By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — As Andi Zeisler puts it, she didn’t “set out to write a book about the commodification of feminism.” But as co-founder and creative director of Bitch Media, observing and steering the pop-culture imagination of a nation, she found that she had accrued more than enough material to pen We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement, a unique tome on the subject at the heart of her two decades of experience as an independent journalist and advocate for women’s rights.
“Is it a more dangerous time to be a feminist? Maybe,” says Zeisler. “It’s unfortunate that the advent of new technologies and forms of communication means that there are now more ways for anti-feminists to attack individuals and the ideas that they’re trying to put forward, but at the same time the rise of social media has made it easier than ever for likeminded people to come together and find solidarity around the issues that matter to them.”
Finding common ground while sharing divergent opinions, and gathering knowledge from grassroots sources of expertise, is the ultimate expression of cultural community-building; and something Calgary’s Wordfest annual literary festival has ingrained in their organizational architecture. As a forum whose audience appreciates spirited debates and discussions on the juiciest of social topics, Wordfest has set out a cerebral buffet of events that will provoke and satisfy the rebel reader in us all. Zeisler a.k.a. Andi Z is slated to engage in a Literary Death Match opposite fellow print-jockeys Jillian Christmas, C.C. Humphreys, Kenneth Oppel, Alissa York, Aaron Paquette and Mark Leiren-Young. Cajoled into performance-mode by jet-setting host Adrian Todd Zuniga, a variety of authors will read selections from their most eyebrow-raising passages before a cocktail-lubricated jury of their peers. The following evening Andi Z will return to flex her intellectual muscle alongside a panel comprised of women word-bombers including cultural anthologist Lynn Coady, graphic memoir creator Teva Harrison, and novelist Lisa Moore. This much-anticipated gathering of Bionic Women Writers is exactly the kind of real-world activism Zeisler has identified as the true catalyst to social progress.
“I think that over time feminism as a concept has shifted from being a collective purpose to a source of individual identity. When we say that feminism has been sold out, that doesn’t mean running down Miley Cyrus for twerking and calling it empowerment. There are many versions of sexual empowerment. What we’re talking about is the selling of an image of what it means to be a feminist on a much larger scale. For example, that Secret commercial that tries to convince young women that if they want to do their part towards closing the wage gap that they should be wearing a certain brand of deodorant. It’s absurd.”
Given that she has written on activism for the likes of the Washington Post, Salon, Ms., and the Los Angeles Review of Books it’s not surprising that the Oregon-based Zeisler has encountered more than her fair share of armchair critics. The winds of discontent swirling around the issues she examines in her latest book have only gained momentum with gong show that is the current U.S. election. And as those currents have grown so have her concerns about the blatantly racist and sexist attitudes that have been exposed in the midst of the tensions that are gripping her country. In the end, Zeisler is more concerned with actions than words. A position any advocate for Team Human can surely appreciate.
“I think the question that people need to be asking themselves in the face of these massive and complex social problems is, ‘What am I willing to do to make a difference in the world?’ Rather than just applauding celebrities and calling them ‘brave’ for identifying themselves as ‘a feminist’ in an interview, we should be asking them how they are going to use their fame, and their influence, and their money to really change things for the better.”
Andi Zeisler is appearing at Wordfest on Oct. 12 from 9:15-10:45 p.m. and Oct. 13 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. on both occasions in Art Commons, Big Secret Theatre.AB, Alberta, Andi Zeisler, Arts Commons, Big Secret Theatre, Bitch Media, books, feminism, feminism books, feminist media, We Were Feminists Once, Wordfest, Wordfest 2016