This interview is brought to Boshemia through a partnership with Femag.cz, an online feminist magazine based in the Czech Republic. The interview is by Daniela Jungova, Editor-in-Chief of Femag.cz.
“As feminist activists, it’s important to be able to have messy moments and learn from them”
Devon and Priya are the faces behind Women’s Wire Weekly—a digest for the feminists of DC. Fired up after the women’s march in January, Devon was looking to strengthen the newsletter she started in July 2016 and luckily she met Priya at a letter writing party and they joined forces soon after. The newsletter now includes an impressive list of hot topics from a wide range of fields, as well as job and volunteer opportunities and a list of events. For many in the area, Women’s Wire became the primary source of feminist news and a roadmap for activism in a time when almost every week brings more heartbreaking events.
I [Daniela Jungova] sat down with both of them to talk about their personal politics, clashes within the feminist movement, and hopes for the future.
Devon, Priya—how do you personally practice feminism?
Priya: Well, I grew up in a feminist household. My mom is the co-founder and ED of a global feminist network that helps organizations to address issues in their own workplace culture around inequality and discrimination. In my all-girls high school, I started a women’s issues committee. A lot of people felt that we already got enough of this “empowering women” stuff but I wanted to talk about art and music through a feminist lens, and women in the military. In college, I kind of stepped off the activism train…Since then, I’ve been practicing my feminism through what I like to think of as thought leadership, and I worked for a variety of feminist organizations. Connecting with other feminists is something I like to do. Building connections and community is my sweet spot.
Devon: I grew up in a pretty progressive family but no one was really talking about feminist theory—or identifying them as such. But I was always kind of a tomboy and my parents encouraged me to break barriers—which I think is a part of feminism. I didn’t take any feminist classes in college but I got into women’s advocacy after I got involved with Girls On the Run (which is an after-school non-competitive running program for middle school girls) and saw the strength and confidence that the girls gained. I later worked for the UN Foundation and just jumped into this feminist pool in DC, meeting a lot of different types of amazing feminists. One of my passions is connecting people with activism, and that’s what we’re trying to do online through the newsletter—build a feminist community. I would say that my personal feminism is a combination of policy, activism, and community.
What is the one issue you’re currently most passionate about?
Devon: There are so many issues that are almost imperative to care about! But for me, right now it’s reproductive justice. I know this is probably a very vanilla answer but it really is the basis of women’s ability to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. It’s disturbing to see this ability being rolled back by the Trump administration.
Priya: I agree with Devon that this is a key issue. I am personally also attuned to issues of diversity, inclusion, meaningful representation, and racial justice. There are so many stereotypes and misrepresentation out there that it is really necessary to have your own voice at the table and be seen. I am pulled in different directions depending on the day but there’s been a consistent desire for greater representation for people of color. So in our newsletter, we’re trying to include stories that you wouldn’t necessarily see on other feminist sites or in alternative news sources.
What do you consider the most radical part of your personal politics? Is there an opinion you have that might be rare or even unpopular among your peers, friends or family?
Priya: I recently had a conversation with a colleague about pregnancy and labor, and she’s very much a proponent of this being a natural process, something that women should be excited about and feel empowered to do. Well, I hold a view which is potentially controversial. I think that there’s a little bit of over-romanticization of this natural type of birth. I do appreciate the work that midwives and doulas do and I do think it’s important to do what works and feels authentic to you, but I feel like there’s judgment against women who choose to have an epidural, who choose to give birth in a hospital. It’s like, “you’re not doing it the natural way”! And I’m like, if there are drugs that will ease this process, why not? We shouldn’t be harassing women into anything when it comes to birth, and I really don’t like it when people say that the real way is this ultra-natural way. I think that being able to make your own decisions before and after birth is a part of reproductive justice.
Devon: Yes, respect! Well, something that comes to mind for me is an article that I read about in TheSkimm, which is a form of newsletter that comes out every day and summarizes the news. I think the purpose is to make the news more accessible for people who don’t have the time to read a variety of news outlets, but (and this is very conversational) I personally find it a little condescending, tone-deaf and oversimplified. My personal belief is that there is a way to inform people without watering it down. I think that people are actually way smarter than what you give them credit for and I just… TheSkimm just rubs me the wrong way. I posted about this on Facebook and got an extreme amount of backlash! Because I have friends who are for example in med school and this is a way for them to get an overview of what’s happening, or I have friends who are not politically involved and this breaks news down in a way that’s not intimidating. It helped me realize that there’s privilege in being able to find and read your news and that there are different values to different media. So I guess where I stand now is, as long as people are informed, it’s a good thing.
That brings me to another question – is there something you two disagree on?
Devon: Yes! We had to take away this rainbow color scheme that I came up with for the newsletter, and that was really sad! Other than that, we don’t really have disagreements but rather great discussions on, for example, what qualifies as feminist news, and that’s ongoing.
Priya: Yeah, sometimes we have to negotiate about which content aligns the most with our mission, so we certainly do discuss things a lot. There were also times we had to recognize our own blind spots and the assumptions that we make about each other and other women. It definitely led to a stronger collaboration but we did have these moments of disagreement and shared learning.
Devon: Yes. Especially around Charlottesville, we had really candid discussions, as emotions were high. It definitely fed into the way we interacted with each other. We had a really valuable and pressing discussion about putting certain content in the newsletter, trying to look at things through the lens of our readers.
Priya: We did have a pretty emotional conversation about this. It was a very distressing set of events. We found out we approached news around this differently and we realized we needed to be more sensitive. People sometimes say things—with good intentions—that triggers people! I’m sure this happened to all of us at some point.
Devon: We were kind of making assumptions about each other’s assumptions… But at the same time, we’re human, and it’s important to be able to have these messy moments.
The thing was, I wanted to include an article in the newsletter about what white women can do in the wake of Charlottesville, and Priya was like, our audience is not all white women! And I was like, of course, don’t you think I know what our audience is, and that it’s not all white women? It was a classic example of a white person trying to defend herself instead of seeing that the real point Priya was trying to make was that my pitch may not speak to everyone or may be extremely irrelevant to some. I wanted to include this piece on how white women can step up their activism so that women of color don’t have to be the ones solving racism. However, I now understand that if you’re a woman of color reading that, you’re kind of like, cool, another newsletter centered around white women… It really is important to lift up the voices of people who are actually experiencing things.
Priya: Yeah—we need to ask ourselves, what does allyship look like? Because when you’re speaking for others, is there condescension in that? I’m very sensitive to this whole trope of white Western women saviors who are trying to save brown women. Like, for example, speaking about female genital mutilation, dowry, or honor killings. And there’s this white woman who rides in on her white horse—yes, her NGO pony—and she rescues these brown women who then become empowered and are so thankful to their western sisters… So when I saw this pitch for an article directed at white women “standing up for our brown sisters,” I was like, no no no, NOOOOO!
But I recognize that the intention was good. And situations like this can be changed by saying “with” instead of “for.” And there are instances in which you have to speak for others. For example, if at a family dinner someone makes a racist remark, you are speaking up for yourself, but also for a whole other community of people.
These are the nuances we had to grapple with while producing the newsletter—and sometimes they trigger a lot of emotions.
Absolutely. To wrap up on a positive note—can you describe your own feminist paradise?
Priya: For me, it would be feminist movements being inclusive and not dominated by any one group or agenda. For instance, I deeply value reproductive justice and equal pay, but I feel like there’s this sort of a Gloria Steinem-esque middle-class white woman who screams from the rooftops about equal pay and abortion access because these are the only issues she is personally touched by. But there are so many other issues that are affecting other women. My feminist paradise is one where we don’t have our blinders on and all issues are treated as equally valid.
Devon: I love that. I think my feminist paradise would be if girls, who are told that they can be whoever they want to be when they grow up, actually get to live that way as adults. It’s jarring to be raised as this free, liberated child, and then grow up and see all the limitations. My feminist paradise would be when women are granted respect and allowed this curiosity and character they are entitled to when they’re small throughout the rest of their lives.
Priya: I love your feminist paradise!
Devon: I hope we can have it!
Devon Haynes grew up in the DC area. She works for communications firm Spitfire Strategies, is currently training for a half-marathon, and is a succulent gardener. She loves reading in the sun in the park.
Priya Kvam has lived in DC for a long time before moving to NYC where she currently works as a fundraiser. Her background is in gender issues and international development. She is an aspiring opera singer who loves to read, travel, and buy clothes.
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