TEDxTeen

Tavi Gevinson: A teen just trying to figure it out

Filmed:

Fifteen-year-old Tavi Gevinson had a hard time finding strong female, teenage role models -- so she built a space where they could find each other. At TEDxTeen, she illustrates how the conversations on sites like Rookie, her wildly popular web magazine for and by teen girls, are putting a new, unapologetically uncertain and richly complex face on modern feminism.

- Blogger and fashion icon
Tavi Gevinson is a fashion blogger and a feminist who encourages everyone to embrace their complexity and look cool doing it. Full bio

Four years ago today, exactly, actually,
00:15
I started a fashion blog called Style Rookie.
00:17
Last September of 2011, I started an online magazine
00:20
for teenage girls called Rookiemag.com.
00:25
My name's Tavi Gevinson, and
00:28
the title of my talk is "Still Figuring It Out,"
00:33
and the MS Paint quality of my slides
00:36
was a total creative decision in keeping with today's theme,
00:38
and has nothing to do with my inability
00:41
to use PowerPoint. (Laughter)
00:43
So I edit this site for teenage girls. I'm a feminist.
00:46
I am kind of a pop culture nerd, and I think a lot about
00:51
what makes a strong female character,
00:54
and, you know, movies and TV shows,
00:56
these things have influence. My own website.
00:58
So I think the question of what makes a strong female
01:03
character often goes misinterpreted,
01:05
and instead we get these two-dimensional superwomen
01:08
who maybe have one quality that's played up a lot,
01:11
like a Catwoman type,
01:15
or she plays her sexuality up a lot,
01:17
and it's seen as power.
01:21
But they're not strong characters who happen to be female.
01:22
They're completely flat,
01:26
and they're basically cardboard characters.
01:27
The problem with this is that then
01:30
people expect women to be that easy to understand,
01:32
and women are mad at themselves
01:36
for not being that simple,
01:38
when, in actuality, women are complicated,
01:39
women are multifaceted -- not because women are crazy,
01:42
but because people are crazy,
01:46
and women happen to be people. (Laughter)
01:47
So the flaws are the key.
01:51
I'm not the first person to say this.
01:53
What makes a strong female character
01:55
is a character who has weaknesses, who has flaws,
01:57
who is maybe not immediately likable,
02:02
but eventually relatable.
02:04
I don't like to acknowledge a problem
02:07
without also acknowledging those who work to fix it,
02:08
so just wanted to acknowledge shows like "Mad Men,"
02:11
movies like "Bridesmaids," whose female characters
02:14
or protagonists are complex, multifaceted.
02:17
Lena Dunham, who's on here, her show on HBO
02:21
that premiers next month, "Girls,"
02:25
she said she wanted to start it because she felt that
02:27
every woman she knew was just a bundle of contradictions,
02:30
and that feels accurate for all people,
02:33
but you don't see women represented like that as much.
02:35
Congrats, guys. (Laughs)
02:38
But I don't feel that — I still feel that there are some types
02:41
of women who are not represented that way,
02:45
and one group that we'll focus on today are teens,
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because I think teenagers are especially contradictory
02:50
and still figuring it out,
02:53
and in the '90s there was "Freaks and Geeks"
02:56
and "My So-Called Life," and their characters,
02:59
Lindsay Weir and Angela Chase,
03:02
I mean, the whole premise of the shows
03:05
were just them trying to figure themselves out, basically,
03:08
but those shows only lasted a season each,
03:11
and I haven't really seen anything like that on TV since.
03:14
So this is a scientific diagram of my brain — (Laughter) —
03:19
around the time when I was,
03:25
when I started watching those TV shows.
03:27
I was ending middle school, starting high school --
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I'm a sophomore now —
03:32
and I was trying to reconcile
03:34
all of these differences that you're told you can't be
03:37
when you're growing up as a girl.
03:39
You can't be smart and pretty.
03:41
You can't be a feminist who's also interested in fashion.
03:43
You can't care about clothes if it's not for the sake
03:46
of what other people, usually men, will think of you.
03:50
So I was trying to figure all that out,
03:53
and I felt a little confused,
03:56
and I said so on my blog,
03:59
and I said that I wanted to start
04:01
a website for teenage girls
04:05
that was not this kind of one-dimensional
04:08
strong character empowerment thing
04:11
because I think one thing that can be very alienating
04:14
about a misconception of feminism is that
04:17
girls then think that to be a feminist, they have to live up to
04:20
being perfectly consistent in your beliefs,
04:23
never being insecure, never having doubts,
04:26
having all of the answers. And this is not true,
04:29
and, actually, reconciling all the contradictions I was feeling
04:32
became easier once I understood that feminism
04:36
was not a rulebook but a discussion,
04:40
a conversation, a process,
04:42
and this is a spread from a zine that I made last year
04:44
when I -- I mean, I think I've let myself go a bit
04:47
on the illustration front since.
04:51
But, yeah.
04:53
So I said on my blog that I wanted to start this publication
04:57
for teenage girls and ask people to submit
05:01
their writing, their photography, whatever,
05:04
to be a member of our staff.
05:06
I got about 3,000 emails.
05:07
My editorial director and I went through them and
05:10
put together a staff of people,
05:13
and we launched last September.
05:16
And this is an excerpt from my first editor's letter,
05:19
where I say that Rookie, we don't have all the answers,
05:21
we're still figuring it out too, but the point is not to
05:24
give girls the answers, and not even give them permission
05:27
to find the answers themselves,
05:31
but hopefully inspire them to understand that
05:34
they can give themselves that permission,
05:36
they can ask their own questions, find their own answers,
05:37
all of that, and Rookie, I think we've been trying to make it
05:40
a nice place for all of that to be figured out.
05:43
So I'm not saying, "Be like us,"
05:48
and "We're perfect role models," because we're not,
05:50
but we just want to help represent girls
05:53
in a way that shows those different dimensions.
05:58
I mean, we have articles called
06:01
"On Taking Yourself Seriously: How to Not Care What People Think of You,"
06:05
but we also have articles like,
06:08
oops -- I'm figuring it out!
06:10
Ha ha. (Laughter)
06:14
If you use that, you can get away with anything.
06:16
We also have articles called
06:20
"How to Look Like You Weren't Just Crying in Less than Five Minutes."
06:21
So all of that being said, I still really appreciate
06:25
those characters in movies and
06:28
articles like that on our site,
06:32
that aren't just about being totally powerful,
06:34
maybe finding your acceptance with yourself
06:37
and self-esteem and your flaws and how you accept those.
06:40
So what I you to take away from my talk,
06:45
the lesson of all of this, is to just be Stevie Nicks.
06:49
Like, that's all you have to do. (Laughter)
06:53
Because my favorite thing about her,
06:57
other than, like, everything, is that
07:00
she is very -- has always been
07:03
unapologetically present on stage,
07:05
and unapologetic about her flaws
07:08
and about reconciling all of her contradictory feelings
07:11
and she makes you listen to them and think about them,
07:15
and yeah, so please be Stevie Nicks.
07:19
Thank you. (Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Tavi Gevinson - Blogger and fashion icon
Tavi Gevinson is a fashion blogger and a feminist who encourages everyone to embrace their complexity and look cool doing it.

Why you should listen

Born in April 1996, Tavi Gevinson started blogging at age eleven – then rapidly became a bona fide fashion icon. In 2009 she was featured on the cover of Pop magazine and was invited as a special guest to New York Fashion week. Her site for teenage girls, Rookie, broke the one-million page views within five days of launching in September 2011. She’s currently the editor-in-chief and founder of RookieMag.com and writes thestylerookie.com and has written for several publications including Harper's Bazaar, Jezebel, Lula, Pop, and GARAGE magazine.