As the world is right now, feminism is more important than ever. Period. The right to safe, legal abortion access in the United States, Ireland, Poland and beyond are threatened. Young women are most at risk when it comes to experiencing depression and anxiety. Our governments are rolling back protections on LGBT people and endangering the marginalised. A serious lacking in sex and relationships education – and in many countries, any education at all – creates a domino effect across the minds and bodies of generations. It’s important, when living in this political and social climate that incites violence and discrimination, to be active, resisting and educated. A new book, Here We Are: Feminism For the Real World, seeks to aid that.
Kelly Jensen, an associate editor at Book Riot, has created a guide to 21st century feminism for young people, unpacking issues surrounding racism, mental health, body image, sex and relationships and gender all through an intersectional feminism lens. Contributors to the anthology include Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay and recent Dazed cover star, actor and activist Amandla Stenberg, all bringing essays, poems and articles to the guide. Here We Are looks to the future (you) to help continue to build the feminist fightback.
Dazed spoke to Jensen about the guide, resisting in turbulent times and the future of feminism.
What was the initial idea behind the anthology?
Kelly Jensen: I’ve been running a really popular series on my blog STACKED (stackedbooks.org) for a few years that focuses on girls and reading. It stemmed from a question I see and hear all the time that bothers me to no end: ‘what about the boys?’ In other words, there’s a lot of discussion about boys and reading and why boys don’t read or what books are ‘boy’ books and so forth, and the sexism in those questions – not to mention the fact that books don’t have gender – led me to want to begin flipping the question. The series, called ‘About The Girls,’ invited authors to write about girls, talk about feminism, and highlight the powerful girls in YA lit.
I loved putting that together and realised that expanding the idea more broadly to feminism and why it is feminism matters would make an excellent book. The rest is history!
What is there that needs to be said about feminism in the current climate right now?
Kelly Jensen: It’s as relevant, if not more relevant, than it’s ever been and more, it’s vital our feminism is inclusive and intersectional. Social progress won’t be achieved if we’re only looking out for privileged white women (of which I am one!). We have to listen to and advocate alongside people of colour, those who are economically disadvantaged, those who fall outside the ‘traditional’ gender roles, those who are disabled.
And why is intersectional feminism so paramount?
Kelly Jensen: It’s not feminism if it ignores the intersections of oppression. It’s important to acknowledge, for example, that a disabled Latina faces not only discrimination and oppression by being female, she also faces it by being Latina and by having a disability. Each of those identities is part of who she is, and each one deserves acknowledgement and work on the part of feminism to find that place we call ‘equal’.
What are some of the major topics covered?
Kelly Jensen: I spent a long time thinking about organisation when putting the book together, and I ended up looking at themes throughout the essays and grouping them accordingly. Major topics include body image (including mental health and wellness), getting started on the journey toward feminism, pop culture, gender, sex and sexuality, relationships (romantic and non), and confidence.
Amandla Stenberg is on our most recent cover. Why did you wish to include Amandla, and why is what she’s saying so integral?
Kelly Jensen: Amandla is, without question, one of the biggest voices in today’s younger generation and for good reason: Amandla talks openly about gender identity, about sexuality, and about racism, having been discriminated against for all of those parts of themself. The transcript from their YouTube video highlights the importance of talking about cultural appropriation, and their Instagram post included in the anthology hits hard about the standards of beauty that differ among different races.
What are your hopes for the anthology?
Kelly Jensen: I hope that readers pick it up with an open mind and finish feeling ready to do good work. I don’t anticipate readers agreeing with everything in the collection, and in fact, there are plenty of spaces within the anthology where essays don’t always agree with one another. But, as Mikki Kendall points out in her essay, we find our own feminism they ways we need to, and that as long as we respect and understand that, we’re all fighting the same fight in our own ways.
What informed your first experience of feminism? How has it progressed?
Kelly Jensen: I don’t know that I had a real ‘ah ha’ moment so much as knowing I’ve always written about and been passionate about girls and women. I did a lot of research in college especially about girls – teen girls — and their relationships to themselves and society at large. My essay in the anthology talks about how I never really labeled myself as a ‘feminist’ because I didn’t think I was loud or brave enough to be so. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand how feminism looks different for everyone and that’s one of the movement’s biggest strengths. It’s okay to be a quiet feminist as much as it’s okay to be a loud, proud, on-the-front-lines feminist.
Why is engaging so important right now?
Kelly Jensen: Honestly, today’s young people get it more than us older people do. They’re living in a world that looks different than the one we grew up with. Their lives are inclusive, their languages are expansive, and they’re so damn smart. They’re leading protests, they’re walking out of classrooms, and they’re changing their world in big and small ways.
I don’t so much see Here We Are as a guidebook for them. I see it as a companion to the work they’re doing and an invitation for those looking to find language for or ways into the movement.
Follow Anna Cafolla on Twitter here @annacafolla