How Tavi Gevinson Restored my Love of Gramsci (and Hope for Feminism)

December 4, 2012
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Tavi GevinsonIf you don’t know who Tavi Gevinson is, you should. Go ahead—I’ll wait a sec to let you google her.

OK—now let’s move on to why you should really know who she is. Because there will always be an ingénue/apparent prodigy child creating a web magazine or blog that is actually insightful and well-produced. There will always be unusually self-possessed young women who knock your socks off with their insights and their productivity communicating those insights. And, in a nutshell, that’s why you should know Tavi Gevinson and her work, the online magazine for teen girls, Rookie.Mag: She makes the simple (and beautiful in its simplicity) claim that many teen girls, across the world, have something of value to offer with their thoughts and ideas and creativity. Not that teen girls “will someday become” leaders of thought and culture, but that they are already doing this in meaningful ways.

If you spend time watching Tavi’s presence in the world of visual and print media, you will discern quickly a representative voice. Tavi may be unique in her very notable presence in a media-saturated environment, but her voice will be familiar to any parent or teacher of a teen girl. Teen girls “think messy” in a wonderfully delightful way that can both frustrate the adults around them and remind us of the joys of those years before social norms of adulthood work to squash the hell out of our tendencies toward productive rebellions, as we navigate that liminal space between childhood and “common sense” adulthood.

And it’s the “common sense” notion that made me start thinking of Tavi and Rookie in relation to Gramsci. I teach about Gramsci’s concepts of common sense, good sense, and the organic intellectual—often with a healthy heap of cynicism. But Tavi’s “good sense” in her approach to voicing the concerns and hopes of her generation has muted my cynicism (as youth often can, when we give young people the credit they deserve). So common sense a la Gramsci means, in its most base form, following the crowd; good sense means retaining from the crowd what is useful and running with that in whatever direction it might take you. This seems to me to be what Tavi does—she questions what is common, and sometimes finds it works for her and her peers, and sometimes finds that it doesn’t (see her talk on feminism and media culture with TedTalks.

Tavi also offers what I like most about Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual, stripping it of its elitist connotations. With, she uses culture in order to dish on it—and provides permission for others to do the same. While the “permission” tag might sound like that dreaded elitism, we all know we still live in a world where teen girls are discouraged from speaking freely: their ideas must fit a certain mold, their laughter must not be too loud, and they must always be “on” in a social media environment eager to capture their every flaw and misstep. Tavi had the good sense to say “who cares?”—and suspected rightly that many other teen girls yearn to do the same.

I won’t try to say she and her work aren’t unique. (Why else would I be writing about her?). Any pre-teen who attends Fashion Week, or teen who publishes her own book, or high school junior who can show up in press coverage with the words Target, Urban Outfitters, Sassy magazine, Ira Glass, Sofia Coppola, and Jon Hamm…well, it’s gonna’ make you take note. But I think my larger point is that—as much as the mainstream press lovingly tries to describe her as “counter-cultural,” I believe that she is, rather, “pro-cultural.” She embraces the culture around her—for better or worse. A recent blurb from her in a Rookie column proclaimed: CORY AND TOPENGA ARE IN! Topanga is on Tumblr! EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING!” (If that sentence makes no sense to you, look it up—you’re out of touch.) She appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s show to demonstrate the ways in which to make a teen girl “bitch face”—a specialty of the demographic. She’ll give you her 2 cents on Angela Chase and Freaks and Geeks and Lana Del Rey.

And the best thing for me? She talks through all such items within a feminist framework. (Maybe this is the “4th wave” we’ve been looking for?) What I love about her conceptualization of feminism is that it is so very teen infused. It refuses to abandon passion without neglecting analysis. (Think of every teen girl conversation you’ve been privy to: crazed love for fleeting things, and the ability to present the rationale for that love in a manner suitable for the Supreme Court.) It tags feminism as necessarily in flux and almost schizophrenic. And most simply, it says that the voices of the next (or rather, current) generation of women matter—whether it be a word on Boy Meets World or a word on efforts to assist with autism.

Go try out your best bitch face. Support Rookie. And for the love of god, if you have a teen girl around you somewhere, have them google Tavi and then have a conversation with them about what they read and see. And remind yourself, you feminists out there, about how feminism’s most valuable asset has always been to tell women they deserve to be heard–and to never be told what they want to speak about is “silly.”


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2 Responses to “ How Tavi Gevinson Restored my Love of Gramsci (and Hope for Feminism) ”

  1. jessalynn on December 4, 2012 at 10:44 PM

    Hi Sharon,
    Thanks for this great piece on Tavi! I’m actually in the midst of writing a chapter on her as part of my diss, so I’m glad others find her an interesting cultural figure! I think your point about her being problematically presented as counter-cultural (or alternative?) is especially pertinent… I’m even arguing that it is her commercial presence that’s so important to her status, as she’s publicly living a feminist girlhood subjectivity that’s accessible to girls (although of course, not necessarily all girls)… Thanks again for bringing Tavi into the conversation! 🙂
    cheers, jessalynn

  2. Sharon Ross on December 5, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    Thanks Jessalyn–I would love to dish more on Tavi with you and am so very pleased that you’re doing a chapter on her! I think what I enjoy–quite literally–so much about the work that emerges from her efforts is that it is collective without being “band-wagony” (how’s that for an academic term?:D). I plan on introducing her in my Teens and TV class this spring–I’d love to get your 2 cents on how you frame her work in your disss to help guide my students with regards to a critical perspective!