Posted on July 20th, 2009 by Jane
A Modern Day Feminist
Regular readers of the blog will know that I have oft despaired of the embarrassment (or worse indifference) I encounter when talking about feminism. I was therefore delighted to read a new book, just published, by journalist, Ellie Levenson, which tackles this topic head on.
Ellie (pictured) was kind enough to give an interview to the changingpeople blog so read on to find out more about Ellie and her Noughtie’s Girl’s Guide!
An Interview With Ellie Levenson, by Jane C Woods
Jane: You have just published ‘The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism’. Could you give the readers a summary of what the book is about?
Ellie:The book is about feminism in the noughties (this decade) and about looking at the many choices and issues that arise in our every days lives and how as women we respond to them. It also looks at what feminism is and tries especially to persuade people who say ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ and then go on to express lots of views I would consider to be feminist to reclaim the word and not be afraid to use it.
What prompted you to write a book on feminism?
A friend of mine wanted to read more on feminism a few years ago and found that while there were many books about feminism from an academic perspective, or written some years ago, there weren’t any that took an accessible look at our lives today. So I decided to write one. In fact there are some that already exist which are aimed at an American readership but I thought we needed one in the UK.
In the book you talk about 4 different types of feminists – the feminisnt, the unintentional feminist, the loud and proud feminist, or the accidental feminist. I like to think of myself as a loud and proud feminist but recognise bits of myself in all of them. Which are you?
I’m definitely a loud and proud feminist. I don’t see anything wrong with being a feminist and in fact I just assume people are until they tell me otherwise or act in an unfeminist way. The four types I identified include people who act in a feminist way without even thinking about it (unintentional feminists), people who become a feminist after facing discrimination (accidental feminists) and people who say ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ (feminisn’ts).
Do you remember when you first became aware of the idea of feminism?
I don’t – I just grew up with it being part of my life I think. It never occurred to me not to be one.
Ellie you are now a successful freelance journalist. When you left school did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do? Did you plan your career?
I always wanted to work in the media – even my school work experience aged 14 was at BBC Westminster which I got after writing about 100 letters to different broadcasters. Initially I wanted to work in broadcasting and I volunteered on hospital radio while at sixth form and took part in TVYP (a young person’s weeklong masterclass at the Edinburgh International Television Festival) when I was 17 in 1995. But when I got to university (Manchester) I started writing for the students’ paper, then called Mancunion but now called Student Direct, and loved it.
So after a failed bid for the editorship I took a year off to go travelling then came home and did a postgraduate qualification in journalism and then got my first job for The Lawyer, a weekly business to business paper. I didn’t like it at all and started applying for other jobs on my second day there and left after four months. After some more travelling I came home and, after applying for every job in Media Guardian that week got a job editing Fabian Review at the Fabian Society. That was brilliant – I was in my early twenties and editing and meeting cabinet ministers and other important people. I’d been political before that and a member of the Labour Party but that changed my career really – it allowed me to start freelancing while in post and gave me all kinds of new interests.
Now I freelance part time and teach journalism part time and though I didn’t necessarily plan my career beyond being a journalist, I love the combination of teaching and writing and the autonomy it gives me.
Have you encountered discrimination/problems because of being a woman, or maybe because of being a feminist? (I did not change my name when I married in 1977 and the most venomous reactions, I am sorry to say, came from other women who accused me of not loving my husband enough! I was both amused and dismayed to see exactly the same comment was made to you almost 30 years later!)
I think I probably face discrimination every day because I am a woman, as do men, though it is part of society and not explicit. But I am also particularly interested in the constraints we place on ourselves because we are women – so we don’t put ourselves forward for the same promotions as men for example, or we censor what we want to wear or say.
Most women work in a world of work designed for and by men. It’s simply a fact. If you could imagine a world of work being designed by women for women what is the most significant difference you would envisage?
I don’t really buy into the idea that women would do things differently or that we can’t cope with adversarial situations and are better at communicating and softer skills. But the significant difference I would have is flexible family friendly working practices for men and women.
Who or what has been the most influential figure in your life?
My mum and dad, without a doubt, though also my friends, and since I got together with him two years ago my husband Richard. I think this is interesting because like many people I am most influenced by the people around me not by big name academics or famous people, though I obviously am affected by reading and listening to people outside of my immediate family and social life. That’s why my book looks at lots of little everyday issues like who does the washing or what clothes you wear, because it is the everyday issues and people in our everyday lives that we influence most of all.
If you could give the 18 year old Ellie one piece of advice, what would it be?
My favourite is a piece of advice Anne Enright wrote in her book about having children. She said that if she had any advice to give her daughter when she is older it is to have sex before you go out for dinner, not after! I’m not sure I’d have advice for myself – I’ve learnt from my mistakes as well as my successes.
Ellie thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. I really enjoyed reading your book, and am sure it will get a wide readership. Thank you
If you’d like to buy Ellie’s book, ‘The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism’ you can click here and get it on Amazon.
And if you have any comments on Ellie’s book or this article, I’d love to hear them!