Inkpop Blog

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Life as a roadtrip writer

Posted by inkpop on November 12, 2009

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Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein criss-crossed the country for Girldrive

“Let’s go on a road trip! You’re a writer. I’m a photographer. Let’s write a book. Let’s [f-ing] do something!

This slice of a 2006 conversation between then-22-year-old writer Nona Willis Aronowitz and 21-year-old Emma Bee Bernstein launched the start of a life-changing journey.

The two born-and-bred New Yorkers were fresh college graduates curious about American women’s feelings about feminism. Armed with questions about women’s hopes, fears, and ambitions—and how feminism plays a role in women’s lives today—they decided to do whatever it would take to drive across the U.S. in a Chevy Cavalier to find the answers.

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The late Emma Bee Bernstein, and Nona Willis Aronowitz (photo by Lucy Radtke)

What started as a rapid-fire idea actualized itself into a full-color, 221-page book of profiles and photography: Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism, released in late October. The duo started by blogging about their trip, which quickly caught the attention of Seal Press, the publisher that offered Aronowitz and Bernstein a publishing contract.

Inspired by their Second Wave feminist mothers, the childhood camp pals hit up major and mid-size cities including Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Provincetown, and interviewed nearly 200 women of varying ages and walks of life. Aronowitz and Bernstein connected with well-known feminists such as Martha Cotera and Andi Zeisler in addition to twentysomething artists, middle-aged moms, punk bartenders, an anarchist midwife, and a burlesque-dancing seamstress.

With a focus on diversity and discussing the connections of race and class in everyday life, there’s not a central overarching theme that answers how American women feel about their lives in terms of feminism. But perhaps that’s the point of Girldrive.

“Some second-wavers think of feminism as a movement; whereas, young women tend to think about feminism as separate issues,” Willis says during her jam-packed book-release party at Brooklyn’s A.I.R. Gallery on October 30.

Though some of the young women featured in Girldrive don’t claim the word “feminist,” you get the sense that their everyday actions are in fact a payoff of feminism’s achievements. As Aronowitz writes, “This half-forgotten history learned from our mothers and mentors does not discourage us; it instead pushes us forward to talk to our generation.”

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Kathleen Hanna photo by Emma Bee Bernstein

Girldrive culminates with a profile of Kathleen Hanna, often considered the leader of modern feminism. One of the founders of the riot grrl movement and the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, Hanna is famous for her lyric-turned-battle cry “Revolution grrl-style now.” In 1990, when Newsweek declared feminism dead, she helped to prove to the world that feminism was alive and kicking hard. In the Girldrive interview, Hanna says that despite the triumphant ups and discouraging downs of her radical past, she recommends the learning experiences that come out of standing up for your beliefs.

For all the questions that Girldrive answers, sadly, Bernstein never got to see the final fruits of her labor. In December 2008, she took her own life in Venice, Italy. Aronowitz dedicates the book to her co-author, calling Bernstein her “intellectual soulmate, whose biggest strength and weakness was feeling everything like a stab in the heart.” 

Aronowitz also dedicated the book to another “kick-ass feminist who left the world too early”: her mother, Ellen Willis, a well-known music journalist, whom Aronowitz is writing her next book about.

Watch the Girldrive trailer.

inkpop Forums topic: What does feminism mean to you?

The inkpop blog is written by inkpopAmy

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