Amanda Marcotte is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments and the new book Get Opinionated! A Progressive’s Guide to Finding Your Voice (and Taking a Little Action). She blogs at Pandagon, Double X and RH Reality Check, where she also hosts the weekly podcast, Reality Cast. Marcotte has some of the most trenchant and fired up feminist analysis I’ve ever read online, and her discussions of Nice Guys, voluntary childlessness and the inherent misogyny of cultural conservatism are rage-inspiring in their accuracy. Marcotte’s new book, Get Opinionated! is a blueprint for how to be a progressive in an age where liberals and progressives have – for now, at least – the numbers and the mandate to get things done. Liberals spent eight years playing defense, Marcotte explains to me, and she wrote the book as a guide to playing offense once the 2008 election delivered liberals and progressives the power to turn their concerns and complaints into concrete action.
Despite urging liberals and progressives to be informed and involved, as well as opinionated, Marcotte notes that as individuals, we need to pick our battles and be realistic about what we can achieve on our own. In a recent online book salon at FireDogLake, moderated by our own SharkFu, she wrote that “a lot of us think that we personally should be able to change the world. That’s where I see a lot of burnout. In reproductive rights activism, for instance, I see a lot of folks lose it because they work day in and day out and the impact on the polls and maybe even on governance seems small. But we cannot see the weight of the world as sitting on our shoulders. It’s a shared burden.”
In order to avoid burnout, and in order to be truly effective, progressives need to work together on both a personal and professional level, she says. “I also suggest seeking out activist friends,” she wrote at FDL. “The more you know, the less alone you feel, and the more entitled you feel to ease up and even take a vacation once in awhile.”
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with activist friend of Feministing Amanda Marcotte.
Chloe Angyal: What led you to write Get Opinionated?
Amanda Marcotte: I pitched the book as we were gearing up to win the November election, and I was pretty certain that we were going to win, and I felt like either way, we were in a position as a netroots or liberal movement of having created a movement and defined ourselves in opposition to George Bush. And now we were faced with the possibility that we could win, and that we would have to move forward, and if we wanted to get anything done we would have to start thinking of liberalism as something more than just opposing George Bush and encroaching right wing extremism, and think of ourselves as being on the offense, which is to say “what do we believe in?” And so, I wrote this book to say what my beliefs are, and hoping to spur the conversation, and also to get some laughs out of it.
For me, women’s rights and liberalism are, in my mind, pretty hard to unhook, and it fascinates and amuses me that you see conservatives complain that feminists are always with the democrats, as if there’s ever going to be a form of conservative feminism. You look at someone like Sarah Palin trying to wear that mantle, and you see the flaw in trying to be a so-called conservative feminist, which is that you’re not very pro-women. Women need things for equality that tailor very neatly to the general liberal agenda: Clean environment, universal healthcare, civil rights, individual rights, bodily autonomy, things like that. I fail to see how the two agendas are all that different. The flipside, of course, is that most liberals I know, whether they call themselves feminists or not, tend to agree with the general feminist goals. The only real opposition that you see to those goals is coming from the right.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
AM: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the fictional character I’ve had the most fascination with. It’s clear that the character is a power fantasy, but I’ve always been amazed by how much more they managed to do with that show besides just exploiting the fantasy of a woman who looks weak and small turning around and kicking some ass. I watched all seven seasons of that show, even as it started to slide downhill.
I look up to someone like Kathleen Hanna, who I feel really exemplifies the kind of feminism that got me interested in it in the first place, which is this deep need to have something that the world told you you can’t have because you’re a woman, which in her case was rocking out, and saying, “you know what? I’m not only going to take what I want, despite your nay-saying, but I’m to call you on your shit, and I think you’re wrong: I can do this, and I’m going to encourage other women to do it, too.” That kind of ballsy attempt to enter into all-male or male-dominated spaces has always been fascinating to me, and those women are the ones I look up to the most.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
AM: That’s every day for me. The healthcare battles were truly awful, because Bart Stupak was allowed to run around on television, portraying himself as some kind of morally upstanding icon, whereas, what I was seeing was an idiot who didn’t understand the issues and was being duped by a bunch of Republicans. And I saw no investigation whatsoever into the fact that he had all these connections to Republicans that he wasn’t really talking about – except on The Rachel Maddow Show. That was probably the thing that has made me angriest because it nearly brought the healthcare debate to a close. And I think it’s hilarious that he’s retiring and thinks he’s the target of harassment now. He should take a day at an abortion clinic and find out what it’s really like to be a target of harassment and abuse. And of course, the thing with Stupak is that most of the threatening emails and phone callers that he was getting were from the right. They don’t take well to a perceived betrayal at all.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
AM: The way that feminism is just considered a second-tier issue with liberals and with Democrats. You saw it in the healthcare debate: Equality for women has been considered a second-tier issue for so long that feminists realized that this was not the time to stage that fight, and that it was more important to get the healthcare bill signed and that if we fought for women’s equality in the bill, it would never pass. That’s a really sad statement, that we can’t even mount the argument. I don’t know what it’s going to take to change that. In this book, a big part of my mission is to show that these issues are inseparable, and I hope other people can see that. Because liberalism is always going to be limited as long as it sees feminism as a second-tier issue. And the irony of that, of course, is that on the world-wide scale, the notion of what it’s going to take for humanity to progress is very women-centered. There’s this whole notion that’s very fashionable now that in developing countries, if you want to help people pull themselves out of poverty, you help the women. You look for ways to make women more equal. Yet we can’t even do that in our own country. It kind of blows my mind.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
AM: Tacos, gin and tonics, and my boyfriend, because I would miss him.