Kelly Jensen has edited a new nonfiction anthology, HERE WE ARE: Feminism for the Real World. A collection of essays, art and lists—featuring outstanding voices like Mindy Kaling, Amandla Stenberg, Michaela DePrince, Laurie Halse Anderson, Courtney Summers, Laverne Cox and nearly 40 others—the book brings a diverse millennial perspective to the feminist movement. We caught up with Kelly to talk about how this look at feminism and inclusion is more important now than ever.
What inspired you create this anthology?
I worked with teenagers as a librarian for a long time and love working with them. It was through my career I fell in love with YA lit. That led to my creating a blog with one of my friends from graduate school. Through the blog, I developed a week-long series that ran (and still runs!) focused on girls, books, reading and feminism. Reading those brilliant posts and the passion that so many had to talk about these topics really inspired the collection.
The book is a rich scrapbook of essays, lists, art and poetry. How did you choose contributors and decide what to ultimately include?
One of the first conversations about this book that I had with my editors was about the format. We’d decided early on to make it scrapbook style, and that inspired a lot of thinking about art for me immediately. I knew I wanted comics and stand-alone art pieces, as much as I wanted essays and smaller lists/ephemeral/fun pieces scattered throughout.
Reaching out to contributors was both exciting and a little scary. I never knew if I was going to hear back from some of the people. But it came together so nicely—when I’d get someone who was interested in contributing, I’d sort of see what they were interested in talking about, and then I’d continue looking for more contributors who might add another unique perspective to talking about feminism. It was a lot like creating a real scrapbook: you pick up pieces here and there and then poke around to find more pieces that bring the whole thing together.
As the book grew did it influence your views on feminism? How has your impression of feminism changed from when you were a teen?
Yes! This is exactly what my essay is about in the collection. For so long, I thought feminism was a big, loud thing. To be a feminist, you had to be at rallies, you had to be holding up a megaphone and shouting, and you had to be making these big, huge changes. As someone who was a quieter teen, this was terrifying to me, and I didn’t see myself in that place.
As I grew up and starting getting to know feminists, people across all walks of life and identities, I realized that my perceptions were not exactly correct. Those who were loud about their feminism were indeed feminists, but they weren’t the whole of the identity. Quiet people, those who implement change on the small scale, those who question the status quo: they’re all feminists, too.
Embracing that part of me empowered me and it helped me see how big, huge and fun feminism really is. You can be a feminist no matter where you are. No matter who you are.
Love that! This book was compiled using an intersectional approach to feminism. Would you define that for our readers and explain why it’s so important?
Kimberle Crenshaw, a black academic and activist, coined the phrase “intersectional feminism” in the late 1980s. It means being careful not to look only at feminism from the perspective of white women. White women, while harmed by sexism, don’t encounter some of the oppressions others do, and it’s vital we look at those oppressions all together. For example: a disabled black woman struggles with equality not only from the perspective of being female, but also for being black and for being disabled. Intersectional feminism acknowledges and works toward making the world better for all of those identities.
Your diverse contributors definitely helped achieve that! So, which contributor surprised you the most?
I’m being truthful when I say that I loved each and every contribution and was delighted and surprised by each one of them. If I had to pick pieces that I think were most surprising, I think Michaela and Mia DePrince’s piece about their activism, both in and out of the spotlight, was one that struck me hard in a good way. I suspect other readers might feel similarly, since it’s such a powerful glimpse into their lives, their histories and the perspectives they bring to their feminism.
I also adore Liz Prince’s comic “I Guess This Is Growing Up” because I think it captures so much of what young people—self included!—perceive that feminism looks like or feels like in a way that’s wildly relatable.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
Be yourself. Love yourself. And extend your hand to help and love others.
I hope the biggest takeaway is that feminism is a party we’re all welcome to and that it’s a party we want to invite the world to join. I hope this book is inspiring and a shining light to young readers everywhere.
To close, do you have any advice for girls who would like to get more engaged?
Start right where you are! There’s nothing too small to be considered engaging with feminism. Read what you can. Take on fanfiction (feminism and fanfiction go hand-in-hand, especially when you rework problematic tropes). Ask why it is you only read dead white guys in your English classes and why those are considered part of the canon of literature. Volunteer to be a mentor to younger kids. Pick up litter when you see it. Recycle. Whatever it is that ignites you, whatever change you want to see to better the world, can start right with you.
The biggest thing about feminism, especially when you’re young, is this: you have a world around you that’s excited to have you be part of it, and what you bring to the party is special, unique and important. Look inside and look around yourself. Everything you need is right there.