Young Organizer Jamie Keiles of SlutWalk Chicago on Modern feminism

by Yuqi Hou

During senior year of high school, Jamie Keiles started the Seventeen Magazine Project. For 30 days, she lived her life strictly according the advice doled out by Seventeen Magazine and blogged about it. Her blog sparked questions about the information fed to girls by the media. Now just two years later, Jamie is a sophomore at the University of Chicago and still a force within the feminist community. In January 2011, a Toronto Police Service representative suggested that “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” In response to this victim-blaming mindset, Toronto organized the first SlutWalk to take back the word ‘slut’ and put the focus back on rapists, rather than the rape victims. Jamie Keiles, inspired by the protest in Toronto, co-organized SlutWalk Chicago to take place June 4th that same year. Here, Keilis talks to The Indy about the direction of modern feminism, her personal involvement with feminism, and the role of media in bringing about awareness.

The big issues with modern feminism…

I think a lot of people are still looking for a singular definition of feminism that will represent everyone and meet everyone’s needs. I don’t think this exists. Sometimes I’ll read critiques of events like SlutWalk or people like Naomi Wolf and the complaints will be that not everyone’s viewpoint or understanding is being represented. Well, duh. Womanhood (whatever that is) is a diverse experience. To try to encompass it in a single comment would be grossly reductive. I think we need to move away from feminism as a platform and start thinking of it as a discourse. More than one person can be right. What feminism means is highly contingent on personal experience.

The next big issue that feminism should tackle in the next decade…

The so-called “feminist agenda” needs to focus more on the shared roots of oppression. The subjugation of women is not happening in a vacuum. I think we as a movement have a lot to learn from the struggles of gay/trans/black/immigrant/ALL movements. I am not saying that we should lump these struggles together. Obviously, being a feminist or being queer or being a queer feminist is a unique existence with its own set of experiences. I think that it’d be worthwhile to really explore just our most basic commonalities with other oppressed groups, and to learn from them.

Personal transformation since the Seventeen Magazine Project, in terms of thinking about future projects on and your views about the way media socializes girls…

At the time I started the project I put a lot of stock in theory. I went into school thinking that I wanted to study sociology, and then maybe do stuff in the academy about adolescence. Since then, I’ve become sort of bored with that line of thinking. Right now, I’m really excited about creative work that explores/advocates for themes of social justice. I am pretty confident that the future of social justice will come when there is a shift in who is producing media. Independent thinkers need to be creating content and effectively disseminating it. I’m not sure exactly what I want to do after college, but I think it will be more expressive than theoretical.

The takeaways from the Seventeen Magazine Project…

At the outset, I thought it was a project about body image. What it really ended up being was a discussion of media ownership. I never really thought about that as an issue that affected my own wellbeing. The project was the first time that was really introduced into my consciousness.

Getting involved with SlutWalk Chicago…

I got involved with SlutWalk Chicago through Tumblr. I was following the events as they worked their way through Canada, and I thought it was interesting to see how things were unfolding. I noticed that there wasn’t a Chicago branch, so I felt inexplicably obligated to get one together. I’m not sure that I was the best person to do it, but I was the first person and I guess that’s why it was me.

The road to SlutWalk Chicago, and its success…

I never expected organizing to be such a political thing. That sounds stupid to say in hindsight, but when I started with SlutWalk, I thought that people who endorsed feminism would automatically be on board. Making SlutWalk a success involved a lot of concessions to various local organizations. People from all over the city raised a lot of valid critiques about language, about the entertainment we wanted to book, about our organizational team… really about everything. SlutWalk couldn’t have become the community event that it was if we hadn’t been willing to form coalitions and really listen to criticisms. My knee jerk reaction when the criticisms started coming in was to defend my initial stance. The event was a lot more meaningful, at least to me, once I learned how to learn from others.

Involvement with other feminist groups…

I’m not involved in anything that is explicitly feminist, but I’m involved in a lot of other stuff that feels feminist, at least to me. At school, I’m a member of WYSE, a group of women that mentors middle schoolers. I don’t think our bylaws say anything overt about feminism, but the outlook is definitely feminist. I also write for Rookie, Tavi Gevinson’s new teen magazine. Again, this isn’t like “The Feminist Magazine for Teens,” but we don’t treat feminism as a dirty word, which I think is important.

Inspiring feminist works…

I saw writer Joan Morgan speak on a panel the other day and I just thought she was the most brilliant, level-headed person I’ve ever seen talk about feminism. I just started her book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. I’m hoping it will be as inspiring as her words were. Also, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the whole history surrounding it. I come back to that story all the time.

Yuqi Hou ’15 (hou@college) wishes Sassy Magazine still existed.