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Still Learning Every Day: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen interviews contributor Sarah McCarry

It’s the final day in our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Sarah McCarry. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“I’m Still Learning Every Day”: Sarah McCarry on Feminism



 Sarah McCarry’s essay in Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World is about relationships. More specifically, her piece conveys the hard lessons that so many girls learn and experience when it comes to finding and making true friendships. Where do you let yourself stand out? Where do you make yourself fit in? And at what point do you have to confront the roles you’re playing to do one and not the other?

Here’s a short excerpt from her essay:

You make yourself superior. Superior in your silence, your lack of want. You take up no space. You quit eating and do not name aloud the hunger that rages every day in your belly. You are not like other girls. You are not like other girls (“You are not like other girls,” the boys you run with will tell you, and you will try not to let them see you preen under the glancing light of their approval). You learn their books and their language. You laugh at their jokes. You listen to their stories, sit blank-eyed on their couches while they play video games, pass them your English notes. You keep their secrets. You use the words they use about other girls in order to assure yourself that they will never use those words about you. You make yourself into nothingness, a ghost conjured into being only through the desires of boys, the rules of boys, the ideas of boys. You’re not like other girls. If you turn sideways, you are so thin, you can almost disappear. If you are good enough at this, you will be safe.                                                           

You are never quite good enough at it, as it turns out. You were never, in their company, safe.                                                           

It will take you long, lonely years, but one day you will grow tired. Tired of boys, tired of contempt, and then where will you be? All these girls around you with their stories and their lives, the solace of one another, and you will be as far away from them as an anthropologist among a foreign people, curious but unable to make contact. Have faith: you will learn.


Sarah McCarry (and a bear)

The ways this essay talks about how we judge girls, as well as how those who identify as girls judge ourselves against other girls, is a gut-punch. It forces the reader through painful “ah ha” moments to get to those powerful, self-affirming moments. It’s an essay that defines so much of what social justice means: standing up for yourself and standing up for those who are disadvantaged by social, cultural, and political beliefs.

Kelly Jensen: If you had to pick a moment that really defined you as a feminist, where you felt like owning the term, what was that moment?

Sarah McCarry: Mmmm, that’s a good question. I can think immediately of a moment in my senior year of high school. I was in a study group with these guys from my physics class and it was important to me that they like me, that they think I was tough and cool and hot and not like other girls and all that other bullshit. They weren’t popular, exactly, but people liked them, they were rich and confident and they moved around in the world with this absolute ease that I wanted to be a part of. They sexually harassed me all the time; they harassed other girls in the class all the time; they said what, in retrospect, were horrific things about other girls in our class all the time, one of them had at that point sexually assaulted me; but I thought, then, that the way to deal with that was to be really cool. I didn’t think the issue was them or the culture that enabled them or the teacher who thought they were funny; I thought I just needed to be skinnier and meaner and more quiet and prettier but not girly and tell the right jokes and not take up any space and then I would have achieved that magical state of being one of them, of being, basically, human.

So this had been going on all year and their behavior was finally starting to trouble me in a way I couldn’t write off as my own hysteria. I will never forget a moment when we were all studying together in the café of a Barnes and Noble—this was a very small town, only goths and smokers went to the coffee shop—and they started talking about a girl in our class, saying things like she’d given dudes blow jobs to get them to do her homework for her, she was such a slut, she was trash. This girl was a thousand times smarter than all of them put together, I think she’s literally a neurosurgeon now. They were pissed because she knew better than to study with them and she did better than them by far in the class and had the audacity to be better at science than them while female and having sex with people who weren’t them. And suddenly something connected in me that had never sparked before; I understood in that moment that what they were saying was really fucked up, that what they’d done to me and to other women all year was really fucked up, that what I’d enabled them to say about other women was really fucked up, that they had never, at any point, thought of me as anything like an equal, that that was a battle I was never, ever going to win, and that I didn’t care whether or not they liked me anymore because I didn’t like a single one of them. I felt it through my whole body: I. Don’t. Care. Anymore. Just like that: I was free of them. And I stood up so fast I knocked my chair over and said, very loud, “Fuck all of you,” and walked out of there, and pretty much didn’t talk to them again after that. It was one of the more cathartic moments in my life, for sure.

But my feminism is also an organic, constantly evolving thing. For years after that moment with those dudes I still thought and said a lot of dumb things about race and class and sexuality and gender and how they operate together. I thought and said a lot of transphobic and racist and ableist and classist and just generally very stupid shit. It was a long time after that, when I had been doing social work for years, and organizing and working with a lot of incredible women of color who taught me so much—and were (god bless every one of you, you know who you are) incredibly patient and generous with me, which was a huge gift that of course I took for granted at the time—anyway, it was a long time after that before I would call my feminism anything resembling intersectional or committed to real social justice and transformation, and if my feminism is a useful tool now it’s entirely because of the work and ongoing work of women of color and trans women of color and because of the decades upon decades of work—again, in huge part by trans women of color and women of color and queer women of color—of women who came before me. I’m still learning every day.

Kelly: Your essay, while personal, is told entirely through second person. Talk about that choice and what you hope it is that readers feel as they go through the painful experiences associated with “fitting in.”

Sarah: I think that experience of internalized misogyny, of trying to transform yourself into the girl who’s not like other girls and ultimately failing—because that girl doesn’t exist, the girl who’s cool enough to be safe and respected and valued in a patriarchal system, no one has ever been that girl no matter how hard she worked or how many women she cut down or how many men approved of her—is a very common one for a lot of young (and not so young) women. I spent a long time working through shame about that experience: I wanted people who sexually assaulted me to like me, I spent a big chunk of my life putting myself into situations that I knew were physically and emotionally unsafe, I said shitty things to and about other women, and for years I thought that meant there was something fundamentally wrong with me or that I deserved what I’d been through. And of course that’s not true. I learned, working with survivors of extreme trauma, that surviving can often mean making choices that look—and often are—pretty terrible and part of moving out of trauma, of moving toward a life where trauma doesn’t define your existence, is forgiving yourself for making them in the first place. Like a lot of people, I was able to apply those lessons to others long before I realized I also got to apply them to myself. And I think the more easily you are able to be generous with yourself, the more easily you can extend that compassion to other people and see them in all their messy complicated beautiful infuriating human-ness, and hold yourself and other people accountable for your shitty choices in productive ways, and work together to move toward a world populated with the opportunities to make better ones.

The second person in the essay wasn’t a conscious choice but I think in some ways it manifested as a reminder to myself to extend the same kindness to the person I used to be as I do to other people. And for readers—I hope, wherever you’re at, that that’s useful to you.

Kelly: In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Sarah: I don’t think you can separate those things, honestly. The lens of social justice isn’t something you can put away once you start looking at the world through it. It can make going to the movies a real pain in the ass, I tell you what. Once you see how power works in a system, you can’t ever unsee it again, even if you just want to watch dopey space battles on the IMAX screen.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Sarah: SO MANY!!!!! Mariame Kaba’s website (http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/) is an incredible resource and so is all of the work she does—she is an extraordinary organizer who works a lot with young people around transformative justice. Everything Jenny Zhang has ever written, especially her essays and stories for Rookie. Read Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldúa, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison (fiction and non!), June Jordan. I am a big fan of Walida Imarisha’s work, Natalie Diaz and Aracelis Girmay’s poetry, Rahawa Haile’s essays, everything Topside Press publishes… I could make this answer forty pages long, tbh. I use my twitter (@therejectionist) to flag particularly fabulous books I’m reading, you can keep an eye on that as well.

I will say that I think we have a responsibility to know our history, to know how long we’ve been fighting the exact same battles, the incredible transformative work that’s come before us; that’s something I wish I’d figured out way earlier. Read about the Black Panthers, read about ACT UP, read about Stonewall and SDS and the Combahee River Collective (http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html) and AIM, read Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells and Angela Davis and Assata Shakur and Leslie Feinberg and David Wojnarowicz and Ronald Takaki and Cherríe Moraga. People have been thinking about—and doing a really good job of thinking about—this stuff for a long, long time.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism? Perhaps more specifically, how can girls help other girls so that they don’t have to learn so many of these “Girl Lessons” the hard way?

Sarah: Honestly, I think the kids are all right these days—I mean, Teen Vogue is doing some of the best, most intersectional journalism in media. This book exists. I am constantly inspired by the energy and awareness and activism of young people; I feel like I learn a lot more from them than they can possibly learn from me.

As far as people who advocate for young readers, I think one of the best things we can do is ask young people what they need most from us and then shut up and listen when they answer.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Sarah: One thing I wish I had known when I was younger was that becoming the person you want to be is a lifelong process. You don’t have to—you’re not going to—get it right straight out of the gate. If readers take away a little more compassion for themselves and for the other people around them who are struggling too, then my work here is done. For the most part, we’re all doing the best we can to thrive within a system that doesn’t want to see us flourish, and we’ll do a much better job of taking care of each other as part of a community of loving dreamers and empathetic activists than we will trying to go it on our own.

Meet Sarah McCarry

Sarah McCarry (therejectionist.com/@therejectionist) is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About a Girl, and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine. Her books have been nominated for the Norton Award, been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, and shortlisted for the Tiptree Award, and she is the recipient of a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. She has written for the New York Times Book Review, Glamour, Book Riot, Tor.com, and others.

Feminism is for Everyone: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen interviews contributor Daniel Jose Older

It’s day three of our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Daniel Jose Older. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“In our activism, it’s important we celebrate”: Daniel José Older on Feminism and Social Justice



Daniel José Older’s essay in Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World tackles the topic of the journey; he explores how he envisions feminism as a big, beautiful room where people of all strokes are dancing and enjoying themselves—taking turns showing off their moves when they feel so inspired—and how every individual in that room got there in their own way. From there, his essay expands to discuss how he himself found feminism and how it was art that really made it click.

Here’s a short excerpt from his essay:

Patriarchy has sharp teeth. The borders it draws around our identities and hearts are unforgiving and lined with broken glass and barbed wire. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls masculinity “a hard, small cage.” Our patriarchal gender norms, the rules that tell us how to fit into pre-assigned boxes labeled “man” and “woman,” have nothing to do with love and everything to do with power. They guide our steps and demolish our lives, our sense of self, our relationships. Because we have subscribed to them as a society, because they are normalized, they seep into our hearts and minds from our earliest contact with the world around us. They take root there, then metastasize.                                                           

My own journey to feminism required looking both outward and inward. It is an ongoing process that means learning and relearning how to listen, when to shut up, when to speak up. There is no map for the work of undoing that trauma within us—like all the great journeys, it is a road we make by walking. This is terrifying at first; there’s a false comfort in the sense that if we just follow these simple steps, we will get where we need to go.                                                           

But the harder truth contains its own truer joy—the beautiful struggle.

Daniel is no stranger to social justice, just as much as he’s no stranger to feminism. His work in protest, his work as a paramedic, and his work as a creative writer have all intersected to form his beliefs and guide his actions for doing right. His essay shows how no single path is the correct one; what matters is that the journey leads to this room full of people eager to advocate for equal rights and equal access for all.

Kelly Jensen: Your essay is about the moment when you came to understand “feminism” and owned the term and system of beliefs for yourself. Your vision of feminism as a giant party, full of those taking turns with their own moves, is one that really captures not just feminism, but social justice more broadly. Where did this sort of grand vision emerge in relation to your understanding of feminism?

Daniel J. Oseolder

Daniel Jose Older


Daniel José Older: In our activism, it’s so important that we celebrate. It gets really easy to be overwhelmed, particularly these days, with all the terrible things happening and feel like we’ve already lost before the struggle has even begun. But part of being alive and part of resistance is celebration. This also means we honor our different paths, our different voices — we can’t privilege one path or voice over another, as we have in the past. That will destroy us. So I believe in this great, celebratory room, and I think in order to really manifest that vision we have to be very self-aware, very accountable, very real with ourselves about where we are and where we’ve been and that means having some of the difficult conversations we’ve seen pop up in the past couple years especially.

Kelly: How and where do you see art, be it visual or verbal or written, as intersecting with social justice? What might be a couple great contemporary examples?

Daniel: We have to approach our work in the world, whether it’s organizing a rally or running workshops or political activism, with the same creativity we approach our artwork. There’s long been this idea that activism is this one cookie-cutter thing: do A then B then C and that’s activism. No! We have to be as interconnected and audacious and outrageous and most of all creative in our approach as possible, in part because oppression is itself quite interconnected and creative in thinking up ways to keep folks down and turn us against each other. Art and activism are not only not opposing elements, they are in fact one.

Kelly : In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Daniel: I believe if we’re not approaching life in general, whether it’s how we live, how we love, how we work, how we make art, from a feminist or womanist perspective, we are by default doing it from a sexist perspective. That is the status quo, it’s what we’re taught. To move beyond patriarchy we have to actively engage ourselves to think critically about what we’re doing and how we do it. So for me, being a cis/straight male, that means I have to both check in and check myself regularly to make sure I’m not enacting the violent behavior that is a part of our legacy. It means I have to be able to listen and step back, whether that’s in a social space or an activist one or an artist one.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Daniel: Both Twitter and Tumblr are tremendous gathering places of brilliant feminist thinkers. Yes there are trolls, there are downsides, there are disputes, but over all, when we step back, what we’re seeing is an amazing, global conversation about feminism and patriarchy and its intersections with race and class that is very needed. I’ve also learned a lot from great books like Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost, bell hooks, the anthology This Bridge Called My Back, Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism? You came to your understanding in your mid-20s; we’re seeing teens today standing their ground and fighting for the causes they believe in (including the protest walkouts and more in the aftermath of the election). Do you think today’s teens are more engaged with the movement? Any idea why that might be and how it can be actively cultivated and encouraged?

Daniel: They are much more engaged and it’s amazing to behold. It gives hope, to be honest. I see the way young folks are being badass and unstoppable and real with each other and the world and I feel like somehow, we’re gonna be alright. I give a lot of credit to social media for that, it’s allowed access to this conversation in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s an exciting time to be alive and be a feminist.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Daniel: I hope they see that feminism, as bell hooks said years ago, is indeed for everybody. That there are many, many ways to jump into the conversation and change the world.

Meet Daniel Jose Older

Daniel José Older is the author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic, 2015), a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, which was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature and the Andre Norton Award, and named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. He also writes the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series. You can explore his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic, hear his music at danieljoseolder.net, and find him on Twitter at @djolder.

My Voice is Louder Now: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen talks with Brandy Colbert about Feminism

It’s day three of our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Brandy Colbert. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“My voice is a little louder now”: Brandy Colbert on Feminism and Social Justice



At the heart of Brandy Colbert’s essay in Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World is the idea that sisterhood comes in more than just a biological form. It can be about shared culture, about shared beliefs, about shared interests, and, sometimes, about geographic closeness. Her piece begins with a simple question from her mother, asking if Brandy wishes she’d had sisters growing up, and it unfolds as Brandy talks about growing up as a black girl in a small Missouri town and the various challenges that presented. The biggest, most powerful piece of her essay is one of the smaller details — that when she discovered the musician Brandy, whose CD had a black girl on the cover with her name, she understood she, too, could do things and make things and be free to be who she is exactly as she is.

Here’s a short excerpt from her essay:

Whenever anyone implies, or, even more foolishly, straight up declares that representation doesn’t matter, I want to put them in my childhood shoes. Because I knew so few black girls my own age, I was starved for that representation in mainstream media—which consistently failed to deliver. Seeing so few faces like mine made me wonder what was wrong with girls who looked like me. I did regular, everyday things like the girls who were meant to speak for all teens, but it was rare to see black girls portrayed in a positive light. Allowing a group to exist only as stereotypes is an insidious type of erasure; I wanted to know that black girls mattered when we weren’t just the subjects of harrowing news stories.                                                           

The movie Clueless was released a couple of months after I turned sixteen, and I bought a ticket to see it in the theater three times. It remains one of my favorite movies more than twenty years later, and part of that everlasting love is due to Dionne, who wore gorgeous box braids and a killer wardrobe and served as much more than the token black friend. Naturally I became obsessed with Brandy Norwood, who shared my name and birth year and whose eponymous CD case I’d stare at for long periods of time, in disbelief that a black girl with my name was singing on MTV and posing for magazine covers. And there is an entire section of my heart solely reserved for the members of TLC and Destiny’s Child, whose legacies I will defend to the death.

From a social justice perspective, and more broadly, a feminist perspective, Brandy’s piece is rife with moments that highlight how important seeing representation was to her, both in her youth and in her adult years.

Kelly Jensen: If you had to pick a moment that really defined you as a feminist, where you felt like owning the term, what was that moment?

Brandy Colbert: Honestly, it wasn’t until my early thirties—which is pretty embarrassing, as that was just a few years ago—but better late than never, I guess. I grew up in a conservative Midwestern town, but even being raised by increasingly liberal parents who taught me to be wholly independent and routinely boosted my self-confidence, and even after moving to the extremely liberal city of Los Angeles, I didn’t understand the meaning of feminism. I had that idea of the angry woman yelling at men in my head, which makes me laugh now because women have plenty of reasons to be yelling at plenty of men. I think the fact that many people don’t learn from the start that feminism simply means women should have the same social, political, and economic rights as men is damaging to the term and the movement. There wasn’t a defining moment of my owning the term, other than that light bulb going off in my head after a friend broke down the true meaning.

Kelly: Pop Culture and representation mattered to you growing up in the 90s. Who do you think is doing the work on the level of social justice in today’s pop culture? Who do you wish you’d been exposed to at a young age?

Brandy: Oh, so many! I admire those artists and entertainers who tackle social justice in their work, as well as in real life. Some of my current favorites are Amandla Stenberg, Janet Mock, Yara Shahidi, Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monáe, Colin Kaepernick, Kal Penn, and probably many other people I’m forgetting. I’m not sure there’s anyone I wish I’d been exposed to at a younger age, but I do wonder how my opinions of certain people would have shifted—for better or worse—if the internet had been around in the ’90s like it is today.


Brandy Colbert

Kelly: In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Brandy: I don’t know if I’m doing anything different than what I’ve always done—as a black woman, I’m no stranger to fighting for equality. But I’m aware of the privileges I hold as a cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied person; I’ve always spoken up on behalf of marginalized groups that I don’t belong to, but my voice is a little louder now. (You won’t find much from me on social media because that’s not a comfortable platform for me—I prefer speaking about issues in person and through my writing.) And since my first book, I’ve been committed to writing about the world I’ve experienced as a black teen and now as a black woman. Those scenes are often uncomfortable to write and read, but I feel a responsibility to be truthful, as I wish I’d had books that broached these topics head-on when I was a teen.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Brandy: Perfect timing for this question because since the election, I’ve been finding it harder to read (and write) fiction, and have been digging into my stash of nonfiction books. I recently read The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward, and it is a fantastic collection of essays about race from contemporary black writers and writers of color. I think everyone should read Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I’m currently (finally!) reading my copy of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, which is excellent. And there are a lot of books on my shelf that I am pretty certain are going to be high on my list of recommendations once I get to them: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism?

Brandy: I think it has to start with listening and empathy. Though I am part of two historically marginalized groups myself, I still have a lot to learn from other groups I don’t belong to, and the best way to do that is to listen. In the last few years I’ve found it especially helpful to listen to other black people; we’re not a monolith, and the truth is that I grew up pretty sheltered in a conservative community. I think the biggest mistake people can make is believing they no longer have anything to learn, especially from people who share their culture or background. Seeking out a range of perspectives helps me broaden my own thinking and gives me the language to discuss issues that haven’t directly affected me but do affect the black community as a whole. Listening will help inform the ways people can best help the communities they’re supporting.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Brandy: I guess I just hope that I’m heard and understood. I’d really love it if a girl who’s growing up like I did reads it and knows that she’s not alone.

Meet Brandy Colbert:

Brandy Colbert is the author of the critically acclaimed Pointe, and two forthcoming young adult novels. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World – Kelly Jensen talks with contributor Alida Nugent about social justice, feminism & finding and using your voice

It’s day two of our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Alida Nugent. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“I’ve become the kind of person I never used to like at parties”: Alida Nugent on Feminism



One of the reasons I reached out to Alida Nugent about contributing to Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World was my quick love for the way she infuses humor into her writing (which, spoiler, means you need to pick up her books if you haven’t yet!–and yes, they’re teen appropriate). Her essay, “Pretty Enough,” conveys a sharp sense of humor but not to the detriment of the point she makes in the piece. As a biracial girl growing up in a community with beautiful (white) girls, she felt she stood out. It wasn’t until a trip to Puerto Rico, where she came face-to-face with all kinds of people who looked like her, that she learned not to simply accept her looks, but to embrace the cultural history and richness she wears every single day.

Here’s a short excerpt from her essay:

In my teenaged years, I experienced the curiously affectionate friendships of girls who didn’t really understand me. They would tan in the sun after weeks spent at resorts in Jamaica or Mexico, returning to place their fading arms next to mine to compare our color. They would casually mention how dark the hair on my arms was. They would straighten my hair for me, which then “looked much better.” I would pluck my eyebrows in the middle. I would smile in every picture, even as I tried to hide my stomach and grow- ing breasts; while my friends were growing upward, I was growing outward. And if, like the Sesame Street song, one thing was not like the other, surely I was the one thing that did not belong.

But man, did I try. I dressed like them. I bought the perfumes they did. I borrowed their phrases and mannerisms. I almost looked like them. But I really didn’t. I was darker, and heavier, and different. I could roll my r’s. I danced to salsa with my grandmother. I had odd ingredients in my kitchen like achiote seeds and sofrito paste from the mostly untouched international foods section of my local grocery store. I loved these girls because they were nice to me, and I loved them because they had freckles and rosy cheeks and all the other things I thought were beautiful. But we were different, and I couldn’t shake it.                                                                               

“Where are you from again?” They asked me this sometimes.                                                                               

“The rain forest,” I would say. And my dad is from the Bronx, I would think.

There’s no question that one of the issues feminism confronts is beauty and the enormous standards placed upon girls and women especially in our culture. From a social justice standpoint, Alida’s essay also confronts the white norms of beauty—thin, with a small nose, with skin that tans well—and the norms of having a house full of “normal” spices and foods and language that doesn’t have a musical lilt to it.

Kelly Jensen: If you had to pick a moment that really defined you as a feminist, where you felt like owning the term, what was that moment?

Alida Nugent: I think as I got older, and I started to really examine some of the harmful rhetoric that I learned when I was in high school and early college, when I stopped looking at women as competition for every job and man and position–that was the start to my feminism. Looking at women as allies instead of enemies. And if there was an exact moment, it was probably when I went on birth control. Birth control was so stigmatized, and all it did was cure the debilitating cramps I used to get every month. I thought: This is what they’re demonizing? This is what people are trying to take away access to? What else are they trying to do? And it became simple to me.

Kelly: How and why do you use humor to cut into issues of feminism and social justice? What effect do you think that has for those who aren’t sold on the concept and perhaps for those that do “get” it but haven’t yet owned it?

Alida: I’ve always, always, always approached things with a joke and a smile. I learned when I was younger how easily it disarmed people. I was made fun of in high school for my physical appearance, and when I learned to be funnier than all those bullies (because bullies are never funny), I felt like I got a head start during the race. And I still feel that way: you’d be surprised how hard it is to insult somebody who made a solid joke. It’s worked for me. And another benefit: it creates a comfort for people. Laughing is a comfort. So if you’re trying to get people to see your side, a good joke is going to relax them enough to listen to you, to put down their wall and really listen. Jokes are powerful, and they can be used for good and they can be used for bad. I try to use them for good.

Kelly: In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Alida: I’m loud. I think I’ve become the kind of person I never used to like at parties—I call people out for the stupid or harmful or ignorant things they say. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always well-received, but I don’t want to be one of those people who smiles at a “KIND OF” sexist joke because I don’t want to start something. Now, I always want to start something. It’s serious to me. And I read. I read everything and try to learn everything, so I always know exactly what is going on in the world.

Alida Nugent

Alida Nugent

Kelly: One thing I learned about you recently is that you are a teen librarian. Can you talk a bit about the ways your perspective as a feminist/advocate for social justice have intersected with your career?

Alida: So this is kind of funny. When you said “teen librarian” I thought you meant it literally—I was a librarian in my teens! And I’m going to take that embarrassment and turn it into a real answer, because being that teen librarian did launch me to exactly where I am today. It was when I first started reading all these books in the corner of my suburban library that I started seeing…and not seeing….what kind of books were really out there. I very rarely read a book about a girl like me. I always read about beautiful white skinny quirky girls who were quirky because they read books, just like I read books, except I wasn’t like them at all. And it stuck with me. Either those books aren’t getting published or they’re not getting put in libraries. And I wanted to be the voice for the kinds of girls that were missing in those books. I was a fleshy Puerto Rican Irish girl with thick arm hair. I wanted to be in books, too. And as I get older, it’s why I’m so honest about my opinions. My former eating disorder. My history. My recognition of all kinds of girls—the girls you don’t always read about. When I write now, I keep that in mind. I keep in mind that someone might pick up my book and go “well, there I am.” And I do my absolute best to honor that.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Alida: Janet Mock’s autobiography Redefining Realness changed me, I always tell people to read that one. And Bad Feminist, of course. But if you’re really curious about social justice and feminism, follow every journalist and writer and advocate you see on their social media platforms. Twitter can be problematic in many ways, but one of the best ways to combat that is to fill your timeline up with all kinds of different perspectives: feminist, trans, POC, those who do not fall into the gender binary, different religions, etc. Learn about what they say and write about. Listen to them and their fears and concerns. Immerse yourself with people outside your bubble.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism? How can we better make people feel like they belong in their own bodies and in their own homes, despite what the immediate space around them might look like?

Alida: Find your voice. Learn to use it. Learn that people won’t always want to hear it. Speak anyway. Learn from your mistakes. Apologize when you need to. Stand your ground on things you feel you weren’t wrong about. Learn. Try, and try again. But mostly, keep speaking, because your voice is unique and precious and deserves to be out there.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Alida: That it’s okay to feel beautiful. That your history is rich and wonderful. And in those moments that you feel ugly, you have to remember that while you’re smart, you’re not always right!

Meet Alida Nugent

Alida Nugent is the author of Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse, and You Don’t Have to Like Me, available wherever books are sold. She lives in Brooklyn, where she gets lipstick on all her bagels, and writes at The-Frenemy.com.

Here We Are: Feminism & Social Justice In Action by Kelly Jensen (#SJYALit: Social Justice in YA Lit)

Tomorrow, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen is released out into the world. This week, as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project, we will have a new piece about this book each day. We’re also doing a t-shirt giveaway (see below!). It’s exciting to see this book launch just days after somewhere around 3 million people marched in protests organized and promoted by women around the world. Today, we are honored to have Kelly Jensen here to talk with us about how and why this book came about.


I believe feminism and, by extension, social justice are more than words we share. They’re about actions, too.


Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World began with a tweet. There’s been rich conversation online about feminism for a long time, and because of how social media allows those whose voices have been marginalized to have a space to share, the importance of intersectionality became more and more a conscious part of my personal feminism. It wasn’t new to me. I’d worked with people — teenagers, especially — of all shapes and colors and backgrounds since I started my career in librarianship. But reading and listening to the words coming from voices unlike mine made something inside me click.

I tweeted about my dream to make an anthology of feminist essays for teens and the responses to that tweet were incredible. That tweet stream is a riot to read now; I didn’t know the hows or the ways to make it happen. One person who tweeted in response ended up being part of the anthology; another who tweeted sarcastically in response made me laugh because of course, girls are angry and “what about the boys?” A couple of responses were from women who, just a few months later, would become trustworthy allies standing with me, speaking out against blatant sexism in the YA world.

But the response you don’t see is the one that made my dream a reality.


Shortly after tweeting, I was asked to be in touch with Elise Howard at Algonquin Young Readers and she, along with Krestyna Lypen, became my editors for this anthology. We began talking about what it could look like and feel like, what sorts of stories could be told, the kind of art that could be included in a project like this. We were all in agreement that making this happen needed to happen.

Putting this collection together meant thinking long and hard about the stories that not only should be told, but also the ones that many might not necessarily connect with “feminism.” It was imperative to include not just young adult authors — many of whom YA readers would be familiar with — but to also broaden the circle and bring in varied voices outside of the YA and writing community. Because as much as social media has allowed many to raise their voices and be heard, it’s also an echo chamber. Yelling into the void to see the same trends play out again and again becomes repetitive and boring and ineffective.

My last library job, the one where I’d been the most professionally prepared, was the one that opened my eyes and my mind the most. I worked in a poor, semi-urban community, and it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only white person in a program with teens. It wasn’t unusual for me to see some of the kids coming and asking for more and more food at events not because they were greedy, but because it might be the only thing they ate until free meals at school the next day. I’ll never forget an event where a young girl shared, with a room full of teens and adults, a poem she wrote about her friend who’d committed suicide the day before.

The weight of these things sat in my mind as I thought about the reader for Here We Are. It would be for these teens. I thought about the teens I worked with in the library every time I reached out to a potential contributor. I thought about the teens I worked with in the library each time I edited an essay. I thought about the teens I worked with in the library each time I considered how I wanted the anthology to come together.

It’s easy to take for granted that in an “everything’s online” world, there are huge swaths of the population that don’t regularly, if ever, access the internet beyond what’s necessary for their survival. I saw those teens in libraries. I watched as they figured out stealth ways to get extra time each day to do something or begged to let me break the policy on having their time extended “just this once” so they could finish a homework project (or play a game — it wasn’t my job to judge).

These same teens deserve to see themselves and know that they, too, are seen.

Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World is my attempt at offering something for young readers who haven’t seen their stories told or who don’t know what feminism is or how it might benefit them. It’s my attempt to take the rich conversations so many of us see and engage with day-to-day out of the digital world and into a format that teens can pick up at the library or in a bookstore. It’s my attempt to show them that they are seen, that their stories matter, and that others are listening. That they have allies and advocates in the world around them who, like them, come in all shapes and sizes and colors and genders and sexualities and from all backgrounds and experiences.

The 44 pieces in this book are actions. They are actions of love. They are actions of seeing. They are acts of social justice. And every action is an invitation to one of the most life-changing parties around: feminism.

Meet Kelly Jensen


Kelly Jensen is a former librarian-turned-editor for Book Riot and Stacked. She’s author of It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader. She loves black licorice and debating genre. Follow her on Twitter @veronikellymars.



U.S. residents can do the Rafflecopter thingy below by Saturday, January 28th at Midnight and we will select a winner. Shirts will be mailed out by Algonquin. Special thank you to Algonquin for the shirt giveaway.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

January 24th 2017 by Algonquin BFYR