Even a couple of years ago, putting forward an opinion about feminism seemed provocative, making many people cringe. Though the topic is definitely no less heated now, Tavi Gevinson is gently pushing it back onto the agenda via her online magazine, Rookie, and people are listening. Lady Gaga described her as “the future of journalism”, but I think it’s truer to say that she’s the future of feminism.
She’s the eighteen year old media mogul who’s friends with Thom Yorke and Zooey Deschanel, and who has Ira Glass as a mentor. She’s invited to fashion shows around the world, and in August last year was a keynote speaker at a Sydney Opera House event and the Melbourne Writer’s Festival.
At seventeen she became an actress, appearing in the film Enough Said, alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who honestly looks like she hasn’t aged at all since Seinfeld), and James Gandolfini. In what must be the most child-star heavy Broadway production of all time, Gevinson is appearing this year in This Is Our Youth, alongside Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin (younger brother of Macaulay).
Gevinson’s biggest claim to fame continues to be Rookie, which she started as her personal fashion blog at the age of eleven, and which now attracts millions of viewers per week. (Her dad didn’t take it seriously until she asked his permission to be interviewed by The New York Times). What began as an opportunity for dressing up in her trademark eccentric-yet-smooth look, soon began to focus on wider social and political issues through the lives of it’s readers.
While Gevinson is editor-in-chief of Rookie, the majority of the content is written by teenage girls from around the world, about their own thoughts and lives. It features articles about coping with hair, which you’d expect, but also a regular section called Ask a Grown Man, where Jon Hamm, Stephen Colbert and a range of other male celebrities answer readers’ questions about love and sex.
But being internationally famous isn’t equivalent to complete certainty. In an interview with CBS news, Gevinson is asked if she was ever afraid to be ambitious. “I was, at first, and I still am every day a little bit, because we don’t live in a world that is necessarily encouraging for young women to be ambitious or to be confident or take what is yours or know what you deserve.“
Despite the uncertainty that all people (and especially the young) experience, there’s tons of confidence and ballsiness evident in that quote that you see in all her work. The intelligence and political bent of the magazine also shows in the questions the Grown Men field from the readers, that are about misogyny, slut-shaming and sexual rights (sometimes the Grown Men they look bit out of their depth).
Part of the beauty of Rookie is that, due to having been conceived as a fashion magazine for teenagers, it directly dispels the butch, asexual feminist stereotypes that often prompt readers to switch off.
Controversy about the definition of feminism is unending, but most people wouldn’t fight the idea that it’s essentially above women deserving the same rights and opportunities as men. One of the most major divides in feminist theory is about whether women are obliged to ditch the dresses, hairspray, makeup and other ‘feminine’ traditions. Gevinson thinks not.
She’s making feminism fashionable, with quotes like, “I have a problem with people saying feminine means anti-feminist, and I think it’s counter-productive to immediately associate anything ‘girly’ with vanity or stupidity”. Her personal definition of feminism is that, “It’s a very nuanced, complex thing, but at the very core of it I’m a feminist because I don’t think being a girl limits me in any way”.
Another divisive aspect of feminism is men, and whether they should be seen as enemies or allies. Very few feminist will actively disparage men as a whole, and for the most part it’s a hurtful stereotype to label feminists as ‘man-haters’. Gevinson is certainly not anti-men, and her Ask a Grown Man section is a great opportunity to hear the thoughts of smart, generous men.
Trolls aside, there is a growing audience for modern feminism, and it’s due in part to Gevinson’s work that feminism is loosing the shock value that the other f-word carries.
Rookie Yearbook Number Three has recently been released, which is the print version of the online mag. Both it and the flagship website are astronomically popular, and neither Rookie or Gevinson show signs of slowing down in popularity, with Gevinson being invited to give a TED talk and a presentation for The Economist.
The enthusiasm that both teenage girls and adults have shown for Rookie makes clear the previous lack of realistic and empowering sources of inspiration and support for young women. Even if Rookie’s not your cup of tea, Gevinson’s reasoning is wise; “Hopefully Rookie encourages people to consider creating more of their own outlets, filling the void they themselves see in publishing or other industries.”