The Feministing Five: Rose Aguilar

Rose Aguilar is a radio host, journalist and author. She is the host of Your Call, a daily public affairs radio show on KALW in San Francisco, op-ed contributor to Al Jazeera English, and freelance reporter for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. In 2008, Rose published Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland, covering a six-month road trip she took to the so-called “red states” to interview people about issues and voting tendencies. She is also a contributor to the book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland.

She started out in technology journalism and by the age of 25, she was covering the Supreme Court, interviewed almost every CEO in Silicon Valley, and the only woman on staff. She realized then that she was much more interested in interviewing a homeless person than a CEO. After witnessing the gross inequalities in journalism throughout her 17 years as a journalist, she decided that things needed to change. She now hosts “Women, Speak Out! Use Your Voice” workshops (which I was a participant in this year!) with an upcoming one on September 30th in San Francisco. She also works for The OpEd Project, which aims to diversify the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Rose Aguilar. (And don’t miss Rose this Sunday on “Up with Chris Hayes” at 5am PST/8am EST!)

Anna Sterling: What’s your favorite thing about doing radio? What are some of the most challenging aspects of it?

Rose Aguilar: We can talk about issues being ignored by so much of the media. We don’t have to talk in sound bites. I love bringing on young women, women of color and women who have never been on radio before. It doesn’t matter what I look like and we are able to go to the ground and speak to activists and women. You don’t see this on television. I love print, but when you hear someone talk about their struggle or something they’re really excited about, it’s a completely different experience than if u read it in print. Also, you never know what’s going to happen; I host a live call-in show so I have to be on my toes.

Frankly, though, it can be emotionally draining. One day we’re talking about war, the next day poverty, homelessness and attacks on women. It’s a lot to keep up with. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get women to feel confident enough to go on the radio. We need to stop saying sorry, second-guessing ourselves or saying we’re not experts. That gets really frustrating.

AS: What was the spark for your “Use Your Voice” workshops and Op-Ed Project involvement?

RA:  I’ve been in radio now for 17 years. Seeing women second guess themselves on a regular basis is really frustrating to me. The media is still so male dominated. When u look at the guests on TV or the op-ed pages, they’re dominated by men. If you call an executive director of an organization, nine times out of ten that person is a man. If we were not consciously going past the author, or the person who did the report and went down to the ground, our show would be male dominated. I feel we have to share our secrets and our tools with all women and especially young women and women of color. If we don’t share our tools in our toolbox, we’re not going to bring people up with us. I feel like I have a responsibility to let people know how you get in, what it takes to get on a radio show, what it takes to give a speech with confidence, and what it takes to write an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle.

AS: Where do you see radio heading in this changing time of journalism?

RA:  I’m really excited about radio because our listenership is always increasing. The only changes we need to make are with social media. We need to ramp that up. In terms of content, what we regularly hear from listeners is:  “We want depth. We’re tired of shallow political coverage. We’re tired of sound bites. We’re tired of liars.” They’re hungry for real information. I’m not worried about public radio. We don’t take corporate sponsors, so we can talk about issues like military spending, capitalism, corporate power, and solutions to the many problems we face. All of our money comes from our incredible listeners and they have always shown up for us. We get a lot of small donations and they all add up.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

RA: Lisa Simpson, a feminist vegetarian and social activist!

My real life heroines are the unknown Native American women that none of us have ever heard of. I have a great book of letters written by women and not one of them was written by a Native American. The authors in the book said they tried to find letters but couldn’t. I’ll never forget that. The history of Native American women is so lacking in our society. We rarely talk about Native Americans and most people in this country don’t know the history. Half of my family are Native Californians and the only reason why they weren’t slaughtered is because they didn’t live near gold.

Also, Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi. She was an artist in the 17th century when women were second class citizens and weren’t “allowed” to be artists. Her art is powerful, fairly dark and focuses on history and religion with feminist undertones. She was raped by her teacher when she was 18 and that pain comes across in much of her work. So does her strength.

AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

RA:  I would take my hemp smoothie with dates, fruits and kale. Food would be quinoa and lentils and dark chocolate for desert. The feminist would be one of the Iroquois women who refused to be “civilized” and forced into Christianity by the Europeans. These women lived in matriarchal societies and inspired early feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, yet they remain nameless. I’d also like to be visited by Elsie Allen, my late great-grandmother and well-known Pomo basketmaker.

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