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Student sex-ed activist Shelby Knox is planning a path to the White House

On June 21, the 18th season of PBS' P.O.V. series kicks off with The Education of Shelby Knox, a documentary film about a 15-year-old girl's fight to bring comprehensive, fact-based sex education to public schools in Lubbock, Texas. Lubbock has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the nation, yet its students are taught a minimal abstinence-only curriculum by a pastor who preaches the failure rate of condoms, but not how to use them.

Produced by Rose Rosenblatt and Marion Lipschutz, the documentary follows Shelby Knox, a politically conservative Southern Baptist, as she becomes the unlikely poster child for comprehensive sex education. Although she doesn't win her battle against the school board, Knox finds her voice as she challenges the religious community, city officials, and her peers. Just as engrossing as the development of her political and religious identity is the dynamic between Knox and her parents as they grow with her, adapting to their newly liberal daughter with amazing grace.

San Antonians had the opportunity to meet Knox, now a student at UT-Austin, when she was in town March 29 for a screening of the documentary at the CineMujer film festival, cosponsored by the Esperanza Center and Palo Alto College. Knox spoke with the Current about feminism and life after the film.

Susan Pagani: What does feminism mean to you?

Shelby Knox: For me, feminism has become recognizing that we are not living in a society where things are equal. In sex education classes they portray boys that have a lot of sex as players and girls that have a lot of sex as sluts. And it's only the girl's responsibility to make sure the guy uses a condom, even though it's his penis.

SP: Do you think the next generation is carrying on the feminist tradition?

SK: My generation needs to have a fire lit under them, but young women are afraid to call themselves feminists now, it's a bad label. We don't like labels; that's what makes us more independent. But we are also looking at a more diverse range of legislative items; it's not just about choice anymore - we do need to fight for that, but my generation has never lived in a world where abortion wasn't legal - it's also about childcare, paternity leave, and feminist men. The second wave doesn't see the third wave picking it up because we are doing it in a different way.

SP: How is "feminist" a bad label?

SK: Feminism is not equality between the sexes, it's not sameness, but that all people are allowed equal opportunity, regardless of sex, age, sexuality, economic status. We want to define it more broadly so that it includes all women, not just white, middle-class, heterosexual women.

SP: What have you been up to since the film?

The Education of Shelby Knox
KLRN Channel 9
9pm Jun 21
(check local station listings)
SK: I'm a first-year sophmore at UT-Austin. I'm pre-law, with a major in political science, and a minor in communications. I recently applied to become a peer educator, which means I'd be certified to teach sex education to other students. And I'm writing for an `Internet-based` collegiate magazine called the F-Word, which is due out on May 7.

SP: What are you writing about?

SK: I'm writing on sexual education, and my next two articles will be about women and religion and female genital mutilation.

SP: What kind of work would you like to do?

SK: I want to go in to politics with a platform on women's and children's rights. I would begin in local politics in Austin, over the next couple of years, and then, after I graduate, state and national. Ideally, I would start off in the state legislature, move to the Senate, and then make a run for President of the United States.

SP: Is there anyone in politics today that you admire?

SK: If Hilary Clinton runs in 2008 I will take a year off and work for her. She is a woman who knows how to play the political game and stick to her convictions. And I respect that, because a lot of times women have to choose.

By Susan Pagani