When I first read about Emma Orlow and Emily Cohn’s project, The Do Not Enter Diaries, which, along with Emma, has been featured in The New York Times for its unique approach to thoughtful representation of teenagers, I was immediately blown away. I loved the idea- showcasing a diverse collection of teenagers and sharing their real stories. So when I discovered its creators are teenagers themselves, I had to know more.
Emma, who has written for Refinery 29, BUST and Huffington Post, presents herself with elegance and wisdom beyond her years. When I asked her to be a part of TWTO, I knew I had an opportunity to ask about the future of women from someone who will play a huge role in it. I enjoyed reading her thoughts on feminism, teenage girls and growing up female- and I know you will, too.
Why is it important to you to share stories of teens with the world? How did your project get its start?
The Do Not Enter Diaries is a webseries I co-founded with my best friend and fellow teenager, Emily Cohn, telling the stories of teens through their bedrooms. It is important to us to share teenagers’ stories on a global scale as it allows us to see how teenager’s interact with their rooms in other cultures. In pop culture, many of the movies/magazine articles/ songs, or what have you, are adults reminiscing about their experience as a teen. We feel that in order to make an honest portrayal of teenagers’ experiences, we wanted to make our site of teens by teens, because we’re obviously going through many of the same things as our subjects. We don’t stage our videos. There’s no big fancy sound and lighting crew that follows us around while filming. We actually don’t even ask our teens to clean their rooms for us when we visit- this all is about trying to capture the teenagers’ view of their existence, not a staged and distilled version.
What does the feminist movement mean to you?
A lot of my friends don’t call themselves feminists, although still believe that there are inequalities between the genders. It does bother me that females today think that we’ve advanced enough and no longer feel a tethered association with women’s movements before us, but obviously it’s less important to me that people actually associate with the word “feminist” than it is for them to employ a feminist line of thinking. There are different waves of feminism, and each means something to different to its generation. Right now I see feminism carving out corners in the media, which in an Internet-driven culture is very important and impressionable, and something that never really happened before on this scale.
As a young woman, have you experienced discrimination because of your gender?
As a teenager who also happens to be female, the sort of inequities amongst genders that I view in my day-to-day life play out in hetero-relationships at parties and even in the high school lunch room— the word slut gets tossed around a lot amongst the guys and girls I know. I hate that word. I wouldn’t even use it to describe an actual prostitute, because, well, having sex is their way they pay the bills.
Do you think many of the problems young women face are at the hands of other women?
Women have been fed sexist propaganda by society for decades—it’s not our fault that women are underrepresented in the media. However, whenever a woman does break-through the bubble, I think many women feel, “Hey, here’s a women who is intelligent and unusual, who has made it into the mainstream. See women have to be equal to men!” But this example is an anomaly. In America we obviously have it better than in under-developed countries, but still, across the board these gender inequities still plague society. It is important to celebrate those women who do break these patterns, but also realize that they aren’t unfortunately the norm.
How do you think we, as women, can stop this cycle?
There are many things women can do to change our place in society. Although we’ve made immense progress from the days of the suffragettes, if you look at media from the 1950s and now, the place of women really hasn’t change that much. In the 1950s, ads were all about depicting women as domestic figures—objects chained to their houses, for the sole purpose of serving their families. Today women are depicted as objects of sexual desire in order to sell cars, bags, cologne….you name it. Because these images of what the “perfect woman” looks like are so pervasive, it’s a sneakier form of feminism because there’s not much to combat it. To change this phenomenon we need to recognize these depictions of women as one-sided.
What advice would you give a teenager who is facing problems with her peers?
I think that depends what the teenager wants out of her peers. If she wants them to accept her for who she truly is, then that can’t come without standing up for herself and first finding out how she exists independently, outside of her peers.
Do you foresee any gender-related roadblocks in your future?
The “Can Women Have It All?” question feels so dated at this point, but I definitely think it’ll be something that continues to follow me in life.
What advantages do you feel you have because you’re a woman?
Honestly, being a woman has made me be able to better see and question so many other inequities in this world. If I was born a white male, hopefully I would see them too, but when you’re in the bracket that dominates society, it’s easier to turn a blind eye.
Who are some of your role models or mentors?
Lena Dunham definitely inspires me. She unapologetically wears all the hats in her field. Many people can see that as controlling or self-obsessed, but I find it extremely empowering that she is an example of a woman who completely crafted her own success, without some middleman. And likewise, making the media question along the way, how we put certain body types on pedestals, is an amazing step for women.
What books have you read that have made a difference in your life?
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is one of my favorite books of all time. It completely changed the way I view homelessness in the United States.
Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaEdition.