Question: Why did you start Feministing.com?
Jessica Valenti: I started Feministing -- I had just started working at a nonprofit women's organization, a national mainstream feminist women's organization, and I was right out of grad school. I'd got my master's in women's and gender studies, and I was really, really excited to be working for a big feminist organization. And I thought it was going to be kick-ass, and I thought, you know, I was going to change the world. And I got there, and while it was great and I met a lot of really wonderful and interesting women, I felt like young women kind of at the organization and in the mainstream feminist movement in general weren't really being listened to; that there was a lot of lip service about how important young women were to the movement, but at the end of the day our opinions didn't matter much. So that really kind of got me started thinking about creating a space where younger feminist voices were really the center.
Question: What divides the feminist movement?
Jessica Valenti: You know, I don't know that it's so much a generational divide between feminists as there are just different modes of feminist thought. But it just struck me as really odd that there were all of these conversations going on about what young women were up to. Were young women having too much sex? Were young women politically apathetic? Are young women socially engaged or not? And whenever these conversations were happening, they were mostly happening by older women and by older feminists. And maybe there would be a younger woman quoted every once in a while, but we weren't really a central part of that conversation. We weren't really being allowed to speak on our own behalf.
Question: Was your site initially funded?
Jessica Valenti: We were not -- we're still struggling with how to fund the site. I just started it up. I just started it up with two other women I was working with and my sister, and we just started blogging and did it as a side project. I don't think any of us really expected it to take off in the way that it did. But I remember at the time doing -- right before we started the site -- doing a Google search for the term "young feminism" and the term "young feminist," and the first thing that came up was a page from NOW, the National Organization for Women, that was about 10 or 15 years old. And it just struck me as so odd that there was all of this young feminist activism going on, but that it wasn't necessarily being represented online, that the first things in a Google search to come up were really, really old. So I think to a certain degree we really filled a gap, and that's why we got such a large readership.
Question: How did you decide on the site’s voice?
Jessica Valenti: There was no real strategic decision about editorial tone. It was kind of a write whatever you want to write, and we'll see how it goes. I think that we lucked out in that all of the women who started writing at the site were really funny, and I don't think that's something people are used to seeing or hearing when they read feminism. You know, you think feminism and you kind of think academic, women's studies, dry, humorless; there are all of these stereotypes that go along with what feminist thought is and what feminist writing is. So I think the fact that we had a real sense of humor and we didn't take ourselves too seriously when we started writing really helped.
Question: Have you been surprised by the success of the site?
Jessica Valenti: I'm still constantly surprised by the success of the site. You know, we've been growing our readership every month, and we're kind of like, where are they all coming from? This is wonderful! And I think one of the best surprises was that you hear so often that young women don't care about feminism, that young women don't identify as feminists. But really, the majority of our readers are young women. So to see so many young people kind of get involved and really take to the site was a really exciting thing.
Question: What’s your ultimate goal for your blog?
Jessica Valenti: Take over the world. I think one our biggest goals right now, just internally, is to become sustainable. You know, Feministing is really still a labor of love for a lot of us. Almost all of us have other full-time jobs and really do this on the side. So you know, if we could find a way to really fund the site and make it so that we had a staff and an office, you know; I can't imagine anything better than a Feministing office.
Recorded December 11, 2009