Chloe Angyal: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s Badass is Chloe Angyal. Chloe is a blogger and freelance writer based in New York City. She writes at her own blog, and is an editor of well-known feminist blog Feministing. Her work has also appeareed in various online and print venus, including Slate, Salon, Jezebel, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Christian Science Monitor. In her writing, Chloe has covered a variety of topics, including body image, pop culture, women in politics and reproductive rights.

Here are her answers:

When was your feminist/activist awakening? Did you know you wanted to be doing the kind of work you are now, or did it come as a surprise to you?

Like a lot of people of my generation, I grew up with feminism in the water. My mom was a Second Waver who did feminist public health work her whole life. My dad did my hair for ballet on Saturday mornings and certainly identifies as a feminist. I was really lucky to grow up in that kind of environment. And there was a watered-down, commercialized feminism in the cultural water when I was growing up, too. I came of age in the “girl power” era in pop culture – I think the first Spice Girls album was one of the first CDs I ever bought myself.

But I didn’t explicitly start identifying as a feminist until I was about fifteen. I went on a three-month exchange to France, and I stayed with a traditional family in a tiny town in Brittany. For the first time, it occurred to me that my parents’ arrangement: two careers, two last names, sharing parenting duties (and, it should be noted, hiring a fair bit of outside help to make those two careers possible), was unusual. And, to me, vastly preferable. I remember being really annoyed when my host dad came home, plonked down on the couch and watched TV until dinner was ready, then went back to the TV after dinner as my mom cleaned up after the meal she had just cooked. I recently found my diary from that time and I wrote something like, “I’m so confused, isn’t France the birthplace of Simone de Beauvoir and modern feminism?”

That trip was significant for other reasons. I went from taking four dance classes a week to doing no exercise and eating a lot of rich French winter food. I gained a lot of weight, and I really hated it. I hated going home and being so much bigger than when I left, and feeling like my classmates and my family and friends were all judging me as some kind of failure. I hated how angry and inferior that made me feel – and I hated that something as trivial as two dress sizes could make me feel all those things. But then I read The Beauty Myth and I realized that it wasn’t actually trivial; it was political. And it wasn’t just me, either. Say what you will about what Naomi Wolf has said and written since that book (and believe me, there’s a lot I want to say about that), that book changed my life.

I didn’t know I wanted to do this kind of work. I wanted to be a dancer, actually. I’ve been a performer my whole life, and I really wanted to do that professionally, but my parents very wisely insisted that I finish college before attempting that. They wanted me to have a great education because, you know, ankles break, or in my case, spinal discs herniate, and that can end a dancing career. I think they were secretly hoping that during college I would find something more stable, and lucrative, than dancing. I found feminist writing, which is one-eighteenth of a modicum more stable and lucrative than dancing. Suckaaaahs!

But yes, it comes as a surprise to me, a happy surprise, that I get to do what I do. I have always loved to write, and I feel so grateful that I get to use that talent in a way that, hopefully, helps people and makes the world a better place.

You joined the Feministing team in 2009. Do you remember when you first started reading the blog yourself? What has it been like working with some of the pioneers of feminist blogging?

I started reading the blog in the spring of 2008. I was a junior in college, and I was in the eating disorder awareness and prevention group on my college campus, and we brought Courtney Martin in to speak. I was assigned the task of introducing her before her talk, so I started reading Feministing for a little bit of background. And I was totally hooked. I started reading it daily, and then it was my home page, and then I started reading Shakesville and Shapely Prose and a bunch of other great feminist blogs, and by the end of that semester I had decided that our campus needed its own feminist blog. I started it when I came back to campus that fall.

What has it been like working with some of the pioneers of feminist blogging? It’s been like a goddamn dream. I wish me from the spring of 2008 could see this. Past-me be so excited. Past-me would also wonder when and why future-me finally caved and started wearing skinny jeans, but that’s another story.

You are writing your dissertation on the portrayal of women, gender and sex in Hollywood romantic comedies. What led you to this topic? What is your favorite “good” romcom? What is the most distressing one you have come across?

The thesis grew out of a year-long series I did at Feministing. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the genre for a while, and in 2010 I decided I wanted to take a closer look at contemporary romantic comedies, so I saw and reviewed every single rom com that came out that year. About half way through I realized that I wanted to keep writing about them, and that I wanted to learn more about their history and their development. I wanted to figure out exactly how we ended up with the spate of particularly sexist rom coms we got in the last few years. And I’m certainly not the first scholar to write about popular culture or even about romantic comedies. There’s a whole body of literature on romance novels, and when I was doing my literature review, some of the most interesting stuff I read was about gender in horror movies.

There’s no such thing as a perfectly feminist rom com. There’s no such thing as perfectly feminist pop culture. But there are elements, glimmers of hope, in a lot of movies. For example, I love Emma Stone’s character in Easy A. I like that she’s smart, and observant, and self-aware, and imperfect. I love her relationship with her parents. I love their relationship with each other. The movie isn’t perfect, but it’s got more glimmers than your average rom com.

The most distressing rom com I’ve come across is Kate and Leopold, which stars Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. It pains me to say this, because Hugh Jackman is a gentleman and a scholar and a countryman and a total babe. But that movie is the worst. At the end, the educated, professionally successful independent woman goes back in time, giving up her family, her career – not to mention the right to vote, contraception and indoor plumbing – to be with the man she loves. It’s horrendous.

Earlier this year, you started the Tumblr “Men who Trust Women”, as a response to the increasingly anti-woman discourse around birth control, abortion and sexuality in the US. Can you tell us why you chose that name and what you hoped to achieve with the Tumblr project? How has the reception been so far?

The name is a reference to the late Dr. George Tiller’s motto, “trust women,” and to the original subtitle of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, “men who hate women.”

I was really dismayed by the fact that most of the men who were speaking publicly about reproductive health were anti-choice. There were some exceptions: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Martin O’Malley, Garry Trudeau. Bless those men, I’m so glad they stepped up.  But they were few and far between. With the exception of those few men, you could be forgiven for thinking that there weren’t any pro-choice men out there. So I wanted to create a space for those men to make themselves known. But, I didn’t want to use the phrase “pro-choice” if I could help it, because while I identify that way, and while I really value that term and that movement, that term is highly politicized, and I didn’t want this to be about red-blue left-right politics. I wanted it to be about what it’s about at its core: women are human and humans have rights. I wanted to make it as simple as I could: do you identify as a man? Do you trust women to make their own choices about their own bodies? Are you a man who trusts women? No labels, no barriers to entry. Trust women.

So far, the reception has been great. We had hundreds of men submit their stories, and now I’m working with a young filmmaker, Alexandra Steinmetz, to turn a couple of the stories into documentary shorts, which is so exciting. Alex doesn’t know this, but I’ve already bought a megaphone and a floppy old-timey director’s hat, like in Singin’ in the Rain. It’s going to be awesome. On a more serious note, I’m excited to put faces and names to some of these remarkable stories. Now we just need to raise the money to make it happen!

Do you have any new or upcoming projects that you would like to share with us? What are you working on and thinking about these days?

I’m really focusing on my dissertation, and my book, right now. At some point I’m going to have to lock myself away in a room like a monk and get them both done. Maybe I’ll buy myself a nice brown hooded robe for that. But that would look pretty weird with the floppy director’s hat.


Thank you for your time, and good luck with your thesis!

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One Comment on “Chloe Angyal: Badass Activist Friday”

  1. 1 What We Missed said at 5:00 pm on May 11th, 2012:

    […] proud to be The Line Campaign’s “Badass Activist” of the […]

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