The Feministing Five: Yael Chanoff

Yael Chanoff is a political reporter for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative, progressive weekly newspaper. She is a San Francisco native who was deeply influenced by fat positive and sex positive feminist thinking.

Her first foray into writing began with a play about experiences with racism at her high school. During her time as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, she joined a group of students looking to divest university funds from weapons contractors. Sparking her interest in writing about the dynamics between corporations and power, Yael joined her school’s alternative magazine, the Hermes. She also started working with a collectively produced public affairs show on her campus radio station.

After moving back to San Francisco, she was inspired by the Occupy San Francisco movement as it gained momentum. She began covering Occupy for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and has worked as a reporter for the paper since. (She’s also a big Feministing fan, reading our site religiously for five years! Upon my request to interview her, she responded in Wayne’s World fashion: “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”)

We think she’s definitely worthy. And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Yael Chanoff.

Anna Sterling: What feminist issues are missing from our media conversations?

Yael Chanoff: What’s missing is the way that race or gender plays into a story. If you’re a political reporter and you’re reporting the facts, then that can be a controversial thing no matter what you’re talking about. Is it a fact that racism was happening when a person was shut down at some public meeting? Whoever is the one writing has the authority to determine that in a certain sense. This whole notion of what’s neutral, what’s a fact and that so much analysis of race in news and culture is relegated to things like Colorlines is ridiculous. It’s all around us and we should all be talking about it.

AS: What are your favorite topics to write about?

YC: I write about such a range of everything going on politically in the city, but I tend to like to write about grassroots movements and get peoples’ voices out there. One topic that I’ve followed is sex workers rights. It’s an issue that always has interesting things going on and it’s complicated when it comes to feminism. It’s relevant recently because of Prop 35 on the ballot in California, which is a measure that is written saying it’s going to fight human trafficking, but according to lots of people who’ve analyzed it, it’s much more likely to negatively affect consensual sex workers.

AS: How did you come to identify as feminist?

YC: When I first came to feminism in the abstract, I was like, I believe in women’s rights so of course I’m a feminist. But it’s also helped me a lot personally learning about sex positive and fat positive feminism. When I first found out about that and when I first heard Tristan Taormino speak and learned about her feminist porn, that really had an impact on me. Of course, saying that feminism is about women’s rights is not actually the way I’d put it now. Feminism is about the rights of everyone, especially women, transgender people and queer people. It’s about making sure that men aren’t the only ones being respected, being safe, successful and happy.

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

YC: I’m a sucker for Parks and Recreation so I’ll have to go with Leslie Knope. I’m also obsessed with Amy Poehler.

My mom, my sister and my grandma are my heroines in real life. My grandma is a survivor of the Holocaust.  I’ve also been thinking about Toypurina and Maria Solares and all the other people who are indigenous leaders of resistance in California that tried to make sure colonizers would stop moving into their land.

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

YC: I would take bubble tea and a San Francisco burrito. For the feminist, I’d take Tiny Gray-Garcia, the founder of POOR Magazine here in San Francisco. POOR magazine is a project in journalism and book publishing. It’s a way for poor people to tell their stories. They disrupt the notion of what makes someone respectable, credible or successful. They deem people poverty scholars, migration scholars and houseless scholars. They make sure to honor people who actually know what’s up.

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