The Feministing Five: DIY Kit!

I’ve been working on the “Feministing Five” column for nearly two and a half years, and it’s been an immense honor and pleasure to speak with brilliant feminist activists, leaders, and artists. The interview series is so much more to me than just asking strangers five questions a week. I see it a digital oral history archive of what it has meant to be a feminist during the early 21st century. How do folks view their work? What is unique about their passions? What how can we help them make this amazing change?

Back as a history undergrad, I would get annoyed about how oral history would get a bad rap because it “couldn’t always be trusted.” What I think they really meant was that the tellers and keepers of oral history, usually marginalized folks who didn’t have access to written culture, were seen to not as worthy as those (mostly white dudes) who could afford to preserve their own experiences and opinions via print. I personally view oral history as a type of historical documentation that involves asking people about their lives in a casual conversation. It’s about storytelling and sharing. As the interviewer, you can help shape the conversation but ultimately it’s someone else’s voice that leads the piece.

Tomorrow kicks off Women’s History Month. During this time, article after article will show us which feminists get to be remembered by the mainstream. But I challenge the Feministing community to make our own history. Part of this includes doing the damn thing (hustle that campaign, write that book, gather that funding). The other part is writing down someone else’s story with compassion and love. With this DIY kit, I hope each of you can take the time to interview your feminist inspirations this month and contribute an oral history to our movement. Let’s get started!

  1. Do Your Research

As you pick your feminist interview subject, check in with yourself about what questions you have. Do you want to know what it was like for an auntie to start organizing back in the day? Are you curious about how your local state has changed its abortion access policies? How your friend built that organization from nothing into something incredible? Take pause and reflect about what sparks your curiosity, you would want to learn today, and what you would like to remember in the future.

Once you’ve decided what topic, person, or expert you’d like to document, see who would be the best person to interview. If it’s someone that you know personally, explain that you’re interested in learning and sharing their work. If it’s someone who you haven’t yet met, you can try to get in touch with them first via a friendly message on social media (nothing too pushy though) about why you’d want to get in touch. If that doesn’t work and the individual is associated with an organization, see if there is an informational email address that you can contact.

I prefer to do my interviews via phone as I can’t always meet someone in person and phone helps to still have a personal connection. However, not all folks are able to do audio based interviews and not all folks like to answer questions in real time. When you first reach out, offer some options on how to conduct the interview. Written questions, video calls, phone calls, or in-person are all great ways to make your feminist oral history.

Also, be sure to check in on things like folks’s preferred gender pronouns, name spelling, and other background information. Very, very important!

2. Prep Your Questions

Always come up with your questions before the interview. I have a certain order to my process. I’ll start with an introduction that establishes who they are (passion, role etc) that gets interviewer and interviewee comfortable and next a question that lets the interviewee brag about how they are expert in their field. I’ll save my meaty questions (something that is complicated or requires a bit more reflection) for the middle of the interview when folks will be more at ease and won’t see it as personally threatening. And finally, I’ll end on a future-focused or silly question.

I’m sure that, over time, you will come up with your own structure that you like more. If you’re looking for guidance, though, I think this is one good way to start.

You’ll also want to figure out ahead of time how you are going to record the interview. I usually use my phone’s recorder, but always make sure to check that your phone has enough battery so that you don’t complete the interview and you lost the recording.

3. Be Clear and Comfortable

Your first project can be a little nerve-wracking. Try as hard as you can to speak slowly and clearly to make sure that you can clearly communicate your questions. Always offer to clarify a question, and be open to changing the question if your interviewee is uncomfortable. You can share your thoughts to make the interview more conversational, but keep the attention and focus on your interviewee’s insights. You aren’t there to intimidate or take up space; you are there to record and celebrate someone else’s works. Be kind, y’all!

4. Ask What’s Next

At the end of the interview, ask where your interviewee sees their work going. It’s a fun exercise in imagining new worlds that haven’t yet been created. You can also ask how you or your readers can help them achieve their goal.

5. Listen to Growth

If it’s a phone call, in-person interview, or written, take the time afterward to see how your questions could have been improved. Learning to interview is a constant growing process that might involve painfully hearing your own voice get squeaky and nervous on the recording. Be nice to yourself, focusing on productive lessons rather than personal . It will help you be motivated to continue interviewing and documenting feminist history!

So there you have it — five tips to help you get started on becoming a feminist oral historian. If you find this useful and do an interview, I’d love to know! Feel free to share it with me at @suzbobadilla on Twitter!

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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