Jamie Keiles is a college student, a blogger and the creator of the Seventeen Magazine Project. As high school senior last spring, Keiles, now a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Chicago, embarked on a mission not for the faint of heart: she decided to live as a Seventeen fundamentalist. For one month, she followed every piece – alright, almost every piece – of advice and guidance espoused by the magazine, and blogged about it. It turned into a fascinating project, one that offered real insights into how we teen girl culture is constructed, enforced and lived.
Keiles now blogs at Teenagerie, where she writes about being a new college student, a consumer of teen-geared media, and a young feminist. Recently, she wrote
about the additional challenge that feminists face when trying to get our message across, which is that feminism itself is often perceived as uncool or unnecessary. “Weirdly,” she observed, “the biggest struggle that I face when talking to people about feminism is feminism itself… When people discount my opinion because I am a feminist, it really just reinforces the fact that there is still work to be done.” Luckily, Keiles is one of many outspoken teen feminists helping to get that work done.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Jamie Keiles.
Chloe Angyal: How did you come to start the Seventeen Magazine Project?
Jaime Keiles: I read Feministing from when I was pretty young, and I got into Sociological Images, which is a really fun blog, so I was a bit of a fangirl of those two blogs for a while. And then I said, “Hey, I can do this!” I was eighteen, and I didn’t think I had any real credibility, and I wanted to write about stuff that was interesting to me, but I just sort of put it on the backburner for a while. And then prom season came up. I had a ton of study hall, and I didn’t have a lot of class, so I was spending a lot of time in the library, and I’d read The New Yorker and I’d read men’s magazines, but I would definitely not read Seventeen – it was just not my thing. One day I ventured over there and I was looking through it, and it was just a joke. It makes women and especially teenagers look so ridiculous. If someone actually lived their life like that, it would just be so entertaining. And I thought, “Hey, I could do that!” It started as a little gimmicky but it turned out that there was a lot to say about beauty and culture and it was a fun way to reach people who wouldn’t usually be listening to that sort of voice.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
JK: Daria. I like characters who are my own age, and who snark on things. And Lisa Simpson kicks so much ass. In real life, I have career crushes on people. I’m not really the kind of person who idolizes people. But probably my mom, and Tina Fey.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
JK: Everything in the news makes me want to scream, every day. Right now I’m stuck on the Natalie Portman-John Galliano thing. I’m Jewish, so that’s a personal, and I feel like a lot of the time, when people say dumb things about women, or about race, they’ll get a slap on the wrist. But I thought it was really nice to see that a company as huge as Dior said, “No, you’re done, goodbye.” That was super exciting for me. And he’s going to rehab, which, by all means if you’re struggling with a habit, that can help and I think that’s fantastic. But if you’re just an asshole, then you’re an asshole, and that’s kind of the bottom line. I’m not going to hate someone for their opinion. I’m going to think it’s awful and wrong, but I think the real solution is to make the world inhospitable to those sorts of views, so that if you say something like that you’re going to get backlash. We need to make the norm not views like that. That’s the kind of rehab you could actually accomplish.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
JK: I think about this a lot. I think what we have to say, not a lot of people would disagree with. It’s very hard to find someone these days who would openly say, “I don’t think that women deserve equal rights.” I like the idea that we’ve created community where a wide variety of opinions are accepted, and there’s a discourse rather than a party line that we all believe, because I think that scares people away. I think if we could make it a place that’s more hospitable to discussion, because it can be very intimidating for a new person coming into it. I think if it were more welcoming of young girls coming in, we could have a lot more success in the future.
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?
JK: A grilled cheese sandwich with ketchup, water and Tavi. She’s my age, and I feel like if I picked an older person they might die and I’d be lonely.