Some people are so gifted with words that you want to drop everything and read anything they’ve ever written. For me, no one fits that description more perfectly than Jessica Bennett. Besides being an outspoken advocate for equal rights, she’s been the executive editor at Tumblr, a senior editor at Newsweek, and has had pieces published everywhere from The Atlantic to The New York Times.
All her brilliance aside, she also happens to be really nice and incredibly funny.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Fuck yes! And proud.
How do you define “feminism”?
Feminism is the belief in equality for men and women. That’s not just how I define it, that is the definition. I can’t stand when people say they believe in the above (ahem, Marisa Mayer) but that they’re not a feminist. YES YOU ARE. Own it, girl!
Why do you think women are tentative to call themselves feminists?
The word feminism has a lot of baggage… angry, humorless, combat-boot wearing, bra-burning… no matter that none of this is true. (Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time somebody referenced “bra-burning” to me. It didn’t happen! Look it up!). But I think there’s something else at play here, too: the idea that young women who are outpacing their male peers in academics don’t need feminism. You know, they’ve been raised on Girl Power, they had a female Secretary of State, and so forth. But the reality is that gender inequality is still rampant, albeit in subtle ways. Many of those ways become visible when women graduate from school and enter into the workforce. So I think what we end up seeing is a lot of women embracing feminism later than our mother’s generations. I know that was the case for me. But really, better late than never.
Do you think the judgement of women by other women is a problem? What do you think we can do to be more supportive of one another?
I’ve become part of a number of women’s networking groups in NYC over the past few years, and any hesitance I had about supporting or taking the support of other women has completely disappeared — I can’t overemphasize how amazing it is to have a group of badass ladies as part of your network who you know will have your back. So, I think we all have to take it upon ourselves to break out of that mold, to buck the expectation that we must compete against one another, to find women to mentor, or women we want to be our mentors. I also think that institutional change can help solve that problem. As long as the halls of power are dominated by men, any woman in a position of power is going to believe she has to cling tightly to that role. Rather than helping women rise up, she’s going to fear that another talented woman will replace her. And as long as business shows us that there is only room for one or two women at the top, that feeling is going to persist. The best way to change that? Get more women at the top.
How do you think we can make a difference in the world?
Oh God, I’m not sure I’m any real role model in this realm, but I guess I’d say stand up, and speak up, for what you believe in. It takes outspoken voices to change the status quo.
I loved what you wrote about Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.” What did you learn from reading the thoughts of Sandberg and the statistics she shared?
I think the main thing Sandberg has done is put a public voice to what many women have often felt in their professional lives. She validated it, from a position of huge power. She has taken a word that women didn’t want to associate with — feminism — and made it a conversation that’s at the top of the New York Times book review (for 6 weeks and counting!). I seriously believe Sheryl Sandberg is going to make feminism cool again. And for women who still aren’t comfortable with the word? Well, she’s given them an alternative: Lean In.
What books have made an impact on your life?
“Curse of the Good Girl” by Rachel Simmons, who I’m hopefully collaborating on a project with, and the early work of Nora Ephron, who I was lucky enough to meet. But perhaps most importantly is “In Our Time” by Susan Brownmiller, which taught me about the women of Newsweek who sued the company for gender discrimination in 1970- in the first lawsuit of its kind. I spent seven years as a writer for Newsweek, and that tidbit in that book was the inspiration for a cover story that two colleagues and I would write about women and work, sexism at Newsweek, and how much had changed since then. That story changed a lot about my career, and how I saw the world.