Articles | Posted by Julie Z on 08/4/2011
An Interview with Chloe Angyal
Chloe Angyal is usually the one asking the questions: in addition to being an editor at Feministing, she also writes their popular “Feministing Five” interview feature (of which, believe it or not, I was once the subject). Today, however, the FBomb is turning the tables on one of the most prominent interviewers in the feminist blogosphere, and asking her a few questions.
For those who don’t know, Chloe is originally from Sydney, Australia and is a graduate of Princeton University, where she founded Equal Writes, the University’s first feminist publication. Her writing has been published in The Christian Science Monitor, Skirt! Magazine, Salon, Slate, The Guardian, Foreign Policy Magazine and of course, Feministing. She’s an up and coming leader of the feminist movement, and somebody us teen feminists can certainly look up to.
What was your feminist click moment? How did you realize that you were a feminist?
When I was 14 or 15 I went away on exchange to France. It was very cold, it was Winter in Brittany and I was staying in this tiny town with only a couple thousand people and we went to school at 7:30 in the morning and got back at 5:30 at night and it was dark. The sun rose while we were in the classroom and went down while we were still in there – depressing. So a couple of things happened.
It was a very traditional family in that my host mother did work but she worked in her husband’s company and she came home early to take care of the kids and then he came home later. She would be cooking and he would make a bee-line straight for the couch and sit in front of the T.V. and then returned immediately after the meal was over and she was cleaning up. And this was really foreign to me, because I grew up in a dual-run household. To be fair, my parents had permanent, live-in help so they could both have careers – but they shared household chores and child-rearing. I hadn’t realized how feminist my household was. And it turns out the reason why my household is so feminist is because my mom was a crazy radical second-wave feminist and my Dad is the man who married her. My Dad used to do my hair for ballet – my Dad still does the best ballet buns of any man I know who is not professionally involved in the ballet, which is saying something. So that happened, which made me think differently about my household and why my household was the way it was.
The other thing that happened was that in France it was very cold and French food is very rich, and I gained a shit ton of weight. I came back and I had just turned fifteen and I was two dresses sizes heavier than I was when I left. So it was the first time I was really, really not adhering to accepted beauty standards. And I hated it, and I hated how angry I felt. I hated how inferior it made me feel and it made me really angry that something so trivial could make me feel so inferior. And then I read the Beauty Myth and realized that it’s not trivial – it’s a really big deal – and I got really angry. And after the Beauty Myth I found my Mom’s old copy of the Feminine Mystique and I read that and I read parts of the Second Sex and I became a mini, radicalized, angry fifteen-year-old feminist. And the people in my life struggled with that. I couldn’t hold a conversation without making it about eating disorder statistics or rape statistics – it was really bad. And my boyfriend at the time was like “Oh my God, Chloe.” It was the first time that I really struggled with the personal and the political. Because I was reading all this stuff about how badly women have it in this world, but I was falling in love with this guy and I was like, “How can I be reading about this stuff and hanging out with you and hooking up with you and having a relationship with you?” I guess the mental complexity you develop as an adult is separating the problems from the individuals and from ideas – your 17 year old boyfriend isn’t the one raping people so you need to chill and not feel bad about hanging out with him. So that happened and that’s how I became a feminist.
What was your experience with feminism in school? Did you find other feminists your age?
I didn’t. I found people who agreed with me but not people who would use the word “feminist” to describe themselves. I was unusual enough that I became known as “Chloe the Feminist” in my high school, or “Chloe, the one who talks about rape statistics a lot.” Eleventh grade was interesting. I found other teachers who were really on board. I had a teacher in 11th grade – a sub English teacher – and we were doing fairy tales and she started talking about “virgin and whore” and all that stuff in fairy tales and how Little Red Riding Hood is actually about rape and the wolf was originally a man – it’s the biggest victim blaming story ever. And it just blew my mind and I think a lot of other people had that reaction, but weren’t immediately like “Okay, I’m a feminist. What am I going to do with that?” And to be fair, what I did with that was put it back in the closet when I went to college. I went to Princeton and I didn’t want to be Chloe the feminist. It took me until my junior year to come out of that closet again and say, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this publically” and that’s when I started writing.
Why do you think there are people who have feminist beliefs but won’t call themselves feminists?
Because the word has a lot of baggage. And because the same reason there are a lot of, or I would guess, a lot of Christian evangelicals who check all the boxes required to describe themselves as a Christian evangelical but would be, “I’m not like a radical.” They introduce themselves and their beliefs with an asterisk – like, “I’m not one of those crazy radicals.” My point is that the people who are the most radical in any movement are the ones that are the most salient, that people most remember and identify with most. And that’s a problem because there are some radical edges of feminism that I have problems with and don’t want to be identified with. And if you don’t know a lot about the movement and that’s what you think of when you think about feminism, then that’s what you fear other people will think of when they think about feminists.
I think there are women of color and LGBT folk who traditionally have not been welcomed and don’t call themselves feminists for that reason, although I suspect that a lot of young women aren’t necessarily aware of that history. Some of them may very well have been educated on the history of feminism and they may know that and made the conscious choice not to identify that way, but my suspicion is that 15 – 19 year old girls are distancing themselves for feminists are not because of exclusion of women of color or LGBT. It’s possible.
Why else? Because it’s scary. It’s so much more comforting to tell yourself that you didn’t get a job or you didn’t get elected school president or something you wanted didn’t work out for you, because of sexism. But the thing about blaming the sexism is that if you sit down and think about it for a second then you have to acknowledge that you might never be enough, and this whole vista of inequality opens up to you, a whole new world view of just how fucked up our culture is, opens up to you. And that’s really scary. So as comforting as it can be to blame the sexism, it’s only comforting for a second when you start thinking about it and you think “Well, holy shit, am I ever going to be good enough even when I’m good enough?” And that’s really confronting and I think for a lot of women it’s just easier to make it a personal problem rather than a political one because once you acknowledge that sexism exists and it’s powerful and is affecting your life and the lives of everybody around you – I personally find it very hard to sit with that knowledge and do nothing about it. Because once you have that knowledge, unless you’re a deeply lazy and unethical person, you have to be like, “Well now what?” and the answer is that now you have to be a feminist. You have to call this out when you see it and make a concerted effort not to buy into it or resist it and that takes energy and time and it would be easier to be like “I wasn’t qualified for that job” and that’s the end. And there are a lot of people who get to a half way point and they say “I’m a feminist but it’s not like I’m activist or militant about it.” They acknowledge sexism exists but aren’t going to do anything about it. And to me, that’s just sad.
I also believe in the backlash thesis. I believe that from the moment women decided that they would like to have some rights, please, from the moment that started there has always been a concerted effort – not necessarily a conspiracy – but an effort in various avenues over the last 100 years or so in the media to simultaneously demonize feminism and show women that it’s work is done. It’s a very difficult juggling act. You have to simultaneously demonize the women who are too radical and assure everybody else that because of some radical women 20 or 30 years ago, don’t worry about it it’s ancient history, equality has been implemented. So anybody who keeps talking about this stuff is complaining or over-reacting or irrelevant. It’s a very difficult juggling act to do and the media manages to do it really well.
How do you feel that the internet has benefited feminism?
Well, I came pretty late to the game – I didn’t start blogging until 2008 and by then the feminist blogosphere was pretty well established so I wasn’t there for the beginning and I wasn’t really there for the shaping, but I do know that if I hadn’t discovered feminist blogs when I got to college I probably would’ve just had what I had before that which would be a couple women’s studies courses under my belt and the books that I knew about and had heard of somehow through the ether – I’d heard about the Beauty Myth, and Stiffed and Backlash and things like that – but the internet for me has opened up vast landscapes of feminist thought that I wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. Not even because I’m socio-economically fine – I’m mobile and educated, it’s not those usual barriers to knowledge– it’s that I wouldn’t know about these things if it weren’t for the internet. Things like “Crunk Feminist Collective” – a white girl from Sydney without the internet could not have come into contact with the Crunk Feminist Collective, you know? So, there’s that, and I’m so grateful for it. I can’t remember my life before the internet and I don’t want to.
We talk a lot about the internet bringing knowledge and bringing conversation and community to people who are isolated either geographically or culturally. What I mean to say that is that I didn’t grow up in an Evangelical town in Texas. I grew up in a feminist household, but I still would not have had access to that community and wealth of information were it not for the internet. And it’s extra important for girls who do grow up geographically isolated.
What’s the downside of online feminism?
I recently went back to Sydney and caught up with people that I haven’t seen in a while. They were asking me about what it’s like to be a blogger, and I realized that it was the first time I told people about rape threats and some of the really heinous stuff that gets said about us and to us (as feminist bloggers). And I realized that I had, not normalized it, but had gotten over the initial shock and revulsion and fear that I told them about. But I told them about it and they were like “Wait, what that’s awful?” And I was like “Eh.” I take those things seriously, and they scare and upset me, but they happen enough and my skin has thickened enough that I see my friends now having on my behalf the reaction that I had initially and I’m like “Well…yeah that’s life.” And they’re sort of horrified. And those obviously aren’t your garden-variety online trolls. Garden-variety trolls will call you ugly or say that you’re wrong or stupid or a hack or whatever and then you have your exotic breed of trolls who tell you that you deserve to be raped or that you should’ve been aborted. Which I love: anti-choicers who tell you that you should’ve been aborted. Solid logic. So, yeah, that’s the worst. And it sucks but I see it on the continuum of violence that is directed to people when they speak out against the status quo, and as far as violence goes it’s disturbing and upsetting but it’s not the worst. We’re reasonably lucky as far as that goes. And I anticipate that it’s going to get worse if my career keeps going well, it’s only going to get worse. But I’ll also get better at dealing with it.
Any advice for teenage feminists?
It’s just going to get harder. Feminism’s work is never done. It get’s overwhelming and you grow up and have kids (if you choose to have kids) and it get’s harder. Maybe it’ll get better, but it won’t get easier. It get’s better in that you get to own it (feminism) and feel comfortable with it and make an identity for yourself that includes feminism. And instead of being “Chloe the Feminist” or “Such and such, the Feminist” you get to become yourself and feminism is a huge part of who you are but it doesn’t set you apart from everybody else you know. Becoming a feminist is just the beginning, and declaring yourself and committing yourself to a worldview is just the beginning.
Read other posts about: backlash thesis, Chloe Angyal, Feminism, feminism and women of color, feminist click moments, feminist interviews, feminist label, feminist stereotypes, feministing, feminists, high school, interviews, interviews with feminists, LGBT, LGBTQ and feminism, stereotypes, teen feminism, women of color
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