What Is a 'Feminista,' Exactly?

Illustration for article titled What Is a 'Feminista,' Exactly?

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!


TR: It's been five years since your first book. What have you been doing in that time?

EK: I knew the whole story of Feminista from the first week I started writing, but I would get distracted and then go off it for weeks or months. Over the last few years, I read a lot about ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] and started taking medication once I realized what a big problem it was for me. Making a living as a writer when you have ADD is like being a mountain climber with one arm! It's sort of a silent killer—a lot of people probably don't even realize what's happening, but it can wreak havoc in so many ways, especially for women who need to be organized and juggle so much. I'm thinking of writing a non-fiction book about that. I would love to become an ADD advocate and go around the country talking to women about it.


TR: You said in a recent post on Essence.com that being a feminista is not about having it all but women balancing whatever their "all" is. What is your all, and how do you balance it?

EK: My "all" would include kids—too bad I don't have any! I've been with the same guy for six years and every single person who has met him—men, women and children—says, "Marry him!" But I really don't care about the ring. To me, children are the strongest bond two people can have. But I think motherhood is something I fear because my own childhood was so wildly dysfunctional. I know how deep an unstable family situation can cut, so I want to make sure I have all my ducks in a row before I head down that path. But, at this point, I need to get it popping!


That's also why it took me a long time to finish Feminista. Because I was having all the same kind of I'm-30+-and-need-to-have-kids anxiety the character was having, so sometimes I needed to step away from it.

TR: You went to Stuyvesant, a high school for gifted students, to Sarah Lawrence and Oxford for a year abroad. Do you feel like your expensive education prepared you for the career you have today?


EK: Not at all! (Laughs) Sarah Lawrence is one of those artsy schools where you never have to declare a major. You just have concentrations … that can change every semester. It's not good prep for the real world. The week before graduation, one of my female professors asked where I saw myself in five years and I said, "Um, married with children?" Can you imagine?! Twenty years later that still hasn't happened!

Writing always came naturally to me. I never took any writing classes and the day I started writing Bling was the first time I'd ever attempted fiction (which is also why I cringe if I have to go back and read it). I wish someone had told me that you can make a living out of that thing that comes so naturally you don't even recognize it as a marketable skill. We should do a whole workshop on that, RW!


TR: I’m in. Hook it up on Facebook! We’ll invite The Root fam.

Rebecca Walker is the author of Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence.