Remember being 16? Remember feeling like the world was a cruel and confusing place, where your parents reigned unfairly and the most exciting part of the week was the Friday night football game? Teenagedom is, for most, a time of mixed signals and new feelings, a time when we’re treated simultaneously like grown-ups and children while neither label seems to fit. Personally, I handled these tumultuous years with BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and orange Hollister sweatpants.
However, not every teenager is as woeful as I was: enter Tavi Gevinson, the unapologetic 16-year-old editor-in-chief of Rookie magazine, and she’s combating teenage angst by embracing it.
“What makes a strong female character?” Gevinson says in her TED lecture titled “Still Figuring it Out.” She points out that in movies “we often get these two-dimensional super-women who maybe have one quality that’s played up a lot ... catwoman ... plays her sexuality up and it’s seen as power.”
So what? Well, says Gevinson:
“People expect women to be that easy to understand...in actuality women are complicated, women are multifaceted ... not because women are crazy but because people are crazy and women happen to be people.”
Preach it, sister.
Rather than airbrush them away, Gevinson insists that “flaws are the key” to representing women accurately in the media. This is especially a problem for teenagers. Television is especially hard on teenage girls (see: the Disney Channel). Gevinson plugs for the return of 90s shows like Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life, shows whose characters are messy, funny, awkward, insecure. Essentially, Gevinson wants to see TV shows that depict teenagers being ... well, teenagers.
She goes on to talk about feminism:
“One thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be a feminist, you have to live up to, you know, being perfectly consistent in your beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all of the answers. This is not true.”
Think about it. How many times have I argued that the whole “women love shopping” stereotype is a perpetuation of centuries of socialization intended to continue associating women with the material world...only to weep for joy over my newest pair of shoes? This is what Gevinson is talking about, and this is the purpose of her website. “We’re trying to reconcile all of these differences you’re told you can’t be as a girl...we just want to help represent girls in a way that shows that different dimensions.” Contradictions. We all have ‘em. Shop on, feminist on.
Anyway, I’ll let you watch the lecture yourself. But I walk away from Gevinson inspired, awed and a little humbled. At the very age I asked for a straightener for Christmas, Gevinson is out there kicking ass and making profound statements like “Feminism is not a rule book, but a discussion, a conversation, a process.”
Her takeaway? “Just be Stevie Nix.”
I think I’ll make T-shirts.