Five Questions for Nona Willis Aronowitz

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.
WS: What surprised you most on your journey? What left you feeling the most hopeful about how feminism has progressed?
NWA: I continued to be surprised about how much feminism lives in its own little world, and how online feminism doesn't often reach conservative/religious/rural/non-bloggy women. A whole chunk of the conversation is missing! But what made me hopeful was how amazing these conversations ended up being, and how much common ground there is to be had. We direly still need this face-to-face interaction; the old idea of “consciousness-raising" really can't be replaced by online advocacy. The two entities have to work together. As I say this I feel like an asshole for criticizing sites like SheWrites or the millions of amazing feminist blogs--because I truly think they make a huge difference in women's lives and help feminism infiltrate the mainstream. But I also think the conversations have to get more local, more on-the-ground, to penetrate places that aren't already abuzz with these issues.
DS: You and Emma explicitly redefine a male literary trope with this book: the road trip. What changes when it's women who are behind the wheel?
NWA: You know, not much--and that was the point! We wanted to have fun, be a little reckless, drink, take drugs, have freewheeling conversations, do spontaneous things, just like the guys do in all the road trip stories. Even the feminist versions of the road trip, like Thelma and Louise, or Boys on the Side, were about women "snapping," women who were enduring abuse or rape or just boredom and weren't gonna take it anymore. Of course our perspective was feminist-charged, but it wasn't a fuck-the-world kind of thing. We were driving toward something, not away, and digging for generational solutions, not a personal escape from sexism. That said, I do think the details change when you're on a feminist road trip--lots of Bikini Kill, Aretha and Cat Power on the iPod rotation, a penchant for feminist bumper stickers, stuff like that. Our personal favorite sticker was "Eve Was Framed."

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Comment by Tania Pryputniewicz on February 20, 2010 at 10:00am
been having a bit of "Internet head" myself, "high speed fog"... Nothing replaces face to face encounters...what a blast of an adventure and a breath of fresh air to "drive towards something"... And loved the phrase in your interview "non-bloggy women". Ultimately as writers whatever it takes to feel supported along the way (to the finished book) matters, so internet, she writes, blogging, just furthers the active practice. But I'd also love to meet face to face along the way. Can't wait to check out the book...
Comment by Christina Brandon on February 15, 2010 at 3:00am
I've heard a lot about "Girl Drive" and am looking forward to reading it. What a fantastic adventure!


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