Monday, July 20, 2009

Speaking of Heroes.... An Interview with FBombs Julie Zeilinger

Fbomb! Click here to be directed to love and consciousness
At fifteen I created my first and only Zine with my then high school best friend Marisol Romo. It was called I Do Not Have Penis Breath, and it lasted most of our Freshman year. Little did I know that that Zine would help me find my way to Laurie Pike, an amazing woman who I owe pretty much everything to, but this post is not about me. Had I access to the internet way back in 1995, I wonder would I still have created the Zine I did. Having access to the information teenagers have access to these days still blows my mind, and I was born just a mere sneeze ahead of this generation, 1980 to be exact. I have often wondered what kind of Blog I would have made as a teenager, would it read like Penis Gallery? This month I had the great humble realization that no, it probably would not have. I stumbled across Fbomb, Julie Zeilinger's incredible, insightful, intelligent blog. Which, had it been made a mere decade earlier most likely would have become a Zine, although, on the other hand, maybe not. The issues that Julie deals with on the blog are in part because and exasperated by our current internet culture and sixteen year old Julie, who lives and works on Fbomb out of her Pepper Pike, Ohio home has done an incredible job of turning the internet on it's head so that it can work for her, and she's starting where it matters most: teenage girls just like herself. I read this thing every day and every day I feel more and more envy at her wise beyond her years insight, but on a very real level a great deal of hope and pride about the future and that maybe, just maybe, we've all got a chance at peace after all.
Here, in Julie's own words.

What first made you interested in Feminism?

My parents had always raised me with feminist values, but I first became interested in calling myself a feminist in 8th grade when I had to give a speech to my entire middle school. I found an article about female feticide and infanticide (a practice most commonly in south asian countries where parents kill their babies for the sole reason that they are female). I was so shocked that such a misogynistic practice existed, but mostly I was disturbed that such a thing was occurring and I didn't know about it and that more people weren't concerned. It made me wonder what other misogynistic things were happening without my knowing. That's when I started to research women's issues on my own, and started to learn more about the feminist movement.

What would be your goal or hope for the state of teenage girls who have perhaps fallen into old misogynistic traps? I.E Girls who have bought into the lie, how do you hope on reaching them?

Through my website I'm hoping to spread awareness. My goal is not necessarily to get every teenage girl in this country to identify as feminist -- I'm not as concerned about that label as I am about helping girls to see the world through a feminist lens, realizing that there are so many ways in which women are still not equal to men, and also that there are many societal factors that constrict men. I want girls who have fallen into misogynistic traps to realize that they have, and try to find a solution. The way the fbomb does this is not only through posting about these issues in a relatable tone (we're all peers, after all) but also through the community that has grown there. So many intelligent and interesting girls have posted on the fbomb, and even more have commented.

What advice do you have for feminist young people like yourself on reaching girls your own age who might be scared of being associated with the word “feminist’?

I've known so many girls who are scared of the word "feminist." When you already do identify with that word, it's hard to remember how alien it can be and how intimidating the stereotypes that are associated with it are. What I usually do is I go through the check list: "Do you believe that men and women should be equal?" "Do you believe that violence against women is unacceptable?" Etc. Almost always, the answers are all yes. Most girls believe in feminism, they're just not willing to use the word. And to me, having other teenage girls call themselves "feminist" is important, but it's not the only thing. Having them understand feminism and at least exposing them to it is. So, ultimately, patience. If you help other girls understand why you are a feminist, you're taking a huge step in helping them realize why feminism is important.

How did you meet Gloria Steinem?

It was actually by a series of coincidences. The husband of a friend of my Dad's used to be the editor of a big magazine (I won't say which) during the same time Gloria Steinem was active as a journalist. My Dad had mentioned to this friend what I was trying to do with the fbomb and how Gloria Steinem was one of my personal heroes. This friend of my father's mentioned it to her husband, who e-mailed Ms. Steinem, who then e-mailed me. A lot of random coincidences leading up to Ms. Steinem believing in the fbomb.

Who are some of your favorite feminist role models and why?

I have many, many feminist role models. Shelby Knox for her work for comprehensive sex education-- and she also started around my age, which I can relate to. Nona Willis Aronowitz, who with Emma Bee Bernstein, created the amazing GIRLdrive project (book is coming soon) - she is really somebody who cares about the next generation of feminists as well. Jessica Valenti for creating feministing, the first feminist blog I ever read, and also Full Frontal Feminism, a book I passed on to all of my "non-feminist" friends, introducing me to the concept of teaching my peers about feminism. Second-wavers like Gloria Steinem, whose writing really got me questioning feminism and coming up with my own ideas. And Gloria Feldt, for her amazing work and writing. There are so many others, as well.

Do you believe teenage boys can be authentic feminists?

I do. I think feminism, and sexism, involves men, and that they should have a say. If we're talking about equality, we need to acknowledge that that includes men. There are so many feminist issues that men need to be involved in. For example, domestic violence. If we want to stop domestic violence, we need to educate and reach out to men, especially young men, and these young men need to be involved. I understand when feminists say that this is "our fight." But equality is not one sided.

What are your thoughts on the fashion industry?

Oh the fashion industry. I would really need to research it more to speak extensively about the industry itself, I don't want to make a lot of assumptions. (There's a great documentary coming out soon, Picture Me, that addresses this topic, actually) However, I can speak to the effect that it has had on my generation. Everybody knows about the eating disorders, that much is apparent. But I've also seen the fashion industry consume teenage girls in that it's the value system on which many teen girls judge other girls, in so many ways it determines who is better than others. Do I even need to point out why that's wrong?

The music industry?

I actually started a series on the fbomb called "Support Women Artists Sunday" because I feel that the music industry can be ridiculously male-centric. One contributor, Robin S, wrote a piece "The Music Industry and it's Best Friend Sexism." about the common strains of sexism in the music industry - lyrics that objectify women, the marketing of women opposed to the marketing of men, but also what musicians are popular. I've also written about artists like Lily Allen, who are clearly feminist in their lyrics, but who don't identify as feminist. I think that there is a lot of promise right now in the sense that there are many talented feminist musicians, but they still have to work within a largely sexist industry.

Are your bloggers friends of yours, how did you find them?

Some are my close friends, but most of them found out about the site as readers, and then submitted a post. The fbomb doesn't actually have any "regular" writers (as of yet) -- I take submissions from anybody who wants to post. That's how I want the fbomb to be different. It's not my blog. I may have started it, but I really want it to be open to all teenage feminists, give them a chance to say whatever they want.

What was your goal in starting the website?

I want there to be a place where teenage feminists can post whatever they're thinking about. I want there a place where teenage feminists can discuss the issues and create a community. I also want teenage feminists to realize that their voices are valuable, and there is a place where people will listen to them. I think sometimes the blogosphere and the internet at large can be a kind of overwhelming to do this - the fbomb was created so teenage feminists would have a clear destination where they can accomplish these things.

What colleges are you thinking about? What major are you considering?

I'm positive I want to be a women's studies major./ gender and sexuality major. I think I'll add journalism or an English major with that because I love writing so much. Possibly Hindi, as ever since I learned about female feticide and infanticie, which occurs in India, I've been obsessed with Indian culture, and have been learning the language on my own time. As for colleges - I really want to go to school in New York City, but I haven't made any decisions yet. My very specific needs listed above should help me narrow it down, though.

Does the state of young people make you hopeful or depressed?

I used to be depressed, as I went to school with so many girls who had never heard of feminism, or thought of it as another word for lesbian. But now that I've started the fbomb, and have heard from thousands of girls who are so intelligent and driven and do believe in feminism, I'm pretty hopeful. Also, as more girls I've gone to school with hear about the fbomb, they seem very open to learning about feminism. I think my generation is unique in that almost everybody has a "cause." Whether it's the environment or Realy for Life, It's made us very open to change, and open to learning about new things. While that's not always the case, I think largely it is.

Do you think adult ‘academic’ feminists take themselves too seriously?

Yes and no. I know for specifically what I'm doing, trying to reach teenage feminists, preaching academic feminism would be counter-productive, so I don't necessarily agree with it. I don't want to over-simplify the issues, but I don't think over-analyzing them is much better. I understand why academic feminists take feminism very seriously...but you've got to have fun with it, too. That's what I feel is one of the reasons teenagers are resistant to feminism - they often don't see it as fun. And I really think it can be.

What are your favorite books?

My ultimate favorite book is Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. I know some feminists have problems with the way in which he portrays the main character, who is intersex, but I think it is just one of the most beautiful stories. I also really like memoirs - The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is terrific as is Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. In the past few months I've read Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, a terrific anthology. Also, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is amazing fiction. I just bought Are You There Vodka, It's Me, Chelsea? By Chelsea Handler. That should be interesting.

Your favorite albums?

I don't know about specific albums, but I love almost anything by Regina Spektor, Death Cab for Cutie, Laura Marling, The Shins and Lily Allen. My brother, who is going to college to be a stage manager, has also really gotten me into Broadway. I've been listening to the soundtrack for the show Next to Normal on repeat.

Do you think Womanism and Feminism can coexist peacefully? Do you think they do already?

Maybe it's idealistic and naive of me, but I really just hope that it can all beceome the same thing one day. Maybe we need a new name all together that encompasses everything - all races, men and women. Humanism is thrown around a lot when I say that, but I think we need a newer word. More so, I think we need to stop getting so caught up on labels and focus on the movement.

Explain in your own words why feminism is love and not hate.

Feminism is the love for all people, it is caring so much for your sisters and brothers, that you want the best possible reality for them. Feminism tries to rid the world of hatred, of violence, and tries to create more loving relationships. If people don't see feminism as love, maybe they're the ones producing the hatred.

Anyone who says teenagers are getting dumber, this ones for you: