Live Through This

The Ladies’ Room

Wherein I go to the TEDxWomen conference, MEET GLORIA STEINEM, and figure some stuff out.

“Girls and Women,” by me, currently being auctioned for $20 million.

I’m a feminist. I have been for many years, and I started calling myself one two years ago. Ultimately, it means I believe in gender equality; lately it means that if I come across an article that seems important I’ll post it on Facebook and I do my women’s history homework. The link between thinking about these things in the context of the world and thinking about how they trickle down to my own life really only appears when I have the energy or brain power or I’ve set aside time. Which I don’t really. Recently, I was reminded to, you know, actually think about it sometimes! Here is a story of my enlightenment, kind of.

TED is a conference that happens every year in cities all over the world where lots of smart people are invited to get together to present their ideas—they are not allowed to promote a product—and the videos of their talks are posted online and serve as a great way to excuse procrastination by saying you were doing life homework. I was invited to go to TEDxWomen, an offshoot of TED that was all about ladybusiness, at the Paley Center for Media in New York last week to cover it for Rookie, and I was excited and all, but as somebody whose feminism usually feels either very personal or very angry—writing stuff like this, or listening to stuff like this—I wasn’t sure how engaging something that felt so…diplomatic would be. Speeches. Talks. Lectures. It seemed like it would be too professional to be relatable. When I went into the room reserved for ~The Media~ it was a bunch of women sitting at laptops and iPads watching the talks on one screen and tweets mentioning the event popping up in real time on another. They literally had 30 minutes set aside with box lunches and Vitamin Waters that was called, on the schedule, “Networking Break.” I was dressed girlily in a top covered in hearts—not exactly businesslike—and was way younger than everyone else in the room. My mom had to take me and kept asking me if I wanted any of the raisins she had brought in her purse (I KNOW). Hey, know what doesn’t make you look professional? Requiring a chaperone, wearing a shirt with hearts all over it, and being a teenage girl.

I was comforted when I remembered that these women were feminists, and so none of that mattered to them. At the first Networking Break I met a few awesome ladies—Chloe from Feministing, Jamia from the Women’s Media Center (started by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda) and her own wonderful writing, and Deanna, who had cool white hair and with whom I talked briefly about being a feminist who loves fashion. We all talked about feminist sites and such (to me, the best way to start learning about feminism—here’s a great list, and not just because Rookie is on it!). When Chloe left, Jamia reminded her to email her “because I want you to be a part of this,” talking about events Jamia plans for WMC. I have to say, it’s nice to know you’re in a community where women want to help one another be successful and get opportunities instead of compete.

I was happy to see also that the things people ended up talking about ranged from the more big-picture political stuff, to the more personal things I find easier to relate to. The ones below were my favorites, though we couldn’t be there the whole day because I had work to do and sleep to catch up on.

Rachel Simmons and a 13-year old named Claire who tells a very familiar story about mean girls and friendships. If you only have time to watch one of these, this one actually is “life homework.” I swear it will make you feel better about yourself and confidence and your friendships.

Busisiwe Mkhumbuzi is 17! What a badass. Her story will make you feel a million different emotions at once but you should just hear her tell it. Also, it’s a good way to learn about V-Day.

Project Girl, because as much as it is intellectually stimulating to talk about this stuff, making something creative and angry is also really, really powerful.

It was all good brain food, and probably the best kind of it, because while my brain did a lot of fist-pumping, the conference made me think about why I’m a feminist. It ended up not really being about total enlightenment, because at the end, I still felt a little uneasy—but a good kind of uneasy, the kind that forces you to think about things, and try to make life in general a better thing.

First of all, I’m a feminist for the most basic reason: I believe in gender equality. For men, women, and people who don’t identify as either. It’s that simple. Sexism hurts everyone and the less of it, the better.

I’m a feminist because I don’t think my being a girl should mean I’m judged any differently than if I wasn’t. Judged on my looks before merit (or at all!), or on if I’m a Blonde Taylor Swift or a Brunette Taylor Swift.

I’m a feminist because I don’t want to hate myself, and because I started liking myself much more when I found out that a lot of the things that I thought were wrong with myself were actually OK, it’s just that society has a history of targeting women for those things.

I’m a feminist because I don’t want to hate other girls, and my friendships became much more valuable once I got over more dumb society stuff: jealousy and girl-hate, afraid of being honest in case I’d seem too “girly,” etc.

I’m a feminist because while my gender has not been much of a barrier for me other than in those personal ways—self-esteem, unwanted male attention, girl hate, etc.—it would be an asshole move to ignore the fact that other people’s lives are considerably harder because they are female. The facts are too scary for it all to be pure coincidence.

Some people like to argue that even having a thing called feminism, and pointing out that men and women are not equal, that there is ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL between them, is counterproductive. The thing is: people know men and women are not equal. Women in this country make only $.78 to a man’s dollar for the same work. Feminism is just about doing something about it. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t make it go away. The same goes for tattoos, if you’re wondering, which I have learned the hard way. And so this stupid Ed Hardy thing I got one awful drunken night persists on my right biceps. I never said I was a role model!!!!!!

For that reason, though, I was skeptical about the idea of having a TED just about women stuff. Wouldn’t it be more effective to integrate feminist ideas into normal TED instead of making it a special occasion type thing? Wasn’t this just preaching to the choir?

Wanna hear something a little scary? In American culture, women are currently doing the best they ever have—many more are going to college, doing well in grade school, and going to graduate school. But while the expectation for being smart/creative/witty has been raised, the expectation for the more traditional stuff—being a good mom, being conventionally attractive—has stayed as high as ever. There hasn’t been a tradeoff. Now you just have to be good at everything. To quote Nicki Minaj, “But when you’re a girl, you have to be, like, everything… you have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this, and you have to be that, and you have to be nice, and you have to…it’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.” To quote Rachel Simmons’s talk above, “Be powerful…but be nice. Be smart…but don’t make anyone uncomfortable with their intelligence. Be active…but sexy and skinny in the meanwhile.” To quote the rant a 17-year-old named Lexi sent us to publish a few weeks ago, “It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation. I’m not allowed to be fat, but I’m not allowed to go on a diet either… I’m not allowed to be dumb, but I’m not allowed to be smarter than a boy. I’m not allowed to do drugs or drink, but I’m considered boring if I don’t. I’m supposed to be an empowered woman, but if I ask for respect dudes will just call me an annoying bitch. Heck, if I wait to have sex I’m labeled a prude, but if I lost my virginity today there would be a lot of people thinking that slut.”

By the last talk of the conference I realized that’s why having a TEDxWomen is a good, necessary thing. It gives us a chance to talk about feminist issues, whether it’s just among women at the conference or on Twitter. If society gives special negative attention to women, I think it’s a positive thing to give special attention to figuring all of that out. Even if most of the people there already know they’re feminists, it’s still a tricky thing to work out one’s own ideas, and it was refreshing—milk-with-ice refreshing—to hear other people’s thoughts.

At the very end of the day, I got to meet Gloria Steinem and talk to her for a few minutes. I just wanted to hug her and call her Mommy, in a totally non-weird way. She was so warm and sweet, and answered my questions thoughtfully even though she had to scoot for a fancy dinner and totally could’ve gotten away with saying short, cryptic things.

ME: You’ve said feminists today need to be angrier. Do you have any ideas for finding an outlet or applying it if you’re in a town where the people might be narrow-minded, or if you’re just getting into it? What is a good place for that anger, and what do you do with it?

GLORIA: Well, first of all it’s an energy cell, no? It makes your blood go and your ideas come and so on, so if we think about it more positively, as an energy cell, I think that helps. And also remember that if we don’t express our anger, it can turn into depression. What depression is, is anger turned inward. So that’s one more reason to use it. The only tempering thing I would say is we do need to treat other people as we would want to be treated, so if you see an injustice or we see something we’re angry at, I think we should talk to the people involved as we would want them to talk to us if we were messing up in some way. You can escalate after that if they don’t listen! [Laughs] But at least to try and do that in the first place, because you’re really doing them an honor by telling them the truth. And you want that in return.

Obviously in a lot of ways things are easier for girls now—around my age (I’m 15)—than they were in the ’50s and ’60s, but are there any ways in which you think we have it harder?

Yeah, I do think it’s harder in the sense that you may be more endangered. You know, we were probably more protected. It was restrictive, it was like being protected in prison. [Laughs] But there are dangers that come with being just out there. There may well be more violence, for instance, and more sexual violence now than there was. Hard to know, because I’m not sure whether it was just not being reported then or not. And there’s also the pornification of culture—there was always pornography, but it was underground. Now it’s everywhere—it’s on computers, it’s hard to escape. It normalizes violence against girls and women, and it normalizes a certain body, so that now girls have the means to and maybe feel pressured into, you know, having breast implants, looking a certain way. The most distressing thing to me lately is that plastic surgeons say that girls and women are coming asking to have their labia trimmed off. Isn’t that awful? Because the pornography idealizes a kind of almost preadolescent body—you know, the shaved pubic hair and no labia and so on. So people come to think that’s normal or desirable. So you know, I don’t remember that any of those dangers existed when I was growing up.

When you say that we’re more endangered now, do you mean because of the internet?

Yeah, just everywhere. Violence against women—the good news is we know it’s wrong and it’s illegal, you know? When I was growing up, something like domestic violence didn’t even have a name. And rape was always blamed on the victim. So it’s much better now—we can talk about it, we have laws about it. But on the other hand, [now] there is the sexualization of younger and younger girls and the spread of the pornography which is not about sex, it’s about violence.

That last answer perfectly explains one last reason of mine for being a feminist. Not just about sex and violence, but about the fact that a lot of the issues today are more gray than black or white, which is probably why they’re harder for people to see. Rape is illegal, but rape culture still exists, and makes it easier for 15 out of 16 rapists to never have to spend a day in jail. Sleeping with minors is illegal, but culture still sexualizes younger girls and fetishizes youth, and makes it harder to like your body even when it’s just doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing, and makes it harder to figure out this whole “sex” thing when you’re supposed to be sexy but also look like a six-year-old.

But these are the things we try to figure out at Rookie, because none of us are that perfect pretty-and-smart-and-everything girl/woman/superhero who has all the answers, and the great thing about this whole “internet” thing is that we’re able to talk about it, all together, like a big happy family, or a family where people sometimes respectfully disagree, or where a drunk uncle sometimes gets an Ed Hardy tattoo. Continue to let us know how we’re doing, OK? But if you give me any grief about my tattoo I’m just gonna get like eight more just to piss you off. ♦


  • Tanya December 9th, 2011 4:08 PM

    This was brilliant! Incredible! Amazing! Thank you so much, Rookie for such an inspiring post like this! Through Rookie, I believe I’m come to learn more about feminism in a sense of being confident about yourself, dealing with girl hate and friendships, confronting various situtions and etc. I would like to say I’m a feminist rookie. I’m not a true feminist yet but I’m learning and improving every day.

    Thank you, again, for this!

  • stef December 9th, 2011 4:35 PM

    I think it is really positive that you are raising awareness of these issues in a way that empowers people. but it still concerns me that often these messages are not aimed at males. where i live, there is a weekly magazine that comes with the weekend paper that is deliberately aimed a women, but is the only section of the paper that talks about gender issues.
    I think the only way we can possibly achieve greater gender equality is to somehow include or make it more attractive to guys to be part of the discussion

  • catstickers December 9th, 2011 5:22 PM

    this is brilliant, and there does need to be more awareness towards just how sexist our culture is. I play lots of sport, and did you know that not one woman was in the running to be sports personality of the year? that’s another issue. these videos are really inspiring though, and as I said, there definitely needs to be more recognition to stuff like this.

  • Jenny December 9th, 2011 5:25 PM

    I love this and I love you, Tavi! AND YOU INCLUDED A NICKI MINAJ QUOTE. Her beauty and her intelligence and her sassiness and her bride of Frankenstein hair and the way she performs her public identity are the only things that make pop culture worthwhile for me, right now.

  • fizzingwhizbees December 9th, 2011 6:03 PM

    Rookie, you guys have some of the best feminist articles on the internet right now. Oh how I love you.

  • mangachic December 9th, 2011 6:31 PM

    Great post and it’s so great to have a feminist magazine that’s intended for teens not thirty year olds.
    Just saying, that you got a tattoo doesn’t mean you’re not a role model…the tattoo doesn’t immediately cancel the fact that you’re the editor in chief or an (amazing) magazine when you’re only 15 or that you garnered thousands of readers at 11 through something unique that didn’t rely on adults in any way.
    Yup I’m cheesy people, deal with it. Just wondering, will you get the tattoo removed? Not that it’s my business…

  • autumn December 9th, 2011 7:25 PM


  • Naomi Morris December 9th, 2011 7:44 PM

    Gloria! Gloria is glorious, she has the perfect name. I love her.
    I love feminism because for as long as I can remember I had this horrible nagging feeling in my gut that things didn’t quite make sense or things weren’t quite right. So I when I learnt about feminism, everything made so much more sense and just the idea of feminism makes me feel a whole lot better and less alone. And that most of the friends I’ve talked to about it and lend books etc. agree completely and start calling themselves feminists too, so it’s not like, an outsider opinion or fundamentalist or anything, it is integral and relevant to our lives.
    Basically, I just love feminism. I mean, I am a human beinggggggggggg. (Nicki I love you)

  • December 9th, 2011 8:09 PM

    I like this idea of turning anger into energy. And speaking of energy, this article has lots of it – which only adds to the power of the points being made.

    P.S I really like the drawing. Unfortunately its extraordinarily high price (which is totally justified because I mean the artist is clearly a genius) means I can’t buy it. But thanks to the internet, I will be able to print it out and pretend that it’s like one of those post-card reproductions that you buy at the galleries. Only it won’t be on card, and it won’t have information on the work and the artist and it won’t be all nice and glossy…

    But then of course all this will depend on how you respond to my plans . Being in prison for breach of copyright may take some of the shine (not that there ever was any) off my faux-reproduction.

  • Marisella December 9th, 2011 10:31 PM

    This is the best article on Rookie!!! So inspirational, thank you for posting this!!

  • youarebananas December 9th, 2011 11:32 PM

    YES!!!!!!!!!!! The Rachel Simmons talk echoed everything I’ve been thinking and trying to articulate for months–like, what does it look like in high school to be a feminist, to be assertive, to not shy away from power? Thanks so much for posting this.

  • Madeleine December 10th, 2011 3:03 AM

    Excellent, excellent article. And I’m so glad to see the word feminist being reclaimed, because it was really discouraging when women kept saying, I’m for women’s rights but I’m NOT a feminist. As if it was a horrible disease or something.

    And there is also the terrible irony that when women start doing better, suddenly there is all of this concern about whether men are falling behind. Like the way that a 35:65 female:male ratio at university (for my freshman class) was OK, but once it approached 50:50 there was a problem.

    Let’s see income parity, and then we’ll talk.

  • X December 10th, 2011 5:43 AM

    This post is so inspiring!!
    I think that you are probably changing the way a lot of girls are thinking out there, Tavi is just to awesome to create a website like this

  • annagracie December 10th, 2011 11:11 AM

    Thank you for this. It’s exactly what I needed to hear to push me further into discovering feminism and what it means to be a feminist!

    The other day, I watched “Miss Representation”, which is a documentary about how women are represented in the media and the effect it’s taking on America’s youth. To see all the many examples of women in the media being objectified, discriminated against, and judged SOLELY on their appearance without any consideration of their intellect and how well they do their job–it really made me think. The film in general was really cool. And after watching it, and thinking about all the things I didn’t know before, I was angry. Really, really angry. Now that I’ve read this, I’ve resolved to do something about my anger, something more than just telling boys they’re ignorant and immature when they act like pigs. I am now a feminist, and I want to make a change.

    Here’s the trailer for “Miss Representation”, if anyone wants to check it out:

    P.S. Gloria Steinem is in it!

  • Stephanie December 10th, 2011 12:15 PM

    Thank you for this, Tavi. Just thank you. xo

  • timi December 10th, 2011 12:35 PM

    LOVE THISS!!!!! big heart! many big hearts like your t-shirt!

  • timi December 10th, 2011 12:44 PM

    This is so incredibly eye opening and inspiring. thanks so much for sharing

  • cancercowboy December 10th, 2011 1:10 PM

    nice article. shades of gray everywhere, indeed. let me tell you a secret: the bars have risen for males too. we’re supposed to be understanding, empathic, manly, successful, witty, masculine, a perfect gentlemen, considerate, creative, caring, interested and interesting, reliable and spontaneous, adventurous, athletic, independent, strong and a leader, cute and cuddly, doing the dishes and the DIY home improvement, handsome, thin, supportive and earning good money, having lots of time for family and cool hobbies, talking bout our emotions but not hurting your feelings…. sorry for the rant.
    mind you, this isn’t supposed to be a justification, just an observation. i agree with many points raised. its just that i’m afraid many feminists seem to lose sight of the fact that stereotypical, unrealistic and conflicting BS isn’t fed only to girls, but to boys too. thats not their job, obviously, but many would still laugh at the thought of something like a movement to empower males in society, though many of us are dissatisfied with the status quo too, and think its not in our best interest as people. lots of shit goes wrong, not limited to the relationships of the genders. and if you really wanna change society you can’t do it against the men. not easy in a world that favors (and teaches and demands) competing over cooperating. but, you know, “united we stand..”… yeah, i’ll cut the idealistic crap now. i’m running out of “characters left” anyway.
    but i wanna see your tat ^______^

  • VictoryBelle December 10th, 2011 3:35 PM

    I’m totally with Cancercowboy. I would call myself a feminist and have done for a number of years, then recently I noticed a couple of circumstances when people were saying things or acting a certain way to my guy-mates which I would not have stood for if it was a girl-mate.
    I think it would be really interesting to have an article on the feminism backlash, why it was wrong but what we can learn from it, and have a real focus on equality. Yes there is terrible sexism out there which needs to be vehemently fought, mindful of not just becoming sexist against men, and with equality as an endpoint.
    Having said that I thought this article was wicked! We do need to get more angry!!! So many of my peers just sit back and take this rubbish when they shouldnt stand for it! Im really glad rookie is here to voice all these things (hooray for you guys!) I recommend you to like everyone I know.

  • Robert December 10th, 2011 6:15 PM

    The best part of Tavi’s piece was that she entirely avoided blaming anyone or saying that setting up the zero-sum game others are trying to force into the discussion. I think it demonstrates an understanding that the best type of progress isn’t knocking everyone down to be equal, but we should aim to improve how we treat everyone to where these unjustifiable biases don’t exist.

    Nearly everything in the article is about how simply removing negative attitudes–from both genders, mind you–improves everyone’s lot. There are still far too many things that can be done to improve how we treat each other to worry about who has it worst in life. That energy is much better spent actually making things better.

    • Pashupati December 16th, 2011 11:53 PM

      I think it was meant to be for ALL genders :)

  • Jessy December 10th, 2011 10:06 PM

    Fantastic! I suggest you read The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer-

    It was written in 1998 and is kind of the modern sequel to The Female Eunuch, but is easy to read and follow and digest and understand, not heaps of jargon and stuff which doesn’t relate everyday life. On the CONTRARY its all about stuff which is relevant to us! Its make up of a whole bunch of mini-chapters that talks about everything from beauty, plastic surgery, breasts, WOMBS, abortion, housework, shopping, girlpower, fear, estrogen, sorrow, sex, soldiers, mutilation, daughters, wives, sisters etc.

    Before I read it, I thought I believed in gender equality too, but now I know that equality isn’t enough. Germaine Greer says in the ‘warm-up’: “”Even if it had been real, equality would have been a poor substitute for liberation; fake equality is leading women into double jeopardy. The rhetoric of equality is being used in the name of political correctness to mask the hammering that women are taking. When The Female Eunuch was written our daughters were not cutting or starving themselves. On every side speechless women endure endless hardship, grief and pain, in a world system that creates billions of losers for every handful of winners. It’s time to get angry again”


  • isadora December 10th, 2011 10:18 PM

    Tavi, when you started to appear in the big media, I was only a bit younger than you right now. And I thought you were an annoying little brat, even though I was about just two years older than you.
    Now, seeing the wonderful job you’re doing with Rookie and reading texts like these, I bittersweetly realize that I am the immature one! Keep up the good job! :)

    And cancercowboy, I do understand where you’re coming from. But all these things you mentioned are sub-consequences of sexism itself. Like, the idea that men should be tough and machos all the time is a subconsequence of sexism. Blimey, we don’t need a male empowering movement. We need a movement which challenges the stereotypical gender roles both from past and from now, which is exactly what feminism is about! It’s not about women AGAINST men, you know. .So I say we all become feminists! But that’s just my opinion.

    I hope I kept everything coherent. Anyway, nice article. Gloria Steinem <333

  • Jessy December 10th, 2011 10:18 PM

    OoOoOoOh here’s the Greer quote I was looking for ~~~~~~~~~ “Aspiring to equality with men is a terrible mistake, since men live and work in a frighteningly unfree and tyrannical society . . . one built on confederacies and conspiracies, on initiation and blooding rituals, on shared antisocial behaviour, on ostracisms and punishments, practical jokes, clannishness and discrimination”

  • cancercowboy December 11th, 2011 11:21 AM

    yes, its sexism. both genders are forced into behaviours that happen to produce unhappiness for a large number of people in the long run. when i wrote “a movement to empower males” i didn’t mean one that fights for everything to stay like it is now, or one that protects male privileges. quite the contrary.

    i watched the movie this afternoon. its quite good, thanks for the recommendation!

    pls delete that fragment of a post of mine.

  • Cosmo Beatrix December 11th, 2011 1:47 PM

    hold up. TAVI YOU HAVE AN ED HARDY TATTOO whhut?!

  • louwed December 13th, 2011 3:37 AM

    Tavi, thankyou for your wonderful article. It really has helped me to reinforce my feminist beliefs, and today when I was talking to my guy friend and he said something offensive, I calmly explained why what he said was offensive and without reading this article I don’t think I would have done that.
    Totally agree with Madeleine and cancercowboy. I read somewhere that what the feminism debate needs is more of a male voice, and I think that is really true. Unless men, and everyone really, are educated, then we will never be able to move forward to a society that promotes gender equality, or at least respect.

  • louwed December 13th, 2011 4:17 AM

    I forgot to say that on the special features of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, there is a lovely thing called Women of Harry Potter, and it is basically JK Rowling explaining why she feels that the female characters are so vital to the story, and also Emma Watson speaks in it, and I thought it was really great because JK Rowling is kind of my idol and watching it just made me like her so much more.
    Basically just everyone watch it!! I’m sure it would be on youtube or something…