Dropping the “F-Bomb” with Julie ZeilingerPosted: December 29, 2011
By Sophie Rae
When I first discovered the F-Bomb, in one of my luckier random google searches, I was at once happy and surprised— happy because I knew I had discovered my new teen-feminist bible, and surprised because I couldn’t believe how many other girls worshipped the site as much as I did.
As a feminist in high school, you can get to feeling a little isolated. A boy says something sexist in class, and you hopefully scan the room for a fellow feminist to have a communal eye-roll with, only to find that nobody seemed to notice. Your history teacher says that you’re going to talk about women’s suffrage in class tomorrow and you turn excitedly to the person next to you, only to find that nobody seems quite as excited as you are.
That’s why feminist blogs like Feministing and the Ms. Magazine blog are so great: not only do you get to read some truly interesting articles, but you feel like you’ve entered into a world of people who would enthusiastically roll their eyes with you and who would be just as excited to talk about suffrage as you are. But even so, reading these blogs, you can’t help but feel that they’re not really made for you, that while you may enjoy reading them, they’re not really meant for teenagers. That’s why I love the F-Bomb.
The F-Bomb is written for teenage girls by teenage girls, all with a feminist perspective and a sense of humor. The F-Bomb owes its success to its founding editor, Julie Zeilinger, who started the site from her home in Pepper Pike, Ohio when she was fourteen. Now eighteen and attending Barnard College in New York City, Julie was nice enough to take the time to meet up with me to talk about feminism (surprise!), Gloria Steinem’s classy apartment, and Julie’s recently finished book, A Little F’d Up, which is due to come out this spring.
How did you become a feminist? Did you have a feminist “a-ha” moment?
When I was in 8th grade, a graduation requirement for my middle school was that everyone had to give a speech to the entire middle school, which is of course every middle schooler’s worst nightmare. My mom brought home this article from Glamour Magazine, of all places, about female feticide and infanticide and I read it and was like, “this is crazy, why doesn’t anyone know about this, why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?” That really opened up the feminist world to me and the world of women’s rights and human rights in general. From there I started reading blogs like Feministing and Jezebel and I realized that I’d always been a feminist but didn’t know what to call myself.
Why did you decide to start the F-Bomb?
In reading Feministing and Jezebel I realized that, while they were awesome, they weren’t really addressing teenage issues at all. A lot of the things that teenagers go through are really relevant to feminism and I think that feminism can help us a lot. I wanted to get my own thoughts out there and I hoped that other people would join me in that, and my expectations were totally exceeded.
What were your goals in creating the F-Bomb?
My biggest goal was to give teens an opportunity to write and to have their voices heard, more than to create my own platform. I didn’t really think there was anything out there for teenagers, and I hope that the F-Bomb does that.
I think it definitely does! Were you surprised by the success of the F-Bomb?
Yeah, totally. I thought that like, ten people would read it. I emailed people at Feministing and Jezebel just to ask if they could give me a shout-out so people would know it exists. I thought that that would bring in fifty people, but it brought in tens of thousands of people and I didn’t know what to do with myself, I was so terrified by all of the attention. But it ended up being a really great thing.
I saw your interview with Gloria Steinem. What was it like to interview her?
That was actually the first real interview I’d ever done. It was insane, I was so terrified. We did it at her apartment, and I had to walk around the block twenty times before I got the nerve to actually walk in. But she turned out to be the most lovely person ever, and she invited me into her living room and talked to me for like, an hour, even though I was only fourteen.
That’s so cool. What is her house like?
It’s so cool. She has this amazing brownstone on the Upper East side.
I bet she’s super classy.
Oh yeah, super classy!
This is a big question, but what would you say are the most important current feminist issues?
I think it’s hard to say what’s the most important, but when I think about the F-Bomb and what gets brought up the most, I think the sexism that’s most prevalent in high school is double-standards. That’s the first way that most teens realize that there is some kind of injustice and inequality. Also, things about sexuality and the “virgin-whore” dichotomy get teens a lot. So I don’t know if those are the most important, but those are the things that are most relevant to teens.
You talked about some feminist blogs that you read, but do you have any favorite feminist books?
“Full Frontal Feminism” by Jessica Valenti. That was like my “click” moment times ten. I loved it so much.
I loved it too. She’s the best!
Yeah, totally. I also really love Courtney Martin, she was an editor for Feministing. She wrote the book “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters,” which isn’t explicitly feminist, it’s about girls and eating disorders and our eating culture, but it’s incredible. She’s so smart and everything she says is so true to everything I experienced in high school. Ariel Levy, “Female Chauvinist Pigs” is also really great.
Are you studying feminism in college?
I haven’t this semester, I was getting requirements out of the way. But next semester I’m taking intro to human rights, which is obviously related to feminism, and also intro to women and health.
I like that you described human rights as being related to feminism, because I feel like a lot of the time, especially in high school, people overlook feminism as being about human rights and make it about bra-burning or something like that. Did you face any of that stigma around being a feminist in high-school?
In high school, people knew I was a feminist, they knew what I was up to. But I think the predominant feeling was just not understanding, less than blatant discrimination or anything like that. People don’t really understand what the word feminist means and they really don’t know what to think about it. A lot of people would ask me like, “does that mean you’re a lesbian now?” Not even in a malicious way, they were just so confused about what I was doing.
Have you experienced sexism in your own life?
I’m really lucky, I have a very privileged life in many ways. I didn’t go to a school where teachers were discriminating against me because I’m a girl. But I’ve definitely had to deal with sexual harassment from guys who think that it’s ok to say whatever they want to girls and touch them if they want to. So it’s definitely more in the smaller things.
Has it been hard keeping up the F-Bomb now that you’re in college?
It’s definitely gotten harder. I thought that eventually there would be people who submitted who would want to step up and take more responsibility. I sort of take the blame for not really facilitating that, but that didn’t really happen—I’m still very much the only person in charge of it. So that’s gotten a little harder, especially as the workload increases. But I’m definitely still dedicated to keeping it going.
I saw over the summer that you’re working on a book. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Yeah, it’s called “A Little F’d Up,” based on the name of the blog. It takes all of the topics we talk about on the blog and boils them down into this guide for girls who either don’t identify as a feminist yet or, if they do, sort of guiding them through what this movement is, what it means to our generation, and where I think it’s going. It’s coming out in April.
That’s so exciting! I can’t wait to read it.
Yeah, I’m really excited about it. I think of it sort of like a younger version of “Full Frontal Feminism”.
I think we need that. It’s like you were saying, there’s so much confusion among teenagers about what feminism really is.
That’s what I was going for. Rather than creating new theory or anything like that, I just wanted to explain it and debunk all of the myths once and for all.
What do you think are the most prevalent myths about feminism?
From my own experience, a lot of people think that feminism has something to do with sexuality or believing in myths about “angry feminists” burning their bras and not understanding that it actually is just about equality. There are a lot of different types of feminists and it is a really huge movement. There are a lot of ways you can identify as a feminist.
Do you think your personal feminism has changed over the course of the F-Bomb?
I think it has. I’ve come to realize that it’s much more of a personal thing than I once thought. I used to think that there was this single definition of feminism, sort of like a doctrine that you had to follow. I came to realize that it’s about integrating it into your own life and making it work for yourself. The readers of the F-Bomb have definitely taught me that by talking about how they use feminism in their own lives.
Obviously you’ve had a ton of positive response to the F-Bomb; have you had any negative responses or criticisms?
You always get those “men’s rights activists” who decide to come on your blog and write super awesome comments that are so much fun to moderate, and I’m like “why do people like this exist, I cannot believe you are this ignorant!” I’ve never taken offense at it, it’s just an obnoxious thing you have to get through. You just have to realize that not everyone is going to be a feminist, not everyone is going to “see the light,” so to speak. People are going to resist. But other than that there hasn’t been so much criticism; I think people really like the idea of younger girls getting involved in feminism.
What’s your opinion on recent feminist movements, like the Slutwalk rallies?
I was at the NYC Slutwalk and while I was there it was a really empowering experience. But I had some issues with the movement as a whole, like, the name Slutwalk was so problematic. When you would tell people you’re going to Slutwalk they’d be like, “oh so you support promiscuity?” And I’m like, “sure, yeah, fine,” but it’s not about that, it’s about rape culture. But overall I thought it was a really cool moment for our generation of feminism. People are always criticizing our generation by saying that we’re all online and that we don’t really do anything, so it was a good moment for us to be like, “we are doing something, this is us doing something”.
Have you been involved in any other feminist protest or marches?
That was actually the first one I’ve been to, so it was really cool for me. Most of the stuff I do is online, which is great because you can reach so many people that way, but there’s something really different about actually getting out there and physically doing something. And you can’t really meet people online. So even if I do have some problems with the movement itself, I had a really great time being a part of it.
Do you feel like being in New York City has allowed you to become even more involved in feminism?
Definitely, it’s amazing being here. When I lived in Ohio, I was able to use the internet to connect, but I felt like there was a lot I was missing out on. There isn’t anything like Slutwalk in Ohio, and I’ve met so many cool people here. Just being here makes me feel more involved.