Jessica Bennett, gender and culture writer and author of Feminist Fight Club, knew she wanted to be a journalist from a young age— 10, she says, give or take a few homework assignments. After scoring an internship at the newspaper in her hometown of Seattle, Bennett worked at the Boston Globe during college, the Village Voice when she moved to NYC, eventually landing her first staff job at Newsweek.
It was at Newsweek where she started writing about gender politics, spurned in part she says, by “my own inability to rise up.”
“In the height of that frustration,” Bennett explains, “two colleagues and I stumbled upon the story of a group of female staffers who had sued the company for gender discrimination in 1970.” The lawsuit was the first of its kind and paved the way for female journalists everywhere, but their story had been largely forgotten. (herstory, not herstory.) When Bennett and her co-workers realized that not enough had changed for women at work, they agreed there was an important story to unearth. “We ultimately wrote an oral history of their story, and our own, looking at how much (not enough) had changed.”
It was a piece they believed they’d be fired for writing. Waving a polite middle-finger to your own place of employment isn’t safest way to climb the corporate ranks, but they were in too deep and hoisted the story up the pole. They wove the stories together, citing underlying gender issues in the workplace, a lack of female bylines and cover stories, and limited though high-profile successes, like that of their boss Ann McDaniel, then Newsweek’s managing editor, that mask the bigger problems. They weren’t fired.
Instead the piece became the lede for a book, the Amazon original series, Good Girls Revolt (which, Amazon cancelled after one season without one woman present) as well as Jessica’s own book, Feminist Fight Club, released early 2016. “The most important step I took to getting where I am today was saying ‘Fuck it,’” she says. “I'm going to fight for what I believe in -- even if it meant losing my job.” The only thing losing, at least if Bennett has a say, is the patriarchy.
But why fight, a word and mentality that is easily interpreted as aggressive? A word the media tiptoes around when it comes to women. “Women are too often hesitant to use words like ‘fight,’” says Bennett, “for fear that we'll be perceived as ‘too aggressive.’ But you know what? Aggression is OK, and sometimes it's even necessary.”
She also says she’s “sick of hearing people talk about empowerment and then buy a certain brand of shampoo to attain it.”
“Empowerment is good—but you don’t magically achieve it, you fight for it. To me ‘fight’ implies action, and I believe in action,” Jessica says. “At least when it comes to issues of equality.” When we ask what “female empowerment” means to her, it’s a simple response we’d never considered. “It means feminism,” she says, “but for people who aren’t comfortable with the word."
It’s why she’s focussed her sights on a new position. “Chief Gender Correspondent, New York Times— a job that doesn’t yet exist, but I’m workin’ on it.”
As for the fight club, both her own personal group whom she credits as her mentors, and the group at large, she’s ready to march. (Which she did this past Saturday at the Women's March.) To charge ahead. To give up, never. “It looks like we are a whole lot further from equality than I thought. But that's all the more reason we have to continue to fight -- this battle isn't over any time soon.”
Good thing we've found a leader in Jessica Bennett.