Rachel F. Seidman: Voices from Speaking of Feminism

Today we welcome a guest post from Rachel F. Seidman, author of Speaking of Feminism: Today’s Activists on the Past, Present, and Future of the U.S. Women’s Movement.

From the Women’s Marches to the #MeToo movement, it is clear that feminist activism is still alive and well in the twenty-first century. But how does a new generation of activists understand the work of the movement today? How are their strategies and goals unfolding? What worries feminist leaders most, and what are their hopes for the future? In Speaking of Feminism, Rachel F. Seidman presents insights from twenty-five feminist activists from around the United States, ranging in age from twenty to fifty. Allowing their voices to take center stage through the use of in-depth oral history interviews, Seidman places their narratives in historical context and argues that they help explain how recent new forms of activism developed and flourished so quickly.

Speaking of Feminism is available now in both paperback and ebook editions.

A schedule of Rachel F. Seidman’s author events this fall can be found on our website.


A book based on oral histories has a conundrum at its heart:  while the printed stories are powerful, they can’t convey all that comes across in the spoken word.  Listening to people is the only way to tap into all the richness of these personal histories.  You can hear things that don’t come across in transcriptions: regional accents; voices trembling with emotion; words speeding up with excitement or slowing down in anger; long pauses when someone is hesitating about whether or not to share something; knuckles rapping on a table for emphasis.  I believe the variety of voices and perspectives presented in Speaking of Feminism is one of the book’s strengths; by hearing those voices you get a new level of understanding of the individuals who contributed their stories to this mosaic of the women’s movement today.

In the following short audio excerpts from the interviews on which my book is based, several feminist activists share their thoughts on one of the major themes of the book: the impact of social media and how it has affected the movement for both positively and negatively.  I hope the short clips will give you a sense of these activists’ unique voices and the power of their insights and stories.  In addition to reading the book, you can visit https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/project/collection/sohp/, where you can find both the audio and the transcripts of the full interviews.

Rebecca Traister is a nationally known journalist and author, who has written about politics and culture from a feminist perspective for many magazines, newspapers and websites including New York, The New Republic, Salon, The NationThe New York ObserverThe New York Times, and The Washington Post. Her newest book is Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. In this audio clip,  you can hear her adding emphasis to her words by drumming her hand on the table.  She’s talking here about the rise of social media and how it democratized whose voices can get heard.  She notes, though, that differences in goals between journalists and activists led to some of the tension and anger in ‘online feminism.’


Emily May is the cofounder and executive director of iHollaback!, which she defines as “a movement to end harassment, powered by a network of local activists around the world.”  I interviewed her in the middle of the summer, and you can hear a fan blowing to try to keep her cool in the stuffy Brooklyn office, where other background noises convey the busy nature of the organization. In this clip May expresses frustration with the way some people online were focused on “gatekeeping”—deciding who and what counted as feminist—and especially with the harsh critiques that some online feminists lobbed at other feminists, rather than at anti-feminist activists and conservative politicians.


Samhita Mukhopadhyay is currently the executive editor of Teen Vogue, and she was one of the founding editors of the early blog Feministing. Here she points out that blogs “changed the game,” and also expresses frustration with some of the same dynamics that Emily May described.  Mukhopadhyay worries that the harsh online critiques threatened to silence young women’s voices online.


Joanne Smith is the founder and executive director of Girls for Gender Equity, which runs programs for Black and Latina girls in Brooklyn.  In this clip, Smith talks about how even many of the online activists who have large followings would not be familiar to the girls she serves, because they don’t use language that is familiar to them.


Noorjahan Akbar is a young feminist activist from Afghanistan, who created an online repository for Afghan women’s stories.  She sees the website as a way to create a safe space for women that can help create system of support and means for self-advocacy and self-realization.  In this clip, you can hear the emotion in her voice after I asked her whether she wished she could return to Afghanistan, where the rest of her family still lived.


Kabo Yang was the executive director of the Minnesota Women’s Consortium.  The daughter of Hmong refugees, Yang believed that social media opened up important avenues to information and ideas for Hmong girls and women who are not encouraged to socialize outside their clans.



Photo by Amy Stern Photography.

Rachel F. Seidman is director of the Southern Oral History Program in the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter.