, Sophie. I can say this much: You might only be thirteen, but you’re an inspiration!
MTV News reached out to Clermont Northeastern Middle School for comment, but had not heard back as of press time.