Tavi "Style Rookie" Gevison on strong female characters and being a young feminist

Here's Tavi Gevison, creator of the amazing Style Rookie site, the Rookie zine and the indispensable Rookie: Year One collection, doing a must-see TedXTeens talk about creating strong female characters and role-models, being a teen feminist, and figuring out how to grow up to be a strong, self-confident woman. This is one I'm putting in the "show to my daughter in a couple years" file.

Rookie: Yearbook One - Sassy's second coming (via The Mary Sue)


  1. Uh, she’s looking kinda stereotypical with all that eye make-up on….I mean, in my experience, I’ve found the more make-up a woman wears, the less seriously she’s going to be taken.  Unfortunately, if one doesn’t have perfect skin or features (I have acne scars), if one DOESN’T wear make-up, one’s not going to be taken too seriously, either. She’s blonde, for crying out loud – it just isn’t flattering to her at all.

      1.  Oh, no see, it’s totally okay for Lucy there to make those judgements, cause she’s a lady and therefore it’s not at all sexist in any way when she is critical of a women because of the clothes or make-up she wears…. /S

        Oh, wait. No it’s not. It totally still sucks.

      2. I know, right?! 

        Here’s this eloquent, funny, smart girl explaining EXACTLY why you should take her seriously – because she’s got ideas, and publishes them, and is confident in her feminism, and understands, as I wish I had as a teenager, that not having all the answers is actually a really cool place to be – and all some people can do is get all pearl-clutchy at the fact that she’s wearing makeup like a girly, girlish girl. 

        And what is the prescribed correct amount of makeup for a girl to wear these days?  I mean, obviously it’s not something one should be allowed to decide for oneself … wear makeup that covers your percieved faults, without looking like you actually choose to enhance your features or play with your image, I s’pose.  Screw that – I like Tavi’s version better.

      1. Yeah, it’s a great website!  It’s also weird how, particularly in America, with the whole hatred of trend-savvy hipsters becoming something of a trend itself, how obsessed we are with labeling anyone and everyone, and how there is a sort of nationally understood “level” of someone, boy or girl, having “too much” style.  If they cross that line, we all get to rain down derogatory remarks and criticisms on them.  Nobody asks why.

        Being “too” fashionable isn’t a problem in a lot of other countries (for men or women) and the idea would sound ridiculous, of being offended by someone else’s style.  

        I think it’s our longstanding weird American hangup about appearance, about clothes needing to be strictly utilitarian (sweatpants), so that for decades when we see another person’s style, it amplifies our own self-consciousness and makes us uncomfortable.  We lash out to escape the feeling.  Hence the name-calling, and those with “a little too much” style feeling obligated to be self-depreciating.  

        I’m always aware of this when I go back to the states, how everyone is watching everyone else for flaws with little compassion and some people actually vocalizing their thoughts in public about a total stranger’s appearance.  It’s high school all over again and again.

        It’s the whole “seeing yourself as others see you” existential dread feeling that I think women face daily in this amplified way, with some women (for instance, Lucy in the comment above) fueling the fire because of the cul-de-sac of identity our society has forced on women in terms of appearances.

        It’s not uncommon that people who might be labeled a hipster try to dissociate themselves from the term by labeling others with the same term.  In my small college town people used the term “scenesters,” and it was the same thing.  

        I think women have had to deal with that kind of bullshit their whole lives for generations, so it’s good that the hipster thing is turning now towards men so they can experience this weird, alienating self-consciousness promoted by a group mentality that is attacking itself like an autoimmune disease.

        1. And today’s Urban Dictionary Word of the Day is Hipstercrite:

          Someone who claims not to be a hipster, mocks others for being hipsters, but is in fact themselves a hipster.

          1. Just added that to my lexicon.

            I think it applies to me in some measure, although when I think in negative terms about “hipsters” I really only mean that I dislike people who too-frequently use phrases such as “omg, you haven’t heard of x?” or “I can’t believe you haven’t seen y”. I don’t define “hipsters” merely by dress code or set of interests…

            iow, I mean people whose understandable and otherwise likable zest for the new and/or numinous is bastardized into a personality which treats (implicitly and sometimes explicitly) simple ignorance as intrinsically wrong and/or shameful. There are certainly some ignorances that one might rightly be ashamed of, but I’ve met many people who thought being unfamiliar with their pet interests signified a lack of intelligence or refinement. I think that’s a dangerous (ntm simply rude) personality quirk…

            Curiously enough I find that this egocentric mentality is prominent among my peers (20-30 in age) about as evenly in the progressive types as in the screwy Randian libertarians. There’s an irony in there somewhere. ofc that’s merely an off-the-cuff anecdote, but I’m just musing.

    1. You’ve got to be kidding. Here’s an amazing kid who’s done some fairly incredible things at a tremendously young age, talking incredibly intelligently about what makes a character complex and realistic (and hitting it spot on the nose, in my opinion–a not-uninformed opinion, as I write for kids and teens for a living). And your takeaway is that she’s not going to be taken seriously with that makeup? She’s not interviewing for a job at an accounting firm. 

      Get some context, or better yet, learn to take people seriously for what they say and do rather than for how they look, and demand others do the same. 

    2. Wow. And there you go. No one addresses her content. We get an analysis of her looks and how well or not well she conforms to the standards of objectification, and a “you’re not a real nerd, stupid pretty girl” video. Nice. 

      All we need is an “I’d hit it” and we have trifecta.

      1.  blueelm, you do understand that this girl’s claim to fame is operating in an industry that does exactly what you just described right?

        1. it’s hard to subvert from the outside, so i wouldn’t bash what she’s doing. As my favorite RookieMag contributor Arabelle said, “You fuck with the message by fucking with the tools, alright”

          1. I think what Pepe-Le-Jew meant is that “if women are interested in it, it must suck…” Which seems to be the general theme of the criticism against Tavi’s talk here…

            I think if there is a problem with the fashion industry, it is in part because FOR YEARS, it was dominated by men, much like nearly every other profession on the planet.

            But really, we should blame women for being such dumb airheads, amirite.. /S

        2. But if you want to address the “Claim to fame” then we should be discussing style shouldn’t we? Like the way her accessories don’t match her handbag or something…
          Seems to me that there is a hidden assumption that you can’t be fashionable and a feminist. And the reason it stays hidden is that it is, on its face, anti-feminist.

          If it wasn’t, every “serious” feminist would have to dress in a potato sack before being taken seriously, and if she were beautiful “even without make up” (Ugh!), then she should not bathe for a week or brush her hair and she should have puffy eyes. Smoking! that’s the key, smoking 3 packs a day would make her ugly enough to talk seriously about feminism!
          The point here is she should not admit to any blatantly “girly” endeavors otherwise she will not be serious about feminism, since we probably suspect that all feminists secretly want to be men.

        3. OMG really! Oh you totally changed my world!!!!

          Nope. Doesn’t make it ok. Sorry. Every woman operates in an industry that does exactly what I just described, for one. Secondly, that’s nothing but an excuse for being a sexist douche.

        4. “claim to fame” is dangerously close to “attention whore”, isn’t it?

          Combined with your earlier removed comments calling her a street walker … you really are a sexist assbag.

          How messed up is it that a 15 year old teenage girl can be covered from head to toe, showing absolutely no skin, and still get called a fucking “street walker”?

          You are proving her point, so blatantly, and you either don’t notice or you don’t care.

          You know, this morning, I was pleasantly surprised at the reactions from commenters in the thread about the Steubenville rape case.

          I take it all back.

    3. What a wonderful example of why feminism exists.  

      1) Don’t take women seriously
      2) Place blame on women for not being taken seriously
      3) Being taken seriously is dependent on appearance 
      4) An impossible standard is set for appearance (wear make-up, not too much, make sure it matches your hair color, don’t look stereotypical) 
      5)  Profit!

    4. You obviously did not listen to what she was saying. She addresses this ridiculous point directly – you can be a feminist and into fashion. You can also be a feminist and not into fashion.  Being a feminist does not define you into just one way of thinking.  Gosh – so annoying to see a stereotypical bashing going on when the whole point is that we are human and figuring it out. How put together were you as a sophomore in HS?  I was a mess of contradictions myself… I was definitely figuring it out. In my 40’s, I still am figuring it all out. That’s life. What a silly attack when the overall points are so well made by this young woman. 

      1. God forbid they listen to a woman! Nooooo… must not allow sex machine blonde words in head. Where is my man yogurt!?

    5. in my experience, I’ve found the more make-up a woman wears, the less seriously she’s going to be taken

      This is entirely their own fault, of course

    1. I’m seriously wondering why teenage girls seem to bring out such a high level of hate…  I think Kevin Smith when on a rant about this a Comic-Con a few years ago when people booed when he mentioned Twilight fandom (which his daughter was a fan of). 

      1. I have a hypothesis. Men who invoke this kind of hate want to have sex with teenage girls. The media hypersexualizes girls of that age and sex symbols are made through makeup and photoshop to look teenaged.

        Yet most of these men, can’t do that. So thwarted desire turns to frustration, turns to anger and judgement. Not just at the girls but at the things they like and get excited over (which are not these men).

        1. That’s a generally good hypothesis, I think.

          Overall, this stuff worries me, as I have an about to be teenaged daughter… I remember how tough that age can be….

        2. Indeed.  Lolita makes me have feelings that are bad.  Nobody else makes me conflicted.  It must be her fault.  Because she is a tramp.  And a harlot.  And bad.

          You get a lot of the same thing from the prreachers and the like who are anti-gay who end up at a lot of rest stops on the highway with wide stances.  If it weren’t so harmful the cliches would be funny.

        3. And so how does your hypothesis fit in with the women, such as Lucy above? Because it’s not just men.

          1. Lucy’s comment is symptomatic of internalized misogyny. Internalizing misogyny means embracing a value system that socially enforces a rigid set of norms and behaviours that match the mainstream definition of “womanhood,” instead of valuing the freedom of all women, everywhere, to control their lives, bodies, appearances, finances, and self-expression to the same extent that men are encouraged to. Many women are under the sad delusion that embracing this value system will protect them, and it frightens them when other women don’t participate, because it reminds them that they could be more free. It stings twice as much when those other women are successful.

          2. You know, I was mostly being rhetorical because I felt the original analogy was lacking — it’s really more complicated than “men want to stick their penis into teenage vagina” — but I very much enjoyed your response, and I hope it is helpful to others, thank you! :)

  2. Great talk. Good to see that TED affiliates can produce great stuff that is as good as the early TED’s a couple of years ago.

    And as for comments about her style and appearance, that’s not really our business. Like she said, she’s still figuring it out. I wish Tevi the best of luck in her future endeavors. Looks like she’s off to a good start.

    And for anyone who has anything negative to say: What the fuck had you ever done when you were 15-16?

    1. I’m waiting to hear that she’s in the next class of Macarthur fellows. I wonder how young the youngest has been?

    2. She’s way more composed, brave and ambitious than I was when I was a high school sophomore.  I look forward to following her career.

    1. Why is it the asshats always misapply this cliche?

      You have no idea what it means, do you?

  3. I like a lot of this, what I don’t agree with is the parts where it is informed too much by pop culture, because pop culture is, by default, misogynistic. for example: Bridesmaids. (I enjoyed the movie, but there is a long way to go before it is a movie with a feminist point of view).
    That of course is not through any fault of her own since this is what makes feminism “so strange” to me as a man, we are so steeped in the culture we live in that we take for granted the way it provides advantages to some people over others. It seems so normal. And in that way, when we see women playing the role of the buffoon, we might think, “Oh great! now we are that more equal”, except that in that way, women are made equal to buffoons, hardly feminist at all.
    I worry that the validation by pop culture of a woman’s worth is contemplated as the light at the end of the tunnel of misogynistic behavior.

    1. I don’t think all pop culture is sexist…. sure lots of it is, but if you look (and not too hard, actually) you can find fine examples of strong women. Even pop culture aimed at young girls can work to break down stereotypes. I will agree that lots of it is actively gender stereotype reinforcing and we can say the same on race as well… but I think that is more about who has power and control in the culture industries. It’s still a mans world there, I think, but there are exceptions.  I’ve been quite happy with the few episodes of My Little Pony I’ve seen. Also, have you seen this website:


      1. Ah yes! I’ve seen it. I guess What I was trying to get at is that the example she sets as an entrepreneur is much more important then what movies or TV shows are doing. And it is her deference to this aspect of pop culture, the relatable zeitgeist provider aspect, that does nothing to underscore her own achievements. 

        And maybe I am reading too much into this but it seems that she is still unaware of the role pop culture, which is basically all culture nowadays, has in perpetuating gender roles, but this is besides the point I was trying to make earlier.

        I look forward to hearing from her in the future.

    2. Pop culture is often sexist because society is often sexist.  Pop culture doesn’t live in a vacuum, you know.  You can’t have pop culture without the greater culture and the greater society.  It’s one and the same, in the end.

  4. My daughter is the same age as Tavi. I really like my kid’s style. She’s girly without being tarty and smart without being an outsider. I wonder what it’s like to grow up right now, with all this over the top pornography and divisive gender identification. She likes to ask me about the gender neutral Lego ads and the whole idea that was circulating in the 70’s when I was a kid of empowering women, like the Charlie ads and the Enjoli ads. It seems like she longs to be treated as just a kid and not some adolescent trollop with “Pink” splashed across her butt. I’m going to refer her to Rookie Mag – maybe she’ll find some other cool kids. Meantime, seems like the fan writer scene online has been a good source of support. One cool thing about the interwebs, you can find your own crowd and don’t have to watch Girls for your social cues.

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