Our New Favorite “F” Word: FEMINISTA, A Book By Erica Kennedy [Q&A]

November 13th, 2009 | 3 comments | Posted by Jen

We’ve talked in the past about how we’re not exactly fans of the “F” word: feminist. It’s a term that carries a lot of baggage, sounds outmoded, and, after 100 years of usage and abusage, just may be beyond reinvention at this point. Fortunately, our pal, Erica Kennedy (Bling), has discovered a workaround in the word “FEMINISTA”–and y’all know how made-up words are our reason for being–which also happens to be the title of her new book. FEMINISTA tells the story of tough, chic celebrity journalist Sydney Zamora who decides one day, as she’s staring down the barrel of her mid-thirties, that she needs to “have it all” and find a worthy partner. (As you can imagine, complications ensue.)

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We were lucky to have a virtual sit-down with Erica recently and talk more about our new favorite “F” word:

What is a FEMINISTA? How did you come up with that?

FEMINISTA is my word for the empowered woman of style. It’s about the duality of being a woman today. We’re strong and supple. We’re ambitious and nurturing. We can be smart and sexy. We’re not trying to “have it all”, we’re trying to balance whatever our all is.

I actually came across the word when I was reading Lipstick Jungle, Candace Bushnell’s novel, and I realized it fit this idea of duality that I was already thinking about. When people hear the word “feminist” they think of a strong woman and any “-ista” coinage makes us think of a fashionable woman. FEMINISTA is a meld of those two things: the empowered woman who MIGHT want a career and a partner and babies and cute shoes that show off her pretty pink toenails – maybe all at once, maybe not at all. FEMINISTA is about defining ourselves.

Publisher’s Weekly called you the “pioneer of bitch lit.” How do you feel about that tag?

I like it because it tells people right away that FEMINISTA is not your typical fluffy chick lit. I wanted to write something that was unabashedly chick lit but pushed the limits of the genre. I think the reason women get annoyed when chick lit/flicks are so trite is because we all basically go through the same girl shit and we want to see that reflected back to us in the culture. It’s why we watch Top Model, read fashion mags, watch Sex and the City.

Sydney, the heroine of FEM, has issues with her body, her mother, being single, being unfulfilled in her job — basic girl shit — but I tried to subvert those typical chick lit tropes to give them more substance. Sydney worries about her weight because she’s sculpted her body into a toned size 6 and she’s afraid of slipping and feeling that loss of control. She has a gay best friend but he’s a constant reminder that all of her girlfriends are married with kids. She has a glossy magazine job but she got it as a result of a discrimination suit. She makes a nice salary but she feels guilty about spending money on herself.

Sydney is a character with real flaws. Not just, you know, she’s klutzy and thinks her thighs shouldn’t touch which are the kinds of “flaws” you see in a lot of chick lit. And her biggest issue is that SHE is the greatest obstacle to her own success and happiness. Her journey is about discovering that.

What is the difference between a feminist and a feminista?

It’s the difference between Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Hillary is one of those old school feminists who came up in a time when women were always fighting to prove they could hold their own in a room full of men. And that was understandable then.

Being a FEMINISTA is about creating our own standards of success, not trying to be successful according to a male paradigm. Because we’re not men, we’re us. We know we COULD work 70 hours a week and make partner, but who wants to?! Our greatest success will always come from playing to our own strengths.

And I think Michelle Obama does that. She made history by becoming the first African-American First Lady but I think she will ultimately be remembered as someone who changed what that role means. And it doesn’t mean creating policy like Hillary tried to do. It means creating her own niche and promoting causes that Barack, as a man, could never speak to.

And I hate when feminists start talking about how Michelle had to sacrifice her “personal ambition” and sublimate her own goals to support Barack’s political ambitions. Like being First Lady is somehow less relevant than being the VP of Nabisco or something. Which may be true of Laura Bush but not of Michelle Obama who is a global ambassador for this country like we have never seen before. She is a beautiful, poised, stylish Ivy-league educated woman of color who is on the cover of every magazine from Newsweek to Glamour. She is a woman who embodies the FEMINISTA duality that I’m talking about in every way. She is a role model as a woman, a mother, a wife and an advocate for causes she believes in.

Your heroine, Sydney Zamora, is very aggressive and angry. What has been the response to that character?

Yes, Sydney is quite angry (lol) and I toned her down if you can believe that! But I wanted her to be angry because I think a woman showing her anger is a feminist(a) act as is writing a chick lit about one. But it must be said that Sydney is not the definitive FEMINISTA. Sydney is who she is – a bitch with issues. In the book, you meet all different types of FEMINISTAs from Sydney who is very aggressive to Mitzi the matchmaker who is very feminine but also an ambitious businesswoman to Sydney’s lesbian sister who is a feminine yet passive stay-at-home wife and mother.

My first book, BLING, was this raunchy hip-hop satire that publishers were fighting to buy but a lot of publishers rejected FEM because they said the heroine was “too aggressive”. So, um, should she be wearing a petticoat and doing curtsies? The responses from the women who have read the book have been awesome because some say, “I am Sydney”, some say “I hate Sydney”, some say “I have a friend who is JUST like that.” This is a very different heroine than we’re used to in commercial fiction and I love that she provokes such visceral reactions.

We all know what a DISGRASIAN is…but how would you define a DISGREMINISTA?

Oh no, this is a hard one! And you know why it’s hard? Because I think FEMINISTA is about being the woman you want to be, doing what feels right for you. And if that means quitting your job to raise kids, you go girl. If that means quitting your job to help your husband run for president (and WIN), more power to you. If that means posing nude on the cover of a magazine like Serena Williams recently did for ESPN (and was annoyingly criticized by some), flex those muscles!

A big problem I have with old school feminists is that they’re ready to kick you out of the club if you make one false move. And who really knows what the “rules” are anyway?

But if I had to name someone as a disgreminista I might say that chick Orly Taitz who leads the Birther movement which tries to convince people that President Obama is not American. Because she is obviously shrewd and persistent enough to get booked on all these shows, why not use your FEM power for good?

My second runner-up would be the magazine editors who sanction these photoshop of horrors (like Kelly Clarkson on the cover of SELF) and then go around trying to defend those decisions. I know they do that because they need to keep their jobs and peddle the fantasy that the female audience does, to some extent, want but come on that’s like female-on-female crime. There’s got to be a better way.

Buy FEMINISTA on Amazon.

Check out Erica’s blog, The Feminista Files.

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3 Responses to “Our New Favorite “F” Word: FEMINISTA, A Book By Erica Kennedy [Q&A]”

  1. Cindy says:

    I would describe Sydney as the woman who has everything going for her, but she can’t get out of her own way. You feel sorry for her one minute and want to slap her the next. We all know this woman…sometimes we are this woman. Fun read. There’s definitely more to come from Erica!

  2. kissthestick says:

    great interview, strong minded

  3. @SheenaLara says:

    I can’t wait to read this! I feel very lucky to have a group of friends who truly are Feministas whether they know it or not.

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