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A Must-Read: Girldrive

17 November 2009 No Comment

Are you a feminist? After your first reaction, think about it for a few seconds, then answer again.

When Nona Willis Aronowitz interviewed me for her book Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism, she began with that very question. My first reaction was to shrug and answer “of course, shouldn’t everyone be?” and I went on to explain how important my African-American heritage is when compared to my gender. Initially, I worried that explaining the prioritization of my blackness over my female-ness would insult a Jewish girl from Manhattan. I figured that, in spite of her obvious familiarity with all-things related to feminism, my particular beliefs about biology-driven, race-exclusive woman-hood would go over her head. Instead, she nodded as I spoke while asking more probing questions to really get a grasp of what feminism means to me. Thanks to a few glasses of wine and an an open atmosphere, I joined Nona, Emma Bee Bernstein (the photographer for the project), and our friend Lucille for an intense discussion that opened my eyes to issues around womanhood. Nona and Emma repeated this process in dozens of cities, with hundreds of women, and captured every bit of it in the groundbreaking and triumphant GirlDrive. The result is a beautiful and engrossing collection of stories and opinions from women of all colors, backgrounds, and gender identities. Yes, I am one of the women profiled, but am by far the least interesting – the book features all of us, from burlesque performers to women’s rights activists, and with each stop on the trip the reader learns not just about women, but about the unique spirit of each city that Nona and Emma visit, as well as about the spirits of Nona and Emma themselves.

girldrive1

The best part may be Girldrive‘s process: one day, old friends Nona and Emma (who, sadly, is now deceased) brunched their way into realizing that they should go on a life-changing roadtrip (how many times have you dreamed about doing that with your best friend!?) So, armed with not much more than a camera and a tape recorder, the pair hopped into the car and set out across the country to gain an understanding of feminism and the hopes and dreams of today’s women. Their quest was driven by the urge to break out of their “bubble” – both grew up with strongly Second Wave feminist mothers and knew there had to be hundreds of other perspectives on modern womanhood. The concept of two young women hitting the road to meet other women is revolutionary in itself; as Emma mused, “in our cultural folklore, women rarely go on the road, unless they are performing wild escapist fantasies, killing men, or abandoning their children as part of a confused menopausal midlife crisis.” The free spirit of their trip combined with their passion for the subject matter leads to a fantastically cohesive and enlightening presentation of American women.

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That’s me in Girldrive!

It sounds dramatic, but reading Girldrive from cover-to-cover changed me a little. Like many black women, I’ve always felt that I am black first and a woman second, that no amount of pro-choice debating or body image commiseration could ever turn what’s between my legs into what drives my concerns about equality in society. However, after learning so much about how contemporary women approach navigating society as females, I’ve come to realize how many issues in the black community are really those of gender. When news involving a women breaks, the blatant bias and assumptions made by people ranging from the media to my own loved ones quickly float to the surface. Viewing the world as a confirmed feminist makes me feel all the wiser – the assertion that I’m a feminist is no longer accompanied by a shrug, and that has been unexpectedly empowering. Buy this book for yourself or a young woman you love at the Girldrive website, but first check out the video trailer!

Girldrive trailer! from Girldrive on Vimeo.

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