How This Writer Is Talking About Women's Issues Differently
Jennifer Baumgardner has always been into feminism. The founder of Dottir Press, a feminist-minded publishing house, says growing up with a mother who openly questioned patriarchal views helped her shape her ideals.
In 2013, Baumgardner created a documentary titled “It Was Rape” about her older sister’s sexual assault, which had a huge impact on her later decision to dive into feminism as a passion and career. “My sister was treated terribly in the aftermath of the sexual assault – and we didn’t use that word at the time,” Baumgardner says. “She was treated terribly by girls and she was preyed upon by boys.”
In addition to film, Baumgardner has contributed books to the feminist canon. “A badass woman doesn’t wait for people to ask her to do something or notice how great she is,” she told InStyle before being named to the original class of Badass 50 women in August. “She starts her project, takes up space, or raises her hand because she doesn’t have to wait for an invitation.”
With Dottir Press, Baumgardner both tackles important issues and makes her living in the feminist arena. “I’m not attracted to these controversial issues because I like to light fires,” she says. “I’m attracted to them because I actually want to help people reconcile with them.”
Giving women’s issues a face: Above all, Baumgardner is a storyteller. “Stories aren’t arguments and that’s why they’re so incredibly valuable,” she says. “If I can face my neighbors and my family talking about the issues I’m talking about in the way that I talk about them, then I know that I’m really, truly being authentic.”
Family ties: “I always say I’ve been a feminist since birth,” Baumgardner says when talking about her childhood growing up in the ‘70s. Her sister was raped at a party when she was 14 years old; afterward, Baumgardner says she noticed how poorly other girls treated her sister and how many men took advantage of her in the years following.
When her sister got pregnant and decided to have an abortion in high school, she was heartbroken to witness the stigma attached to making that choice. “Even though I had these really pro-choice, supportive parents, my sister didn’t feel safe telling them because she was so embarrassed and ashamed,” Baumgardner says. “I saw firsthand how powerful the silencing and the messaging is around this issue.” She decided to do something about it with another documentary, “I Had an Abortion.”
Ms. Feminist: At age 22, Baumgardner moved to New York and scored a job at Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem’s famed feminist publication. Soon afterwards, Baumgardner wrote her first book, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future, with Amy Richards.
Mom motivation: “I really want [my sons] to see that there’s no question that’s off-limits, that they don’t have to perform some sort of woke version of themselves,” Baumgardner says when talking about parenting. “And they’re allowed to differ with me politically.”
How women win: “I think it’s an amazing time to be a feminist and it’s an amazing time to be alive,” Baumgardner says. She’s optimistic that the influx of women raising their voices to enact change will actually make a difference down the line. “I certainly don’t think Trump created the misogynist, racist world that we’re in. It was always there and we’re peeling back a lot of layers of denial,” she says. “A lot of things are coming to the surface right now and while it’s incredibly painful and frightening and ugly, it’s also really, really important to have this reckoning and this truth.”