When Nona's Girl Drive arrived in our office we all practically squealed with delight. She Writes VP Deborah Siegel had helped Nona with the book, guiding her to a number of feminists she eventually interviewed and Community Manager Wilson Sherwin knew Nona from their mutual downtown NYC childhoods. To be sure, we both felt a stake in the book and its story. Turns out, it's even better than we could have imagined! Girl Drive is the brainy, boozy, insightful tale of the road trip Nona and her best friend and photographer Emma Bee Bernstein take across the country in search of a sense of what feminism means to girls and women today. The only thing disappointing about the book is that we weren't actually along for the ride.
WS: What was the process like trying to sell/promote/market this book as a young woman? How do the problems women encounter in the publishing word reflect/differ from general feminist concerns?
NWA: The biggest problem has been getting editors to think of Girldrive as a mainstream book that not only feminism women would be interested in. They immediately see "feminism," "Seal Press," and they pass the book onto their resident female writer. Or they simply say, "We don't get to cover these issues, unfortunately." And I'm like, "What issues? Life issues?" The whole point of the book was to bring the conversation of feminism to all women, including those who weren't necessarily familiar with the word, but some of the press has felt like an echo chamber. Not that I don't love sites like SheWrites--they are kick-ass, and definitely have to exist!--but I do hope that feminism becomes a larger and more mainstream conversation in the future. This problem happens more generally when you're pitching anything--a piece, an art project, even an idea at work to your boss--and the women in Girldrive mentioned it over and over.
WS: You decided to do a book on feminism that is part memoir, part scrapbook, part ethnography and to leave the heavy theory out. What do we gain, what do we lose in doing so?
NWA: The main reason we shied away from theory was because we let women speak for themselves. We made sure not to privilege our own voices, and let the stories unfold on their own--to see feminism as a sort of multifaceted, nuanced conversation rather than a manifesto. We also wanted to avoid biting off more than we could chew--to kind of take the pulse of feminism and start a dialogue, rather than to write THE definitive guide to young feminism. Also, we wanted to keep it accessible and relate the often academic term of feminism to the tangible elements in our lives.But it's weird, because there does need to be someone analyzing and saying, "This is what this all means, and we need to take action." As much as I always say that feminism works better as a lens rather than a unified movement, that doesn't mean we don't need feminist theory to keep pushing it forward.
DS: You encounter a remarkable cast of diverse women with hugely differing views about what feminism is, and what it isn't. How might you describe the commonalities, if any, among the women you met -- or is talking about commonalities among feminism's 'third wave' outre, or beside the point somehow?NWA: Discussing commonalities are useful--talking about feminism as an umbrella movement isn't. There were definitely common reasons as to why young women didn't identify as feminists--they were turned off by the stereotypes, they didn't like labels, they felt excluded by it, it felt too academic. But I think these hesitations all stemmed from the sense of feminism having to be an identity or an affinity to some imaginary group. Feminism isn't like "you're with us or against us." It's not some exclusive club with rules. It's more a lens through which to see the world, to notice not only sexism but the way gender works in society, to be aware of it, talk about it, and eventually change it for the better. I think if we framed feminism like that, women would be much more willing to get down with it and make it a part of their lives.