Friday, July 18, 2014

Feminist Friday: Tavi Gevinson

Tavi Gevinson is an 18-year-old American writer, and the creator and editor-in-chief of Rookie magazine.
Tavi became famous at age 11 because of her fashion blog Style Rookie. When she was 15 she became more interested in feminist writings and decided to create Rookie. 

In our society teenage girls as a group are generally not taken seriously. Media marketed towards that demographic is not considered real art (Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus), and young girls' opinions are not generally valued.
Tavi and her blog received a lot of criticism due to her young age and gender. A 2008 NYmag article said, "We're not sure if a 12-year-old is actually doing all this or if she's getting some help from a mom or older sister" implying that someone Tavi's age could not do what she did alone.
In 2010, an article in the New Yorker quoted a woman in the fashion industry who said Tavi's blog "would be unremarkable if she were not thirteen years old. If she were twenty-three, we’d say, ‘Yeah. Who cares?’" implying that her blog was only popular because of her age. So she had critics suggesting she couldn't do it all herself and critics suggesting that people only cared about her work because she was young, and not because of any talent she had.

In this awesome TED Talk that Tavi gave in 2012, she said that as she was finished middle school and entering high school she became really confused.
She said, "I was trying to reconcile all these differences that you're told you can't be when you're growing up as a girl. You can't be smart and pretty, you can't be a feminist who's also interested in fashion, you can't care about clothes if it's not for the sake of what other people (usually men) will think of you...
I wanted to start a website for teenage girls that was not kind of this one-dimensional strong character empowerment thing, because I think one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be a feminist they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in your beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all of the answers. And this is not true and actually reconciling all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I understood that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process."

illustration by Tavi Gevinson launched in September 2011. The magazine is for teenage girls and many of the contributors are teenage girls. The magazine features articles, interviews, comics, photography, visual art, and music playlists created by regular staff, readers of the magazine, and guest contributors.

Tavi is a defender of other young famous women and girls. She wrote an essay proclaiming her love of Taylor Swift's music and defending Taylor against the haters. She has interviewed Lorde and Miley Cyrus and spoken to both about feminism, spreading the word that feminism does not have to be a rigid, specific set of ideas but can be something very personal.

 In that same TEDtalk, Tavi talked about the lack of strong female characters represented in the media. She said, "The problem with [over-simplifying female characters] is that then people expect women to be that easy to understand and women are mad at themselves for not being that simple when in actuality women are complicated, women are multi-faceted, not because women are crazy but because people are crazy and women happen to be people."

Tavi created a space on the internet that gives young girls a voice and lets them know that it's okay to not have it all figured out, to be more than one thing, to be confused about your identity and growing up, and to be whoever you are unapologetically.

Highlights from the first two years of Rookie have been compiled into two books:

Rookie Yearbook One

and Rookie Yearbook Two

Friday, July 11, 2014

Feminist Friday: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an actor, screenwriter, and film director. He also runs an open collaborative production company called HitRecord. He is a self-proclaimed feminist and uses his position in the cultural spotlight to draw attention to some of the problematic areas in our culture including the role the media plays in sexism.

One of Gordon-Levitt's most famous recent roles was in 2009's (500) Days of Summer. He played the main character, Tom, who falls in love with Zooey Deschanel's character, Summer. Her character is a manic pixie dream girl and Tom sort of thinks she will change his life and places a lot of pressure on their relationship. I think the general response to the movie was a lot of people sympathizing with and romanticizing the character of Tom, and vilifying the character of Summer.

Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer
In this 2012 interview with Playboy, Gordon-Levitt said, "The (500) Days of Summer attitude of “He wants you so bad” seems attractive to some women and men, especially younger ones, but I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn't care about much else going on in his life. A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person."

With that quotation he basically dismantles the concept of the manic pixie dream girl and explains to his fans that it's not a healthy way to view other people or relationships. Good job, Jo!

Gordon-Levitt made his directorial debut with the 2013 film Don Jon, which he wrote and starred in. In the film the character of Don Jon places a lot of value on his physical appearance, his car, his apartment, and the appearances of the men and women he surrounds himself with. He is a product of a patriarchal society that has taught him to objectify people and place importance on material things and surface-level perceptions. He is also addicted to pornography. He falls for a woman named Barbara (played by Scarlett Johannson) who is very similar to him in that she strongly believes in stereotypical gender roles (she gets upset when Don wants to vaccum his own apartment), values appearances and material possessions. She is addicted to romantic comedies.
The film is a satire and attempts to use humour and exaggeration to illustrate the problems in the ways these characters view the world and each other, and the way the media (whether it's porn, rom coms, commercials, ads, etc.) influences how we view gender roles and relationships.

Earlier this year on Ellen, Gordon-Levitt said of the film, "it's about a guy who really sees the whole world, and especially women, as just things, more than know, objects for his consumption. And that was something that my mom would always point out to my brother and me: that our culture does often portray women objects. For example we would always watch Laker games as a family...and my mom would always point out every time the cheerleaders would come on: okay, so look, here's the story that gets told. The men get to be these heroic, skilled athletes, and the women just get to be pretty...She wanted my brother and I to be aware of it because we see these images on TV and in movies and in magazines all the time and if we don't stop and think about it, it just sort of seeps into your brain and that becomes the way we perceive reality."

It's true that the media affects people's subconscious and determines the way we think. When people are not taught to question the messages they are seeing and think critically, and those messages place certain groups of people in power or only portray certain groups of people while excluding others, it leads to a culture that accepts inequality as the norm.

Gordon-Levitt and Johansson in Don Jon
On casting Scarlett Johansson for the role of Barbara, in this interview he said, "I think it was really appealing to her that this was a movie that was making fun of how we as a culture objectify people, especially women, because she's obviously a woman that is severely objectified all the time. Here's a person who is really smart, she's really talented, she's done all sorts of great things, and yet, what do most people talk about? Her outer appearance. But there's so much more to her than that - why is that what we always talk about? But, it is. I think it was really appealing to her to sort of make fun of that and play a character who's actually buying into that and sort of leveraging her conventional beauty for her own agenda and sort of getting to poke fun at a character like that."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt uses his celebrity voice and his job as a story-teller in a positive way to promote equality, to cause people to question their own beliefs and ways of thinking, and to point out the problems in our society in a thought-provoking and entertaining way. In promoting his art he spreads the word about feminism and what it's really about, taking away some of the stigma attached to the word.

In that same interview with Ellen, he told her, "I do call myself a feminist. Absolutely! It's worth paying attention to the roles that are sort of dictated to us and that we don't have to fit into those roles. We can be anybody we wanna be."

Friday, July 4, 2014

Feminist Friday: Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a sixteen-year-old girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan. She is an education advocate, and she  particularly advocates for equal educational opportunities for girls.

When Malala was eleven years old she began to write a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym. The blog discussed her life under Taliban rule, and how the Taliban were attempting to control education in her valley and prohibit girls from attending school.

Malala's father ran a school in their community and was an advocate for equal education opportunities. He encouraged Malala to speak her mind and stand up for herself and her rights. She began to give interviews in print and on television advocating for education and speaking out against the Taliban. These interviews gained international attention and also made Malala a target for the Taliban. She was the subject of a New York Times documentary, and was awarded the National Youth Peace Prize in Pakistan.

Malala and her father 
In 2009 the Taliban set an edict that girls could no longer attend school. They bombed many girls' schools. Later, they allowed girls to attend co-ed primary schools but only until a certain age and girls-only schools were still closed. Malala received death threats and threats to her family from the Taliban but she continued to attend school and she continued to speak out about educational rights.

In 2012, when Malala was fifteen, her school bus was high-jacked by members of the Taliban. One of the men asked, "Who is Malala?" and none of the girls on the bus said anything. The man then saw Malala, recognized her, and shot her three times. One of the bullets entered Malala's head on the left side, travelled under the skin of her face, and entered her left shoulder.

She was taken to the hospital in an air ambulance. She was operated on and once she was stable enough to be moved again she was flown to Birmingham, England where she sought political asylum, and received more operations and medical treatments. Her family later joined her in England.

Malala became an international symbol for educational rights. The United Nations created a petition using the slogan "I Am Malala." The petition is for Pakistan to offer education to every girl, for all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls, and for international organizations to take measures to ensure that out-of-school children are in school by 2015.

In 2013 Malala was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She has received numerous awards and honorary degrees in recognition of her activism. She received honorary Canadian citizenship. In July 2013, on her sixteenth birthday, Malala addressed the United Nations, speaking about educational rights. The U.N. named it "Malala Day," a day to promote educational rights around the world.

On The Daily Show in October 2013 in an interview with Jon Stewart, Malala said, "[The terrorists] do not want women to get education because then women will become more powerful."

When recalling how she used to handle the death threats, Malala said she used to imagine what she would do if the Taliban came for her. She thought she might hit her attacker with her shoe, but then she told herself, "If you hit a Talib with a shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace, and through dialogue, and through education."

Malala's book I Am Malala tells her story in her own words.

The Malala Fund is an organization dedicated to Malala's cause of equal educational opportunities around the world.