What Is a ‘Feminista,’ Exactly?

She's not a hairy, man-hating woman, says Feminista author Erica Kennedy. This modern woman is smart as hell and not afraid to flex.


Editor’s note, June 15, 2012: The staff of The Root was saddened to learn of the recent death of writer Erica Kennedy. We will update our readers with more news about this tragic development as it comes in.

Erica Kennedy and I go way back … to Facebook. We “met” last year while she was living in Miami writing her new novel, the just released Feminista (St. Martin’s Press), and I was living in Hawaii enjoying controversy about my then just-released memoir, Baby Love (Riverhead Books).

Somewhere between talking about writing, mental illness, having babies and Pharrell’s impressive collection of Hermes murses, we shook our heads about grown-up things having to do with race, gender and advertising, and became Facebook friends.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one caught up in the rapture of Erica’s hilarious prose tacked onto shots of herself on Lincoln Road in floral dresses from the flea market. Erica was assembling a team. With a laptop and Wi-Fi connection, she was convening a global feminista posse: some powerful women with opinions.

The sisterhood went into full effect around Obama’s campaign and election, like everything else on the planet. We live-chatted the presidential debates, live-cried the inauguration and live-cheered Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act for Equal Pay.

Since then, we’ve OMG’d and SMH’d at Chris Brown on Larry King, weighed in on therapy for Kanye and tattoo removal for the endlessly irresistible, on-the-verge Amber Rose. We’ve ROFLMAO at too many things to list. And we owe it all to Erica.

I’ve never met Erica or any of the other feministas I talk to on Facebook at least twice a week, but I feel like I know something precious about them, and they know something precious about me: We’re smart as hell and not afraid to flex. We shop hard, love harder and care about the world even more.

Which is kind of what Sydney Zamora, the heroine of Erica’s new book, does, and it’s kind of why I love her. I also love her because she cracks me up, like seriously made me laugh out loud while reading, and because underneath her tough exterior lies a woman who, like every other human being, just wants to be loved.

The Root: So what is a feminista?

Erica Kennedy: I never felt comfortable calling myself a feminist because that word has so many negative connotations. The stereotype of the hairy, man-hating woman is just that—a stereotype, a caricature that no longer exists. And there’s a reason that woman no longer exists. Because we’ve proven ourselves. We know we can play with the big boys. We don’t need to beat the drum anymore.

Feminista is … the modern woman who is making her own choices, whether it’s wearing a short skirt and red lipstick to the office (perhaps one that she runs) or staying home to raise babies. Being a feminista is about tapping into our unique female attributes and living authentically instead of defining ourselves by male standards of success.

TR: You got a big book and film deal with your first book, Bling. How has this release compared?

EK: Don’t get me started! My first book, Bling, was this raunchy hip-hop satire where every other sentence contained a ‘nigga’ or a ‘muthfucka’ or a ‘suck my …’ and everyone wanted to buy it, make a movie about it, and write a cover story on it. I was the toast of the town. Then I write a chick lit [book] with a strong female character and every editor was like, “Oh, I don’t know about this!” I would LOL, but that shit isn’t funny. It says a lot about the world we live in. And these were female editors who had trouble with it. In 2009, female ambition and aggression is still very much taboo. Just ask Anna Wintour.

This is something that infuriates me, but I channel my rage into my marketing efforts the way any fierce feminista would!