In this week’s installment of our Women Making History series, I am thrilled to present Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti! In addition to starting the popular feminist blog and online community, Jessica has authored three books and co-founded the REAL hot 100, a campaign that recognizes the important work of young women across the country. Jessica took time between speaking on college campuses to talk about how she turned her passion into a career.
How, exactly, did Feministing.com come about? After graduating with her Masters degree in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University, Jessica was psyched to work for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (now called Legal Momentum), among other feminist organizations. However, “the more I worked in mainstream feminism,” she says, “the more I felt younger women’s voices weren’t being heard.”
Similarly, when Jessica did a Google search for “young feminists” six years ago, the first thing that showed up was a page that was ten years old. “I knew there was young activism happening, but that it just wasn’t represented online,” Jessica says. So, along with six other women, Jessica started Feministing “to create a platform for younger feminist voices.” Now, six years later, the blog has over 600,000 readers each month from all over the world!
Why is the site so successful? Jessica points to Feministing’s intelligent and talented group of writers. “We try to keep things accessible and funny, and show that feminism is fun. So much of the feminism that is portrayed in pop culture and the media is this dowdy, academic, dry, stuff, and that isn’t what feminism is really about. Having a sense of humor is important,” she adds, “especially when you are talking about serious and hard and sometimes depressing issues.”
When I ask Jessica when it was that she first identified as a feminist, she says, “Well, I think I was always a feminist, but I didn’t call myself one until I got to college and took my first women’s studies class. I think [this was] in large part for the same reasons a lot of young men and women [who believe in equality] don’t call themselves feminists: they don’t want to get [crap] from people calling them manhaters or hairy.”
In fact, Jessica wrote Full Frontal Feminism to address this “‘I’m not a feminist, but…’syndrome.” “I wish we didn’t need feminism,” Jessica says. But as long as things like domestic violence and rape persist, she says, it is imperative.
Jessica cites the biggest influences in her feminist life as her feminist friends, colleagues, and the people with whom she works. “Those are the people [I] know best, the people [I] can talk to day to day, who keep [me] going. I think it’s important to have everyday role models, because this work is hard, and can be so disheartening. Having that kind of support is incredibly important.”
When I ask Jessica if she thinks feminism and fashion are mutually exclusive, she responds with a resounding, absolutely not! “Feminists are fashionable too, you know,” Jessica says. “Just look at Lady Gaga!”