The Feministing Five: Deanna Zandt

Deanna Zandt is a social media expert and the author of the new book Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking. Share This! is about how social media can create positive, progressive cultural change, for individuals and for organizations. Which is something that Zandt knows a lot about, having spent the last seven years advising progressive organizations (including Feministing!) on how best to communicate online. Zandt has worked with AlterNet, Women Action and the Media and The Boys and Girls Projects, creating strategies to help those organizations connect with their constituencies and get their messages out into the world.
Zandt is a regular guest on CNN, FOX News and BBC Radio, and last year she was selected for the very prestigious Progressive Women’s Voices media training program at the Women’s Media Center (a program in which our own Jessica, Courtney and Samhita have all participated). She is also a Research Fellow at the Center for Social Media at American University.
You can read Zandt’s recent discussion of the book with another awesome feminist, Amanda Marcotte, here, check out long excerpts of Share This! for free online here, and you can buy the book for real here.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Deanna Zandt.


Chloe Angyal: What led you to write Share This! and what was the most challenging part of the process?
Deanna Zandt: For the past seven years, I have been a consultant and advisor to a bunch of progressive media and advocacy organizations, and I help them figure out what they should be online, what their strategy should be, whether it’s a website, or in the last few years, a heavy focus on social networking. As part of that I do a lot of trainings and workshops, teaching them what the tools are and how to use them, and tips and trips and things like that. I did a presentation in January of 2007, for a publisher in San Francisco, and they said, “you should really turn this into a book, it would be great.” And I said, “you’re crazy!” Finally, two years later, I had become friends with a woman who was in charge of the editorial at her publishing house, and she kept bugging and saying, every time we would get together, “you know, you should really turn this into a book.” So finally I though, OK, let’s take a look at what this actually means. And a year ago, I was signing contracts and ready to go.
The most interesting thing for me was that I hadn’t ever been published in print before. I had not really been through a rigorous editorial process, so that was certainly a challenge. But the most difficult thing was learning how to write without the benefit of hyperlinks. I would be writing about things like weak ties and strong ties and network theory, and in my head I just wanted to link to the Wikipedia page that would tell you about network theory, that would tell you all these things if you wanted to know more, and I just had to be trained to spend time explaining things. I had to be told over and over that this is why people buy books, because they want to know these things. I had to remember that it’s not like online, where you have someone’s attention for all of three seconds, and if you go on and on too much you might lose them. It’s just an entirely different style of writing.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
DZ: My favorite fictional heroine is Y.T, from Snowcrash. It’s a really good novel, it’s a techno-thriller but it doesn’t get super hung-up on the tech stuff the way some of them do. She’s this twelve-year-old skater girl, and she’s super-punk and hilarious.
My heroine in real life is my mom. She’s just hilarious and awesome. I am very lucky in that, throughout critical points in my life, there have been at least one or two strong women pushing me along the way, from a third grade teacher who decided to start a gifted program for our little tiny school system that didn’t have anything, and I was her guinea pig, and obviously that changed my life, to an advisor in college who was one of the founding members of the feminist linguistics movement, which is what I wanted to do. But heroine is such a strong word. As far as famous people go, I’m of the generation of women who are inspired by feminists like Ani Difranco. I’m that girl. I’m of that demographic where, before her, there weren’t many women saying, “no, you don’t have to go get a ‘real job,’” “no, you don’t have to kowtow to what people want you to do.”
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
DZ: Something I’m a bit frustrated with is, I just read all the Stieg Larsson books, the Millennium Trilogy. They’re awesome, they’re great thrillers, but they’re held up as this feminist ideal of what a mystery novel could be. A lot of the characters sort of say the right things about violence against women, and make some really charged statements that you wouldn’t usually find in a mystery novel, and that stuff is great. And the main character is held up as this awesome, kick-ass (which she is) feminist ideal, but I think I’m realizing that she’s kind of a dude’s fantasy of what a feminist ideal would be, if that makes sense. She’s devoid of most emotions and she is very highly intelligent and really skilled at tech stuff, and she likes having sex without emotional constraints and relationships, and she has sex with men and women, and she’s her own person, but it just strikes me as a false constructions of what a dude would think would be an awesome feminist woman. I read all three books and I thought they were great stories, really gripping, and I was really immersed, but I couldn’t buy the characters. All the women in the book seem to love having sex with the main male character. So I’m struggling with that, within the feminist community.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

DZ:
The very immediate challenge is the struggle to continue to have rights over our bodies and to decide what to do with them. Probably the most clear and present danger out there is the ongoing onslaught to take our rights away from us, especially from poor women who don’t have a lot of say. It’s up to everyone to protect those rights. And in a bigger picture, I would answer in two ways: Within the community there’s still this ongoing problem of white feminists running most of the discourse, and there not being the class and race discussions on a mainstream level, and those need to happen. It’s something that I struggle with, and I often get very disappointed in my feminist brethren. From the inside out, I think that deconstructing the gender binary for the rest of the world is a big challenge, and that can do a lot to erase those expectations about the roles we’re meant to play based on our gender.
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?
DZ: Hummus, cranberry juice and vodka and Amelia Earheart.

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2 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted July 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Ms. Zandt about the Stieg Larsson books. It’s very easy for a male author to create a female character that appeals to his fantasies, at the expense of being authentic. I recall that when I wrote fiction in college, I tried to base female characters on women who I knew, and sort of take bits of pieces of each and come up with something interesting. At the time, I wasn’t aware that such a thing was Feminist—it just seemed honest and true to life.
    I think this is what I really appreciated about the Exile in Guyville album that Liz Phair put out in the early 90′s. I’ve always interpreted the highly sexualized lyrics of many of the songs (“Flower”, for example) to sort of mock similar expectations of male rock critics.

  2. Feminista_84
    Posted July 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see how Lisbeth is inauthentic. She seems to me to be on the autism spectrum, probably has a touch of the Asperger’s and this fits with her problems in relating to people. Plenty of women have sex without strong emotional attachments and are viewed as odd for this. I remember a community post on here a while ago by a young woman who struggled with people’s perceptions of her because of having Asperger’s.

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