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

More profile about the speaker
Tavi Gevinson | Speaker | TED.com