Sunday, March 2, 2014

Making Feminism Sexy with Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

          Women’s issues are hotly debated, often controversial, and…sexy? “Feminism is sexy in a really general way,” says Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. “It can make your life fun, it can make your life better. The ultimate goal is to be free to be yourself.” As the co-founder of, co-author of Sexy Feminism, and free-lance journalist, Armstrong has immersed herself in the political and cultural world of feminism. She tackles everything from women’s reproductive rights to Tina Fey. “It’s nice to be able to go between Beyonce and lip gloss and Hillary Clinton,” Armstrong says. If there’s anything you ever wanted to know about the political sphere of feminism, Armstrong’s probably written about it, telling the straightforward facts with a “sexy” twist.
          But Armstrong didn’t always consider herself a feminist. While attending Northwestern University, Armstrong says she took women’s literature courses and dabbled in feminist tendencies just like most female college students. But upon graduation, though still taken with feminist topics, she soon found she had to write about whatever topics would pay the bills. “You get excited about it and then life happens,” Armstrong says. After school, Armstrong became a reporter in Southern California for a few years before returning back to Chicago. But after some time there, she knew she wanted to move onto bigger and better things. “I had always wanted to come to New York to pursue a bigger magazine-type career,” she says. And that’s exactly what she got.

          Armstrong spent ten years writing at Entertainment Weekly and has written articles for O, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and more. But despite finally getting the career she had always dreamed of, she found that she wasn’t always writing about the topics that truly interested her. She, along with her journalist friend Heather Wood Rudulph, struggled to get traction on the stories she really wanted to write. “No one wanted exactly what we were selling,” Armstrong says. “So we thought, we’ll start a website where we can write about whatever we want.” The two founded a website in 2006 originally called “Sirens Magazine.” On it, the two women took on stories they didn’t have the opportunities to write about elsewhere. Armstrong says that it turned out the topics that interested them most were often related to feminism. They hadn’t intended for it to be that way, she says, but it just so happened that those were the stories they really wanted to write. So, they changed the website’s name to “Sexy Feminist” and soon after, published their first book together, Sexy Feminism, to expand on the ideas from their website.
          For Armstrong, feminism spans so many aspects of our lives, from media to politics. That’s why in much of her writing she doesn’t just focus on what’s happening in D.C., but rather what’s happening all over the country. Even when writing about a T.V. show or the latest celebrity, Armstrong says, “When I’m doing the best job, I think it’s political too.” Her big issues, she says, are political issues. Though women have made large strides in the past few decades, Armstrong believes we still have a long way to go. She’s critical of the way policymakers handle feminist issues and she wants women to know about it. Women, Armstrong believes, are often held to a different standard than their male counterparts. “I cannot imagine anyone ever noting what John McCain was wearing, for instance, while we know what goes on with Hillary Clinton,” she says. The fashion that so many female politicians have become anchored to should be empowering, Armstrong says, not constraining.
          That’s why she dedicates her time to tackling the political strides (and potential threats) related to women, issues that have been saturated in the media that has become such a large part of our lives. Women’s political issues, she says, are rampant in the media. That’s how she makes feminism sexy; by not just tackling the politics and legislation, but observing how feminist politics find their way into the lives of the modern-day woman through the television they watch, the sites they visit, and the publications they read. She’s not afraid to tackle the sensitive issues like reproductive rights or women’s health care, nor does she beat around the bush. She publishes the facts, lays them all out, and says what needs to be said, but still with a dash of personality and the spice only a self-proclaimed “sexy feminist” can bring to the table.
          Since publishing her book, Armstrong has been able to focus her writing more on the issues that matter to her by becoming a freelance journalist, working from home and taking time to write the stories she really wants to. Armstrong’s schedule for herself sounds stricter than most work schedules in an actual office, breaking down her day hour by hour. But it seems to be doing wonders for her. Most recently, Armstrong has incorporated into her busy schedule writing about politics for Cosmopolitan and last year, she published her second book, Mary and Lou and Rhonda and Ted, a deeper look into The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Having written several pieces on influential female comedians in today’s media, Armstrong was drawn to the women of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a pioneering television movement that was one of the first to hire women writers and inspire so many modern female comedians. A show like that, Armstrong believes, empowered women not only in the media, but also in so many facets of live, including politics. “I clearly believe in the importance of media and pop culture criticism in relation to what’s going on in politics,” she says.

          Though Armstrong may not be what most journalists would consider a traditional “political journalist,” she tackles political issues in a unique and endearing way. By taking current events in politics and watching how they play out in the media, Armstrong draws in audiences, especially female audiences, to pay attention to how the political landscape can severely influence our everyday lives.  

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