: In 2004, Jessica Valenti, disillusioned with mainstream women’s rights organizations that ignored the voices of young women, started Feministing.com, a blog meant to both engage young women in the feminist movement and keep them updated on issues that affect them most in politics, media and pop culture. Feministing was an immediate success in large part because it “filled a gap” in the blogosphere, says Valenti, 28. Since then, Feministing has become a must-read for anyone concerned with the state of women’s rights as it has outraged conservative anti-feminists with its sharp, witty coverage of everything from the state of women’s rights in Iraq to a pro-life organization that matches up single pregnant women with men willing to marry them in hopes of forestalling abortions. Valenti has also written for Ms., Bitch and Salon.com, and is a regular contributor to The Guardian. In May 2007 Seal Press published her first book, Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, which aims to show young women that they are feminists, even if they don’t know it yet. The following interview with Valenti was conducted by recent Nation intern Molly Bennett.
The first chapter of Full Frontal Feminism is called “You’re a Hardcore Feminist. I Swear.” Why do you think young women are reluctant to call themselves feminists?
There’s a reason that anti-feminist stereotypes tell young women, “Feminists are ugly, feminists hate men. You don’t want to be like that, do you?” Because obviously, what do young women not want to be? They don’t want to be ugly, they don’t want to be man-haters. They want to be considered attractive, since they’re living in a country that values that above all else. But the thing is, I do think that most young women have feminist values. If you ask them if they believe in pay equity, of course they’re going to say yes. Or access to birth control, or fighting against rape. But when it comes to taking on that word, they’re just too freaked out about it–and for a reason.
I was totally freaked out about it too, even though I was going to pro-choice rallies when I was thirteen. For some reason I could say, “I went to a pro-choice march,” but I couldn’t say, “Yes I’m a feminist.” I also hear a lot of women saying, “I don’t know what that means. What does feminism mean, anyway?” And it’s interesting to me that it’s one of the only things that there’s no real definition for. No one says, “Well, what do you mean you work against racism, what’s that all about?” Feminism is one of the few things where you’re asked to justify your politics.
You got your Masters in Women’s Studies, but you write that you’re more engaged by activism than academia.
I love that I got my Masters and I think it informed my activism in a huge way. I don’t think I would be the same feminist without it. But once I couldn’t talk about this stuff [academic theory] with my mom, who totally influenced my feminism, it just ceased to be useful for me. I think it’s great and important and I think that everyone should have some base level understanding. There’s nothing worse online than when you have to reinvent the wheel with some commenters. There’s a blog called Finally Feminism 101 that kind of goes through the basics, so now we just tell people to go to that blog and then come back in a month.
Last year, Ana Marie Cox (formerly of Wonkette) wrote that though she considers herself a feminist, “Strident feminism can seem out of place, even tacky, in a world where women have come so demonstrably far.” Do you think many young women under that impression, that feminism is obsolete?
Half and half. Some women who are out there are serious activists, even if they’re not calling their activism feminism. And I think there are women who do think, “Oh, we vote, so that’s enough”, and they’re completely politically unaware. Until you drop a bunch of random bombs on them, and that’s really all it takes. But I don’t think that’s why young women shy away from feminism, I think that it’s a more general fear of being politically engaged, because young women are so pushed against that. I’ve always been political, and my parents were really political, and I was an outspoken kid, and I know I took a lot of shit for it. “You’re loud, you’re obnoxious, quiet down, you’re not being ladylike.” So I think that’s a big problem.