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What Does It Mean To Be A Teenage Feminist Today?
Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 1:55 pm
Part 6 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Next Greatest Generation?
About Tavi Gevinson's TEDTalk
Tavi Gevinson had a hard time finding strong female, teenage role models, so she built a space where they can find each other. She talks about how her site RookieMag.com and others are putting an unapologetically uncertain and complex face on feminism.
About Tavi Gevinson
Born in April 1996, Tavi Gevinson started blogging at age 11– then rapidly became a bona-fide fashion icon. In 2009 she was featured on the cover of Pop Magazine and was invited as a special guest to New York Fashion week.
Her site for teenage girls, RookieMag.com, broke one-million page views within five days of launching in September 2011. She's currently the editor-in-chief of the site, writes thestylerookie.com and has written for several publications including Harper's Bazaar, Jezebel, Lula, Pop Magazine and GARAGE magazine.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
What do people say about your generation?
TAVI GEVINSON: The simple thing that I hear the most is just, like, they're lazy and technology addicted and, yes, part of me is like, wait, this is how I'm spending my youth? Like, checking Twitter on my phone? But part of me is also like, you'd be doing it too if you were our age right now.
RAZ: This is Tavi Gevinson. She's 17 now but when she was 11...
GEVINSON: ...I went to school and I was dressed kind of strangely. It was either like I was acting out for attention or I'd, like, just didn't get it.
RAZ: So she started her own community. It was a blog about fashion. She called it Style Rookie, and suddenly...
GEVINSON: ...There were enough people who saw that like I maybe had something to say beyond just being like young and goofy. So I was able to sustain an audience for a little while.
RAZ: An audience of 50,000 readers a day. Anna Wintour of Vogue invited her to the front row of fashion week. Lady Gaga called her the future of journalism, and this was all while Tavi was in middle school. So in high school...
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GEVINSON: ...My name is Tavi Gavinson...
RAZ: ...Tavi gave a TED Talk.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GEVINSON: The title of my talk is "Still Figuring it Out." And the...
RAZ: ...Part of figuring it all out for Tavi was whether she wanted to be this famous fashion blogger because when she started high school, she had other things - a lot of things on her mind.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GEVINSON: ...And I was trying to reconcile all of 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. So I think the question of what makes a strong female character often goes misinterpreted. And instead, we get these two-dimensional, super women who maybe have one quality that's played up a lot, like she plays her sexuality up a lot and it's seen as power. But they're not strong characters who happen to be female, they're completely flat and they're basically cardboard characters.
The problem with this 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 multifaceted, not because women are crazy, but because people are crazy and women happen to be people. So the flaws are the key. I'm not the first person to say this. What makes a strong female character is a character who has weaknesses, who is maybe not immediately likable, but eventually relatable. So I was trying to figure all that out. And I felt a little confused and I said so on my blog. And I said that I wanted to start a website for teenage girls that was not this kind of one-dimensional, strong character, empowerment thing. I got about 3,000 e-mails. My editorial director and I went through them and put together a staff of people and we launched last September.
RAZ: That was September 2011 and it was even bigger than her first website. In its first week, a million page views. She calls it Rookie. Why do you call it Rookie?
GEVINSON: It turned out to be, like, the only word for a young girl that didn't have some weird kind of, like, double meaning, like Blossom. Everything was too precious and flowery.
RAZ: And it's like, OK, you're a rookie. You're just starting out. You're trying to, like, figure it out kind of thing.
GEVINSON: Yeah. And it's not, like, positive or negative. It's just what it is. You're just in the beginning. And I just felt like teenage girls are the subject of so much in the media and in pop culture, but they so rarely have a platform to speak for themselves. And I thought, you know, starting Rookie would be an easy way to do that without having to deal with the complications of, like, working with a publisher to publish an actual magazine.
RAZ: Why do you think so many girls trust you - trust your site?
GEVINSON: We have a really amazing staff of contributors who offer up less than flattering pieces of themselves. And I feel like the basis of a lot of people relating to each other through writing or art of any kind is just when you expose your own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. So I think we have a lot of really talented staffers who do that in their writing or in their photography or illustration. I think girls feel like it's for them and it is.
RAZ: And the thing is, I guess, the advantage you have over, you know, girls from 20 years ago is that you can all connect pretty easily.
GEVINSON: I think that no matter what, if you don't fit in somewhere, you'll fit in somewhere else and it's easier to find that online. So I think that just being able to have more access to whatever tools help get you through high school because really no one - you can never, like, solve high school. It never just, like, becomes OK all the time. All you can really do is, like, develop tools for dealing with it. And I think that can be, like, key. And of course, having access to communities where you can directly talk to other people instead of, like, reading a mainstream magazine and wondering what's wrong with you because you don't relate.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GEVINSON: And this is an excerpt from my first editor's letter where I say that Rookie - we don't have all the answers. We're still figuring it out too, but the point is not to give girls the answers, but hopefully inspire them to understand that they can ask their own questions, find their own answers, all of that. And Rookie, I think we've been trying to make it a nice place for all of that to be figured out. So I'm not saying, like, be like us and we're perfect role models 'cause we're not. But we just want to help represent girls in a way that shows those different dimensions.
I mean, we have articles called "On Taking Yourself Seriously: How to Not Care What People Think of You." But we also have articles like "How to Look Like You Weren't Just Crying in Less than Five Minutes." So what I want you to take away from my talk - the lesson of all of this is to just be Stevie Nicks. Like, that's all you have to do because my favorite thing about her - other than, like, everything - is that she is very - has always been unapologetically present on stage and unapologetic about her flaws and about reconciling all of her contradictory feelings. And she makes you listen to them and think about them. And yeah. So please be Stevie Nicks. Thank you.
RAZ: I mean, when you gave that talk, you were describing trying to figure it out, but I wonder if that process ever really ends, right. Do you get to a point in life when you're, like, I figured it out?
GEVINSON: You know, we were just talking about this. And all of the adult writers were saying, like, oh, yeah, when I was in my 20s, I thought I would get to a point where I would just, like, be fine. And, you know, I've had that idea in my head too, but of course it's like, the minute you have a handle on things, there's a whole world around you that is also changing while you are so things are different and you have to readjust and you have to figure out new things. So one thing we talk about a lot is just, like, giving yourself permission to change and try new things. And, you know, eventually find yourself and you see what sticks and - I mean, that scared me for a while, but I've tried to learn to see that as really kind of freeing and exciting.
RAZ: Do you ever think of yourself as, like, part of a generation?
GEVINSON: I think I do because I just feel so constantly aware of how different life is now than how it was, like, entirely because of technology, and because I have this feeling that I'm able to kind of pick from all pop culture of the past like a kind of buffet. And I'm aware because people constantly tell me that this isn't something you could always do. You know, like, a lot of people tell me, like, oh, it makes me sad because when I was your age I had to, like, go to a record store and discover that band and it was so special and I knew nothing about them and it was so mysterious. And I'm like, I'm kind of glad that I can find out as much about them as I want. I guess every generation probably feels like, oh, life is so different now than it was back then, but like, this feels drastic.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EDGE OF SEVENTEEN")
RAZ: Tavi Gevinson. She's the founder of Rookie mag and a card-carrying member of the next greatest generation. Her awesome talk can be found at TED.com.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW GENERATION")
RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to the show this week. If you missed any of it or you want to hear more or you want to find out more about who was on it, you can visit TED.NPR.org. You can also find many more TED Talks at TED.com. And you can download and subscribe to this program through iTunes or the NPR smartphone app. I'm Guy Raz. You've been listening to ideas worth spreading here on the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.