Amy Andre

Soapbox, the Feminist Speakers' Bureau, Is 'Bi'-Operated

Filed By Amy Andre | September 14, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Ani DiFranco, bisexuality, feminism, Gloria Steinem, Jennifer Baumgardner, public speakers

JenniferBaumgardner.jpgFeminist author, professor, and activist Jennifer Baumgardner, whose latest book, F 'em: Goo Goo, Gaga, and Some Thoughts on Balls, is due out in October, is a rarity in the national feminist movement: She is an out - and outspoken - bisexual. Her books include the ground-breaking Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics.

But Jennifer is perhaps best known for co-founding Soapbox, the Feminist Speakers' Bureau, which represents Gloria Steinem and many other feminist luminaries. I touched base with Jennifer to learn more about her work, and what Soapbox is up to now. (Full disclosure: I'm a Soapbox speaker.)

AA: You're one of the few leaders in the national feminist movement who is also an out bisexual. Why do you think there are so few out bi feminist leaders? Biphobia in the feminist movement? Misogyny in the LGBT movement? A little of both? Neither?

JB:Very few feminist women who are bi act as if it's an important part of their identity, it's true. I think it's biphobia, but not necessarily an active hostility, just a sense that identifying this way isn't as valuable as being gay, straight, or undeclared. It's a mix of misogyny and biphobia. In the book I just wrote, [F 'em: Goo Goo, Gaga, and Some Thoughts on Balls], Ani DiFranco says that the older she gets, she just feels a lot straighter. I think that our desires change as we do, and having the ability within a life to love both men and women (though not necessarily to the same degree or at the same time) is a bisexual identity - but I can't foist the label on anyone. Like "feminist," the "bisexual" label is one that we have to claim for ourselves.

AA: What inspired you to start Soapbox? How's it going? And what do you think the public wants to hear about most from feminist speakers/ the feminist movement right now?

JB: Amy Richards and I started Soapbox in 2002 because we thought we could do what our speakers' bureau was doing and do it better. I think we were right - but what has also emerged for us is that Soapbox isn't just a bureau for feminist speakers. We are a platform or entry point for feminism. We created Feminist Boot Camps several years ago that are really popular and incredibly gratifying for Amy and me - and a couple of hundred men and women from across the country and Canada have come to New York City to spend a week immersed in feminist actions and conversation. Now we are beginning to create products that can be used in the feminist classroom, and the list of what we want to do keeps on growing.

Our most popular speakers change each year, but Gloria Steinem is a perennial favorite, as is Shelby Knox and Loretta Ross. People mainly want the speakers to magnetize their community of like-minded people and remind them that feminism is present and vital to the well-being of their families, communities, and colleges.

AA: Tell me about your new book.

JB: F' em is a book of essays about feminism, or at least the kind of feminism I practice, which is very inclusive and open. It's part old pieces that were reprinted in magazines like Harper's Bazaar and Glamour, part interviews with people I love, like Ani DiFranco and Loretta Ross, and part new essays. The project arose out of my obsession with the discrepancy between how feminists are archived vs. other people and movements.

The real record of the second wave is in danger of being erased; it's not taught in public school or mainstream university classes. These were women who wanted to do everything themselves - they taught themselves to do abortions, for God's sake! - but they didn't get themselves into the public record as much as they needed to. Meanwhile, I'm archiving my own writing and contribution by having this collection. I am grateful that Seal [Press] wanted to publish it, and I love what they do, too. The essays deal with feminist theory and practice, whether there is a 4th wave, being bisexual and married, and being a mother, among many other topics.

AA: What do you think LGBT activists (feminist or not) can learn from the feminist movement?

JB: The LGBT movement is having its day right now, like feminists had in 1970. By that I mean that laws and attitudes are changing rapidly and the movement is visible and important. I think that LGBT movement is inextricably intertwined with feminism and that their gains are ours. I think LGBT activists can learn that after a period of rapid change and mainstreaming, there is a period of subtle (and painful) backlash. We need to name that backlash as it occurs and refuse to be cowed by it.

AA: What's your hope and/or goal for both camps?

JB: My hope for feminism is that women get in touch with how powerful they are, whether it's through getting in touch with their vagina, turning their cell phone cameras on street harassers, or demanding that their philandering husband stop raping housekeepers or face being cut off from a $500 million fortune. That last is a specific hope for one woman in France. For LGBT activists, I hope that gay marriage is the law of the land soon, not because I think marriage is so great but because it would be a huge step for equal access to institutions.

img courtesy Soapbox

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