Spotlight On: Jennifer Baumgardner

I first heard of Jennifer Baumgardner when I learned of her “I Had An Abortion” documentary and since then have been wowwed by her. She has an impressive feminist resume: she’s the Executive Editor & Publisher of The Feminist Press, has authored five books, is a documentary filmmaker, and the founder of Soapbox, Inc. It’s no surprise she also has a roster of honors and recognitions for her dedication to the feminist movement. Read on for our Q&A with Jennifer!

On your website, you mention “the tension and pain between black feminists and white feminists.” How can we help heal this pain and bridge our differences, so that we can move forward collectively at peace with one another?

Well, the first step is to actually be able to listen to what black feminists are saying, rather than defend one’s self or be paralyzed by guilt or shame. Many white women are still at the point of almost being able to acknowledge (and face) that, because of American history, we’ve had deeply different experiences as women than our black sisters. As harmed as all women are by misogyny, the trauma that America has enacted on African-American women is both different and greater.

You are both an author and documentary maker. Which medium is your favorite? Do you think one better serves feminist causes than the other?

Books and documentaries are both important. What’s great about a film is that, while it can be a solo experience, it’s generally a group experience, and something we can all share together. Books are very portable and personal. Both formats are ways of telling crucial stories and the way we all learn, as human beings, is through stories. So while some days I’m more drawn to film, and other days writing, it feels like the same project.

Your I Had an Abortion project remains strikingly relevant, perhaps now more than ever, in light of the myriad attacks on abortion rights this past year. How can we continue to expand upon the space your project has created to discuss abortion, deconstructing its stigma?

Although there have been quite a few projects like mine over the past four years, it remains powerful when someone stands up and dares to tell the truth about having had an abortion. Saying “I had an abortion,” and I have had an abortion, puts a relatable face on a divisive, scary topic.

Likewise, your It Was Rape project creates a space for men and women to discuss rape. This is something deeply personal to me; I believe that sharing your story is cathartic on both individual and larger, societal levels. But it isn’t easy. How difficult do you find it to encourage people to discuss their experiences?

I haven’t felt any barriers to getting people to tell and share their story. I think the magic element in that is that I’m genuinely interested and that I ask open-ended questions. I don’t have an expectation of where they’re headed—every story is unique. I’ve found that when something huge or traumatic has happened to someone and they have the impression no one wants to hear about it, that story takes on a life of its own and just desperately wants to get out. Me listening and sounding back their experience (not fixing them or offering advice) allows that experience its due.

Who is your top feminist role model?

Oh, boy. I have many. Beyonce is awesome this week, with her overtly feminist new record and her sampling of a talk by Chimamanda Adichie. I love Loretta Ross. I gather inspiration from Eve Ensler.  I love to read Susan Faludi. Lisa Brunner teaches me so much, too.

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