Veronica Arreola is the brains behind the feminist blog Viva La Feminista. Veronica is the closest thing the feminist blogosphere has to an elder stateswoman, though she’s not elderly – the feminist blogosphere is just relatively young. She’s been blogging since the early days of the internet, and her blog, where she explores the intersection of feminism, motherhood and Latina identity, is a must-read.
Veronica’s feminist activism first came to my attention at the beginning of last year, when she launched a campaign to encourage more women to go watch women’s sporting events. Most recently, Veronica has been tracking the progress of HB 1958, a bill in her home state of Illinois that would make it illegal to shackle prisoners who are in active labor – that bill passed earlier this week. She’s also the author of the best feminist Mother’s Day gift guide I’ve ever seen, so if you’re scrambling for a last-minute present, go check it out.
It was a real pleasure to speak with Arreola about the early days of the feminist blogosphere, the importance of weaving feminism into everyday life, and the desperate need for someone to start making “What Would Elyse Keaton Do?” t-shirts.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Veronica Arreola.
Chloe Angyal: How did you get into feminist blogging, and how did you come to call yourself a “professional feminist”?
Veronica Arreola: I started blogging many, many years ago, in the ancient days of blogging. It kind of became natural to me; I got online when I was in college back in the nineties – like I said, the ancient days – and was on listserves, and saw how easy it was to create a website and jumped into that. I like to think that some of my early websites were sort of pre-blogs; they were regular updates of news and I remember there was a rash of high school shootings in the nineties, and I had had one page on my website where, every time that happened I would update it with pictures the students who were killed and the teachers who were killed because they were mostly girls. There wasn’t a lot of conversation about the fact that a lot of the school shooters were boys and girls were the main victims or the majority of those who were killed. At that time, I was on a listserve with Jennifer Pozner and she was the one who was helping us see that. After the election in 2000, I was just so frustrated with everything, and no listserve or bulletin board seemed enough for my outrage and my questions, so I thought, “Well, this is as good a time as any,” so I started my own blog. That lasted about eight years, and in 2007 I started to do blogging professionally. Now I blog at Viva La Feminista, which is less ranty, less personal.
The whole professional feminist thing happened because this woman I know who used to run a domestic violence shelter, and she called herself a professional feminist. That’s what she put on her tax return, and that’s exactly what she is, and hey, that’s what I am too! So I started using it, and people really like it. It’s a really good conversation starter, which is why I used it. I’m often asked, “How does one become a professional feminist?” and I think anyone can be a professional feminist, if they do their work with a feminist ethic. They don’t have to run a domestic violence shelter. I have a really good friend who is a lawyer, and she is an awesome feminist employment lawyer who takes a lot of discrimination cases. Another good friend of mine makes purses, and she maeks them with a very feminist ethic. She tries to get all her materials from sources in the States and if she can’t, she tries really hard to research them to make sure that they’re fair labor and fair trade materials, and then all her purses have some kind of charity attached to them.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
VA: The Xena-Gabrielle combination. They were BFFs and they kick butt, and I really enjoyed the whole journey of Xena’s redemption, and Gabrielle’s maturing and coming into her own. And I would also have to say that Elyse Keaton is one of my fictional heroines. I really loved her growing up. Looking back, I’ve got some issues with Elyse, but overall, she was definitely one of my role models growing up. I really connected with her being a feminist mom. It was really obvious she was struggling with putting her feminism in action. There was one episode where one of Mallory’s friends got pregnant, and she came to Mallory and Mallory said, “We have to talk to my mom about this.” And I was only twelve at the time, but even as a kid, you could see that struggle of “How far do I take this?” It was one of those moments where she had to walk the walk. And that was kind of inspiring to me; of all the moms I could see on TV, she was the mom I hoped I could be like when I grew up.
In real life, I fall back on my mom and my maternal grandmother. They really taught me a lot. My maternal grandmother really struggled with life and tried to help raise us to be strong women, so that we wouldn’t have to go through the same struggles she went through as a single mom in the 1950s and 1960s. And I can’t remember if I my mom ever used the F-word with me, but she instilled a lot of feminist ethics and values. I think she just knew who I was, and so we didn’t have a lot of straightforward talks, because she made a lot of assumptions about how I would feel. She didn’t have to tell me, “This is birth control, and this is why we do it.” When I asked her why, as Catholics, we weren’t going to church on a regular basis, she said she had a problem with the Church telling her that she couldn’t use birth control. And that was about it. That kind of conversation takes a lot of assumptions when you have it with a twelve-year-old.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
VA: There’s not a day when I don’t feel like I’m screaming at my news feed! Right now, there’s a huge rash of story after story of conservatives going after women’s bodies, wanting to make so many decisions for us, taking away our power. They’re trying to take away birth control and abortion, and they’re even trying to take away access to education through financial aid and loans. All of that, it’s just so frustrating, the overwhelming sense that, as women, we are under attack.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
VA: We need to make peace with the fact that we’re all in this together. Not all women, but all feminists. We’re in this together, and we’re working on different parts of this challenge, this journey. Some of us have expertise and passion in one field, and that’s where we do our work. I was having a conversation with someone about this over the weekend, about feminist guilt. No matter how much we do, I feel like we’re not doing enough. There are so many things to change, and work on, and I think we need to say, “You do the violence against women stuff, and I’ll do educational equity, and someone else does poverty, and sometimes we come together, but we’re working on our stuff.” And hopefully, it all comes together, and we have a better, more just world in the end.
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?
VA: Chocolate, a soy chai latte, and my best friend Cinnamon Cooper. She’s crafty; she’s the one who makes the purses. But she also wrote a cookbook, so if anyone would know what to do with the fish we caught, it would be her. She’s very MacGuyver-like.