If you’re a feminist, chances are good that you’ve heard of Shelby Knox. She is the subject of the Sundance award-winning film, The Education of Shelby Knox, not to mention an all-around badass, itinerant feminist. She travels across the country speaking, organizing and writing about feminist issues and has become the face – and voice – for young(er) feminism. Shelby is an amazing role model for young women and I am beyond honored that she took the time to talk to sherights.
So, without further ado…..
Q: You catapulted to feminist fame in the film The Education of Shelby Knox. How has your perspective — on life, feminism, etc. — shifted since the film?
Shelby: I was fifteen when the filmmakers started chronicling my high school activism for comprehensive sex education and eighteen when the film premiered at Sundance. I only casually identified as a feminist when the film came out and I never imagined activism would become a career, much less the driving force in my life.
When I first started identifying as a feminist, I thought it was mostly about fighting for what are considered traditional women’s issues: abortion rights, fair pay, more funding for rape survivor and domestic violence programs. Of course it is about all of those things but it’s also about fighting for a world in which men aren’t limited by gender roles, for queer liberation and racial equality and economic justice and human rights and reproductive justice at the same time and with the same intensity.
Q: You’ve recently begun the Radical Women’s History Project – can you tell us about the project and what you hope to achieve with it?
Shelby: I’ve always loved history and as I got older and more feminist, I found myself asking more and more often, “where are the women?” I felt like I was missing a part of myself by not knowing how the women before me lived and worked and fought for social change. As I started to do more research to fill this hole, I realized that the women’s history we do honor is often that of white, Western, straight, cisgender, able-bodied women, which is the same story of privileging only privileged experiences that has propped up patriarchy for centuries. I started the Radical Women’s History Project to find and publicize, on my blog and on Twitter, the experiences of the most marginalized women who are most often left out of this — and all other — narratives. The goal is simple: rewrite ALL women back into history so we can collectively and individually know what is possible for ourselves.
Q: What else does 2011 hold in store for you? Any other exciting projects/speaking tours/etc?
Shelby: The biggest news in my life is that I, for the first time ever, have taken a job with an organization to better forward my goal of making the world more equal for women. As of last week, I am the new Director of Organizing, Women’s Rights, for Change.org. I get to wake up every day and find ways to support activists to use the online petition platform to support on-the-ground organizing campaigns for gender justice.
I will also continue to blog, write for magazines and travel across the country to speak with young organizers. This week, I’m off to Oklahoma University to be their activist-in-residence, doing workshops and seminars with students about campus organizing and beyond. And, of course, I’m doing a lot of Women’s History month speaking, from Indianapolis to Virginia to Nevada.
Q: Who are your top feminist role models?
Shelby: Gloria Steinem is the best organizer I’ve ever met. She’s constantly coming up with ideas for pro-equality projects, organizations, etc., and she connects the people who need to work together to make those ideas a reality. I’m inspired by and grateful to both Shirley Chisholm and Wilma Mankiller, who changed forever the idea of what a leader should look like. Looking back into history, I’m in awe of Ida Wells Barnett and her unyielding courage and devotion to the truth in the face of violence, threats and racism from foes and supposed allies alike.
Q: Do you have any advice for young girls who may be struggling to reconcile their feminist identity with opposing influences in their lives?
Shelby: Being a feminist is about making your life whatever you want it to be and standing up to the forces who are telling you what you want is impossible or undesirable because of your gender, race, sexuality, class, trans status, age, ability and all the intersections thereof. I would encourage you to tell your story – your hopes, dreams, frustrations – to as many people as possible. This is how we find out we’re not alone and we’re not imagining the barriers that keep us from getting what we want and need. This is also how you’ll find your coven, your group of friends with whom you’ll organize, hash out complicated political issues, laugh with when the going gets rough, and celebrate with when you have personal or political victories. There is no prescription for how to be a feminist, no membership office at which we all apply – follow that voice in your head that’s telling you something is unfair and you’ll always be on the right track!
For more Shelby, visit her blog, The Ms. Education of Shelby Knox, and follow her on Twitter @ShelbyKnox!