Interview With Jill Filipovic

Jill Filipovic is a blogger for “Feministe” and a writer for The Guardian.  She has a background in writing, having graduated from NYU with a degree in journalism, and later went on to attend law school at the same institution.  After Professor Daniels tweeted Jill’s article on Hurricane Sandy, I began to follow her on twitter, and was enthralled by her on-the-money commentary.  She has also made numerous video appearances which can be viewed on her YouTube page.  I look forward to reading Filipovic’s future writings and following her promising career.

Zack:  Where did you attend college and what was your major?

Jill:  I went to NYU and majored in journalism and politics, with a minor in gender studies. I also attended law school at NYU.

Zack:  What news networks, blogs, newspapers, and magazines do you read or watch routinely?

Jill: I read the New York Times, the Hairpin, Slate, the Washington Post, Feministing, NYMag and the Stranger every day (I spend way too much time reading the internet, obviously). I subscribe to the New Yorker and Vogue, and buy or borrow the Economist pretty regularly. I used to read GOOD every day, but then they fired all my favorite writers so I haven’t actually been to that site in months. A few times a week I check Salon, Jezebel, Gawker, Buzzfeed, the National Review, the Awl, the Nation, the American Prospect, the Paris Review, the New Yorker blogs and the LA Times. Maybe once or twice a month I remember to check the NY Review of Books and the London Review of Books. And then there are a smattering of feminist and social justice blogs that I read regularly, like Pandagon, Shakesville, Racialicious and Post Bourgie. STFU Parents, Refinery29, and Apartment Therapy are my guilty-pleasure reads. And I probably go through images from the old Domino Magazine flickr archives at least once a week when I’m bored and want to make my apartment prettier.

Zack:  Do you consider yourself a feminist blogger/journalist? How is it different from mainstream journalism?

Jill:  I consider myself a feminist blogger and an opinion writer (I also write for the Guardian and a few other places). I’m a journalist in the sense that I’m an opinion journalist, I suppose, but I think the trend of bloggers calling themselves “journalists” is not a great one. Journalists investigate. They tell stories. Ideally, they at least try to present a nuanced and mutli-faceted take on an issue or a story, and if they’re doing their jobs well, they’ll present all of the relevant angles. That’s not what I do. I’m an advocate; I have a clearly-defined set of ideas and ideals that I write about, and I try to persuade readers. The op/ed pages have always been a part of a newspaper, but they’ve been intentionally segregated from the news content — in the New York Times building, they’re on a separate floor. I think that’s a good thing, and I don’t think that recognizing the fact that like most bloggers and opinion columnists I don’t do first-person investigative journalism doesn’t take value away from what I (and other bloggers and opinion writers) do offer.

Zack:  What was the idea behind starting “Feministe”?

Jill:  I actually didn’t start Feministe — I started a different feminist blog almost a decade ago. Feministe was started by a woman named Lauren, who was a single mom in Indiana and wanted an outlet for feminist thought. I joined the blog in 2005 and when Lauren left, I started running it. The idea, I suppose, was to use this new connective tool (the internet) to start conversations with women all over the world about feminist issues. It seems to have worked.

Zack:  Should women be considered a voting bloc?  Aren’t “women’s issues” really societal issues?

Jill:  The idea that there are “women’s issues” is indeed silly, since women are 50% of the population and our needs aren’t exactly marginal or special-interest. But because men still control most of the political universe (and most of the media universe), women’s rights are considered “special” rights, or extras. The basic right to control reproduction, for example, is seen as a wedge issue in the culture wars because it disproportionately impacts women (although it impacts lots of men too); by contrast, corporate taxes (which disproportionately impact extremely wealthy men) are economic issues. So no, women shouldn’t be considered a voting bloc, but given the current political climate we necessarily are considered a voting bloc, and I don’t think it’s a terrible idea for feminist activists to respond by pointing out that right-wing laws are hostile to women as a class.

Zack:  In what ways do you believe social media has enhanced yourself as a writer?

The main way is by bringing a lot of different perspectives right to my doorway. I get a lot of my reading and information from Twitter — I follow a bunch of interesting people, and they post interesting stuff all day, and so I read at least five things every day that are awesome and fascinating and well-written. As a writer, the most important things you can do are (1) write and (2) read good writers. In the olden days before the internet, it was pretty easy to remain immersed in only reading people like you — journalists were mostly from the same racial and economic class (and mostly men), book awards and recognitions and even publishing contracts were mostly given to men of the same racial and economic class, etc etc. There were magazines for black men and black women, and white men and white women, and newspapers for whatever pocket of the country you lived in, and publications based on your interest areas and hobbies. Of course, plenty of people still do only seek out their own tribe on the internet — that happens on the right and the left. I obviously consume far more “liberal media” than conservative media (although I do read conservative opinion writing and news pretty regularly). But with Twitter and Facebook, a lot of stuff that’s outside of your usual Reads list comes directly to you. It’s expanded my reading list, and the diversity of the pieces in terms of topic, who writes them, etc has (I hope) made me a more thoughtful writer.

Zack:  You are a young, attractive, and fashionable woman.  Do you believe that helps or hurts (or is a non-factor) in promoting issues you find important.

Jill:  Both. Being young and white and having the money and ability to present oneself in a particular way is beneficial — you look “professional” and get taken more seriously, you look accessible to younger women, you can’t be as easily written off as a bitter ugly femi-nazi. That said, I have been written off many times as a bitter ugly femi-nazi, and as a stupid bubble-headed femi-nazi. If you’re a woman writing on the internet, you’re going to get treated like shit a whole lot. The Internet isn’t a monolith, and plenty of folks have decided I’m not worth listening to because I’m a fat ugly cunt, while other folks have decided I’m not worth listening to because I’m a fuckable airhead. I know women who are further away from the really narrow Barbie-doll standards of American beauty — women who aren’t white, who aren’t able-bodied, who don’t present as feminine, who are fat, who are older — get it even worse. Or they just get ignored. Every woman I know online is routinely pilloried for her physical appearance, no matter what she looks like. But more “conventionally attractive” women are more visible and are considered more relatable, and that’s a huge privilege. And I think that’s true nearly everywhere — there are very few female politicians who are fat, for example (especially compared to male politicians), and obviously very few female actors who aren’t conventionally attractive. Even looking at female CEOs and corporate higher-ups and law firm partners, you see a trend — white, able-bodied, relatively thin, feminine-presenting.

There are tons of talented female and feminist writers online, and while I like what I do and I like to think I’m pretty good at it, I’m definitely not under the impression that I have a platform solely based on my unique individual talents. My physical appearance, including my age and my race, certainly help quite a bit. At the same time, I’m a woman writing about “women’s stuff” — that in itself is often grounds for being written off or ignored. And I’ve been dismissed as a bimbo or an intellectual lightweight many times over by people who simply dislike my opinions, while watching my male peers receive criticism for their actual arguments. So it helps and it hurts.

Again, Thanks to Jill for agreeing to provide us with this interview.

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