Spotlight On: Zerlina Maxwell

Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and contributing writer for The New York Daily News, Feministing.com, theGrio.com, BET.comRHRealitycheck.org and EBONY.com. She writes about national politics, candidates, and specific policy and culture issues including domestic violence, sexual assault, victim blaming and gender inequality. She has consulted with the United States Department of State to promote the use of social media by students in the West Bank. It’s no surprise, then, that Zerlina was featured in the New York Times as a political twitter voice to follow during the 2012 election season.

Her talents don’t end at the written word, however.  She is also a weekly guest and fill-in host for Make It Plain with Mark Thompson on Sirius XM Progress and democratic commentator on Fox News and MSNBC.  She has a law degree from Rutgers Law School – Newark and a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University.

Phew. That’s impressive. Read on to be further impressed and never miss a tweet from @ZerlinaMaxwell.

You were publicly harassed and threatened for speaking out about rape prevention and, by extension, victim-blaming. Why do you think such a horrific backlash ensued against the common-sense statements you were making?

I think what happened to me in March of 2012 was a clear manifestation of what rape culture is and how it works.  I was simply stating the standard feminist and common sense approach to rape prevention: stopping them before they happen by engaging men in the conversation. That the response to this basic idea was to send me rape and death threats via social media, is symptomatic of the larger problem, and I hope that through my own experience or through other similar high profile stories that have been happening in the past year or so, the majority of people at least were forced to think differently about gender-based violence. I’m under no illusions; I didn’t go into my Hannity segment thinking that I would end patriarchy in a single segment, but I do think feminists with access to national media platforms should take our message to hostile audiences whenever we can.

I’ve been outspoken about my experience as a rape survivor; I believe there is power in our stories and that by sharing, we help erase the stigma against victims. And yet, it seems that society’s collective victim-blaming voice is much louder and more often heard than survivors’. What are your thoughts on an anti-dote for this cultural mindset?

I have been outspoken about my own experience as well because I know that so many women can relate to my experience but may not want to speak about it openly.  Storytelling is powerful, particularly with this issue, because people don’t realize how common sexual assault is.  A quarter of women are victimized and chances are if you know at least four woman, then you know a survivor.  When people realize how many women they know are survivors, then hopefully the culture will shift.

You’ve written about how women of color are the gender gap in political races such as Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial one, which is something quite often overlooked or ignored. How can we make sure women of color are acknowledged as a powerful voting bloc in future elections?

I think the impact of women of color in elections is something that is almost always overlooked.  We generally break demographics down to women and Black voters when we talk about electoral politics in an election year, but women of color are consistent voters and consistently Democratic voters. That’s no surprise; many of the policies put forth by the other side of the aisle hurt women of color specifically, so of course they don’t support the GOP, but I think they will also have the power to move Democrats on issues very soon. The bottom line is: eventually emerging majorities of voters of color will force politicians to pay attention to their issues.

2013 was a legislative onslaught against women, and not just with regards to reproductive health. Do you think this trend will continue throughout the new year?

Yes, this trend will continue and progressives will continue to be on defense for the most part when it comes to reproductive health.  It’s one of the most frustrating things about choice and reproductive rights as an issue. We are playing whack-a-mole in the courts because every time we win one battle, another anti-choice bill pops up somewhere else.  It might sound like too simple a solution but I think the answer is that progressive-minded women need to run for office. At least for me, that’s step 1.

Who is your #1 feminist role model?

Sojourner Truth.  I think something about Truth’s fearlessness and the strength it takes for a woman to stand up and demand attention and respect is something that has resonated with me my entire life.  Sometimes you have to force people to listen to you, even when they don’t want to.

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Categories: Spotlight

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3 replies

  1. Hellen – On what grounds do you base this comment? To call someone a Uncle Tom feminist should come with a bit more evidence than empty platitudes, such as “doesn’t offer any depth to anything she ever says.” Care to explain?

  2. she is not a political analyst. she just calls herself one. it’s one of these empty titles that people with no real credits to their name think make them sound smarter. she’s also a feminist Uncle Tom in the worst way who doesn’t offer any depth to anything she ever says.

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