Aware that feminism has too often emphasized the voices of privileged white women, Kelly Jensen has crafted an insightful volume on the subject, pulling together contributions from a diverse range of writers and artists who express their opinions on gender identity, race and ethnicity, body image, and more. Sure to rally teens, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World (Algonquin, Jan. 2017) is a loving tribute to the gains feminism has made—and a call to action that encourages readers to continue to strive for equality and inclusivity.
Many of the contributors comment on how identities such as race, class, and sexuality intersect with gender. How did you make sure that your book was intersectional?
It was my goal from the beginning to be intersectional, and aside from that being the foundation of my own feminism, my background is in working with teens at the library. They are such a diverse, passionate, and savvy generation, and thinking of them as readers for this anthology made ensuring it stayed intersectional easy.
I brainstormed a huge potential contributor list from the beginning, and worked my way through it, making sure to balance perspectives, backgrounds, identities, and voices. One thing I did do was assure the contributors that they could write on any topic they chose to. I think that was what really helped the collection be as varied as it is—the passion for feminism in all of its manifestations shines through.
In many pieces, female authors or artists describe how they changed their misogynist attitudes. Why are these beliefs so pervasive even among women?
Those who identify as female learn they’re lesser from the get-go. Sexism is pernicious and pops up everywhere, from school dress codes that put girls’ bodies on trial to the fact that the news is filled with stories about “poor football players” who “lost everything” because they’ve been accused of raping someone. Our society actively rewards and lauds men and masculinity.
One way we combat [this message] is to start at the smallest level possible and keep grinding the ax. I’ve seen so many teen girls, for example, push back against dress codes at school. This same “small level” approach works on issues outside schools and dress codes, too—we should be asking why it is that we read books only by or about white men (and offering a solution, as Marley Dias did with #1000BlackGirlBooks), and we should be looking at how we’re rewarding male talent for doing precisely what female talent does—why is it that YA books about girls written by men get more buzz and attention and praise for being “so authentic” but books by women don’t?
You break up longer pieces with shorter, often visual entries. How did you decide to incorporate these elements?
I knew with the scrapbook style that there was an opportunity to incorporate art into the collection. I’m a visual person, and I wanted to take advantage of this. For some of the art, I sought out specific pieces (both the Judgments photo and the Intersectional Rosie the Riveter illustration) for rights. For [others], such as the pieces by Michelle Hiraishi and Stasia Burrington, I reached out for original work.
What role do you hope your book will have in future years?
I hope this book is a light in the dark and that it encourages readers to stand up for what they believe and to never give up.
A question I was asked about this book a few weeks ago resonates with me in ways I can’t shake; the person asked if Here We Are would feel different had Hillary Clinton won the election. It’s impossible to say for certain, but I think that in that scenario, this book would have felt far more like a celebration and a party than a call to arms and guide to being empowered.
My hope is that both of those messages—the celebration and the empowerment—are what readers take away.