Watch and read the full transcript of blogger and fashion icon Tavi Gevinson’s TEDx Talk: Still Figuring It Out at TEDxTeen conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: still-figuring-it-out-by-tavi-gevinson-at-tedxteen
Four years ago, today exactly, actually, I started a fashion blog called Style Rookie. Last September of 2011 I started an online magazine for teenage girls called RookieMag.com.
My name is Tavi Gevinson. And the title of my talk is: Still Figuring It Out, and the MS Paint quality of my slides was a total creative decision in keeping with today’s theme. It has nothing to do with my inability to use PowerPoint.
So, I added this site for teenage girls, I am a feminist, I’m a kind of pop culture nerd and I think a lot about what makes a strong female character. You know, movies and TV shows, these things have influenced my own website. So, I think, the question of what makes a strong female character often goes misinterpreted and instead we get these two-dimensional superwomen who maybe have one quality that’s played up a lot, like a Catwoman type, or she plays her sexuality up a lot and it’s seen as power. But they’re not strong characters who happen to be female, they’re completely flat, and basically cardboard characters.
The problem with this is that then people expect women to be that easy to understand and women are mad at themselves for not being that simple when in actuality, women are complicated. Women are multifaceted, not because women are crazy, but because people are crazy and women happen to be people.
So, the flaws are the key. I’m not the first person to say this. What makes a strong female character is a character who has weaknesses, who has flaws, who is maybe not immediately likable, but eventually relatable. I don’t like to acknowledge a problem without also acknowledging those who work to fix it. So, I just wanted to acknowledge shows like Mad Men, movies like Bridesmaids, whose female characters are protagonists, are complex, multifaceted. Lena Dunham who’s on here, her show on HBO, that premieres next month, Girls, she said she wanted to start it because she felt that every woman she knew was just a bundle of contradictions. And that feels accurate for all people, but you don’t see women represented like that as much. Congrats, guys!
But I still feel that there are some types of women who are not represented that way, and one group that we’ll focus on today are teens, because I think teenagers are especially contradictory and still figuring it out. And in the ‘90s there was Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life, and their characters, Lindsay Weir and Angela Chase. I mean, the whole premise of the show. The shows were just them trying to figure themselves out, basically. But those shows only lasted a season each, and I haven’t really seen anything like that on TV since.
So, this is a scientific diagram of my brain, around the time when I started watching those TV shows, I was like ending middle school, starting high school, I’m a sophomore now. And I was trying to reconcile all of these differences that you’re told you can’t be when you’re growing up as a girl. You can’t be smart and pretty, you can’t be a feminist who’s also interested in fashion. You can’t care about clothes if it’s not for the sake of what other people, usually men, will think of you.
So I was trying to figure all that out, and I felt a little confused, and I said so on my blog. And I said that I wanted to start a website for teenage girls, that was not this kind of one-dimensional strong character and power-men thing, because I think one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be a feminist, they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in your beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all of the answers. And this is not true, and, actually, reconciling all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I understood that feminism was not a rulebook, but a discussion, a conversation, a process. And this is a spread from a zine that I made last year, when – I mean I think I’ve let myself go a bit on the illustration front since.
But – so I said on my blog that I wanted to start this publication for teenage girls and asked people to submit their writing, their photography, whatever, to be a member of our staff. I got about 3,000 e-mails. My editorial director and I went through them and put together a staff of people and we launched last September. And this is an excerpt from my first editor’s letter, where I say that Rookie, we don’t have all the answers, we’re still figuring it out too, but the point is not to give girls the answers, and not even give them permission to find the answers themselves, but hopefully inspire them to understand, that they can give themselves that permission, they can ask their own questions, find their own answers, all of that. And Rookie, I think, we’ve been trying to make it a nice place for all of that to be figured out.
So, I’m not saying, “be like us” and “we’re perfect role models,” because we’re not, but we just want to help represent girls in a way that shows those different dimensions. I mean we have articles called: “On taking yourself seriously. How to not care what people think of you.” But we also have articles like – Oops, nope, erm um… I’m figuring it out! Ha-ha! If you use that, you can get away with anything. We also have articles called: “How to look like you weren’t just crying in less than five minutes.”
So, all of that being said I still really appreciate those characters and movies and articles, like that on our site that are just about being totally powerful, maybe finding your acceptance with yourself and self esteem and your flaws, and how you accept those.
So what I want you to take away from my talk, the lesson of all of this is to just be Stevie Nicks. Like, that’s all you have to do, because my favorite thing about her, other than like everything, is that she has always been unapologetically present on stage, and unapologetic about her flaws, and about reconciling all of her contradictory feelings and she makes you listen to them and think about them. And yeah, so please be Stevie Nicks.