We’ve wanted to be Julie Zeilinger when we grow up ever since she launched the feminism-for-teens website TheFBomb.org. Never mind that she’s still under legal drinking age. The Barnard student and author of the new book A Little F’d Up talked to us about embracing your feminism, the Fourth Wave, and body image.
The subtitle of your book is “why feminism is not a dirty word.” We know why we think it’s a great word — but how about you? As a young feminist, why do you think it’s important not just to have feminism, but to call ourselves feminists?
I call myself a feminist not only because I identify with and support the movement, but as a teenager I found that my peers simply hadn’t been exposed to that many people who outwardly called themselves feminists. They hadn’t been exposed to or educated about feminism and therefore relied on negative stereotypes or just remained ignorant about it. By calling myself a feminist, I found that I was able to raise awareness about it and educate those who asked me about my identity. However, I have never felt that one has to label themselves a feminist to be involved in the feminist movement or to believe in and fight for feminist issues. I recognize that there are people who would rather not label themselves in any way and I think that’s fine as long as they’re educated about these issues and are willing to fight for their rights. Of course, I think that if somebody does label themself as feminist they’re much more likely to be invested in this movement and put themselves on the front lines of the issues we fight for, but at the same time I’m not sure fretting over the label is the most important thing we should be worried about right now as a movement.
There’s a lot of talk among feminists right now about what the “fourth wave” of feminism stands for, and whether there even is a fourth wave. What are your thoughts on that? What makes your generation of feminists different from previous generations?
I’m not really a huge fan of the “wave” model just because I think feminism is a continuous movement. It’s a movement that’s constantly evolving and our short-term goals may differ from those of feminists past, but our ultimate goal of equality is still the same. However, if there is a “fourth wave” I think it would probably be defined by our use of the internet, social media, and blogging. In the past decade or so, a lot of feminist activism and organizing has taken place largely online. We’ve created communities through blogs, have created social change through petitions and email campaigns targeting corporations, politicians, etc. and demanding change in huge numbers. The vastness of the internet has allowed us to connect to women all over the world – to share our experiences and ideas – and I think in a lot of ways it has democratized the feminist movement in that anybody with a compelling voice and message has the opportunity to be heard.
What do you see as the biggest problems facing young feminists today? What are the big issues we need to be tackling?
On the FBomb, we’re constantly talking about body image and the pressures young women feel to fit a certain ideal of beauty. It’s a very real and consuming issue for my generation and I fear it’s only getting worse due to the perpetuation of these images – ads surround us and our generation is consuming more media than any generation before us. However, I think especially considering the upcoming election and the political climate of the past year, reproductive rights is a really pressing issue my generation needs to focus on right now. It’s depressing to think that the same issue feminists in the ’60s and ’70s were fighting for is still very much relevant today, and that the rights that were won in the Second Wave are at stake but I think my generation is going to have to play an integral role in defending these rights. Politically, the majority of us are on the same page: a recent survey showed that 88% of us support comprehensive sex education and 64% support access to legal abortion. It’s just a matter of us really rallying behind and organizing around this issue.
Have you seen changes in the modern feminist landscape even just during your last few years of blogging? And how has running your blog affected your view of feminism?
I think because the FBomb is based on submissions from teen girls and boys from all over the world, I – as well as all readers of the FBomb – have been given a really comprehensive picture of my generation’s relationship with feminism in a way that isn’t quite replicated on any other site that only features the writing of one or a few people. I think a couple of broader themes have emerged from the vast array of content we’ve posted over the past couple of years, the most predominate being that feminism, for my generation, is about combating much more subtle issues today. Whereas feminists of years past were fighting for really concrete political and economic rights (and while, indeed, many of those fights still continue today), I believe the issues my generation deal with don’t always have a blinking arrow pointing them out as discrimination or inequality. Street harassment is a good example of this. There have been so many posts written on the FBomb about street harassment, and there are inevitably comments written on those posts that basically say they hadn’t even considered it to be a feminist issue – they just felt it was something annoying that made them feel uncomfortable, but something they also just largely considered an inevitability of being a woman. It didn’t occur to them that it was a feminist issue and was something they could rally to do something about. This has definitely impacted the way I approach feminism in that I think the key for continuing feminism in my generation is education. We can’t just assume young women understand feminism or have even heard of it, but I have faith that once young women are exposed to it in a comprehensive way, they’ll identify with it more often than not.
Are there one or two lessons in your book that stand out for you? What do you most want girls to take away from your book?
The last chapter of A Little F’d Up describes how feminism helped me – and how I believe it can help all of my peers – on a personal level, and more than anything else I really hope I can impart that to my peers. Young women often view feminism as something very broad and political, which it certainly can be, but I really want young women to understand that it’s much more individualized than that, too. I specifically focus on the positive way feminism helped me learn to love my body, to negotiate my relationships and stand up for my own needs and how it strengthened my female relationships and helped me understand why young women often compete with and tear down each other but also how overall it just made me a stronger, more confident and ultimately happier person. In the end, to me, that’s what feminism is all about.