Here We Are: A Q&A With Kelly Jensen, Author Of A New Intersectional Anthology
It’s been an interesting few years to be a young feminist. From the high of rising teen feminist celebrities and role models to the lows of the election, it’s clear that the next generation of young feminists have a unique understanding and enactment of this movement. It’s a complex new understanding of feminism worthy of exploration—and Kelly Jensen’s new anthology Here We Are aims to do just that. This recently published collection of essays, art, and lists—contributed by thought leaders like Laverne Cox, Mindy Kaling, Wendy Davis, Amandla Stenberg, Roxane Gay, and nearly 40 others—does the important and timely work of exploring what feminism looks like and means to the next generation of changemakers.
Jensen recently shared some thoughts about this book with the FBomb.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What inspired this book—especially the anthology format?
I’ve been putting together a blog series at Stacked for a number of years that involved curating collections of essays from authors, bloggers, librarians, and others in the book industry. I loved doing that sort of work, and that spurred the idea of doing something in a more traditional print format. Because of my interest in girls’ and women’s rights, as well as my knowledge of the YA market (particularly in nonfiction, thanks to my previous career as a teen librarian), I thought it was the perfect topic to approach.
I wanted to showcase not just my own voice, but the voices of leading writers, politicians, celebrities, musicians, poets, and more—and how, even if we’re all from different fields, feminism is a party that all are invited to and that everyone can find their own way to. If this were just a book from me, it would be severely limited in scope, and it wouldn’t be the kind of book that any reader could pick up and see themselves in. I think about how many people can pick this up, see themselves and more, and know that they, too, are being seen.
Did our current political climate—especially the election—inspire this book or play into the process of creating it?
I would say if anything, [this anthology] was more motivated by the cultural climate of sexism and the ways that it’s so deeply ingrained. The longer I look, the more I see it, and the more I want to talk about it.
As far as how the election played into it, nothing in the book changed at all. The only thing that did change was that the publication date for the anthology was pushed up by a month, so that it would be immediately available post-Inauguration. I am so thrilled this happened because it meant that the book was available as a call-to-action guide to resisting and as a tool for discussion.
Did you notice any broader themes or patterns emerge overall from the essays? What did you learn from compiling them?
There were themes that emerged and topics that complemented and/or brushed against one another. This is the case when you let every contributor do what they want to do, rather than directing them on a topic or point of view. It was neat to see the pieces and voices come together.
When I compiled them, I tried to think of big overarching themes—then, within those themes, a coherent and interesting way to put the pieces in conversation with one another. I think I inadvertently influenced some pieces by noting that [the overall theme of] this book would treat feminism like a party, but, honestly, [I think] the theme of feminism being a party made the compilation stronger.
One of the topics I felt was missing early on was a look at romance as a feminist issue. I’d approached two writers about the topic, Siobhan Vivian and Jessica Luther, and it was awesome to see these two women approach the topic so differently. I loved that when I got those, they could be slotted in such a way within the “Relationships” section of the collection that they didn’t feel repetitive, nor did they feel they were working against one another. Rather, the approaches allowed a far broader look at romance and feminism than I could have imagined.
This book is being published for young people in a cultural climate that seems to associate young people, and especially young feminism, as based in social media. Do you agree with this? How important is social media to this generation's feminism?
Today’s teens are leaps and bounds past where I know I was as a teen; they want to be having these conversations and asking questions. I didn’t have places or spaces online to learn or hear from those who were nothing like me. I didn’t have a space like Tumblr, where people were having intense feminist conversations and were unafraid to call out things like privilege and white feminism. While I don’t know that I would say that young feminism is inherently based on social media, social media certainly plays a huge role today and our world is better for it.
That said, while today’s teens have a much better starting point than in the past when it comes to understanding feminism and especially intersectionality, they are still bursting with questions and thoughts. I hope this book helps with their curiosity. One of the first events I did for the book was at a Milwaukee high school, where students asked questions about enthusiastic consent, relationship boundaries. It was neat to see teens have lightbulbs go off when I answered them. They’re thinking and caring, but don’t always get the answer they hope for from adults or peers.
How do you think teens have approached and are approaching feminism differently from past generations overall?
Today’s teens are far more aware of intersectionality, in part because their world is filled with people of every shape, size, color, religion, ability, and belief. Understanding that intersectionality is the only kind of feminism that works is something (many) teens know. We need to keep highlighting the achievements and the concerns of those among us who aren’t white and privileged; we need to keep insisting that when we celebrate women’s historical achievements, we note who benefitted from said achievements (like suffrage), and we need to note when achievements were made by women of color, disabled individuals, and so forth.
I also see teens understand that feminism is a process that never ends. I hope that curiosity continues to be at the forefront of their learning and feminist development. No one is perfect—no one can ever be perfect—and I think embracing that will be what helps the next generation make change.
What do you hope people take away from this book—especially in this political climate?
Keep fighting the good fight. It can get exhausting, it can feel never ending, but you can impart monumental changes in your world. Sometimes it’s worth noting that you might never see this change become reality yourself, but that they’ll be seen by someone, somewhere. Even more than that, I hope readers take away the idea that they get to live their own life and that that is itself a feminist act.
More articles by Category: Feminism
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Intersectionality