Embracing the f-word

The reason Jessica Valenti became involved in the feminist movement is quite simple.

“I was always a feminist,” said the 31-year-old author and founder of the blog and online community feministing.com.

“Like a lot of young women I had feminist values and I believed in feminist issues, but I was too afraid to use the word because I wasn’t sure what it meant and I didn’t want people to make fun of me.”

It wasn’t until Valenti took her first women’s and gender studies course at college that she began to identify as a feminist and fully understand the movement.

“I felt like the blinders had been taken off. I felt like I was viewing the world for what it actually was.”

After completing her bachelor of arts in English, journalism and women’s studies, Valenti went on to obtain a master’s in women’s and genders studies from Rutgers.

Following this, her career took off almost immediately, soon after she finished graduate school, she started feministing.com with two co-workers and her sister.

“It started because I wanted to create a space specifically for younger feminist voices, but for feminist voices in general that don’t necessarily get heard.”

Feministing covers everything from international news stories to pop culture trends. Now, six years after the site was first launched, it is the most-read feminist publication.

“We really filled a gap,” said Valenti.

Feministing also does activist work, and during a lecture, sponsored by the WLU Women’s Centre, she gave at Laurier last Thursday entitled “Purity, sexism, feminism and power”, Valenti offered an example of how the site brought attention to a t-shirt made by David and Goliath, which read “No means no, unless maybe I’m drunk”. After receiving a lot of negative public attention, the company pulled the t-shirt.

“Using new media in the feminist movement is very important. Blogs and online organizing have completely changed the face of the feminist movement as we know it in so many ways.”

Valenti specifically highlighted the accessibility of feminist ideas on the Internet the widespread growth of online networks, and how young feminists are able to have a forum to express their ideas.

“I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write books if it wasn’t for feministing and I think there’s something really amazing about that, about being able to provide this platform for feminist voices that don’t necessarily get that elsewhere.”

As the site continues to grow, Valenti explained that she is doing less writing for feministing and is instead focusing her efforts to writing for more mainstream publications.

Recently she’s had work published in the Washington Post, and she’s considering writing another book, in addition to the three she has already had published – Full Frontal Feminism, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and The Purity Myth.

“I’m going to try to write for more mainstream outlets to get a feminist voice for there,” said Valenti.

As she continues to advocate for the movement, Valenti noted that “it is really important that we
are identifying as feminists.”

Referring to common stigmas that surround the word feminist, Valenti highlighted that they have been in existence since the beginning of the women’s movement, specifically when women were fighting for the vote.

“What’s important to remember about those kinds of stereotypes is that they exist for a reason. They exist to try and keep young women away from them and what better way to keep young women away from feminism then to tell them that only man-haters do it.”

Valenti highlights that what it all comes down to is a fundamental fear in society about the work that stems from the feminist movement.

“Traditional gender roles and the gender hierarchy is really at the core of our society….When you challenge that at all, it makes people really nervous because it’s challenging something that’s so core to what you’ve been brought up to believe.”

Valenti also argued that although it’s difficult to live in a society where one no longer believes in stereotypes, it is a much more realistic version of the world.

“Though it can be really difficult to see life through a feminist lens – because it’s a much more depressing lens – I would rather see the world for what it is and be a little bit sadder about it than not see the world as it really is.”

To read about Valenti’s lecture at Laurier this past Thursday click here.

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