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December 21, 2013

Weekend Reviews: Online magazine gives voice to teen girls

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The Daily Star

---- — I don’t know how many of you are familiar with being a teenage girl, but those of you who are know that (from what I’ve experienced/heard from every woman I’ve ever spoken to) it is pretty much the worst time of one’s entire existence. 

Obviously this applies to guys as well. Adolescence is an awful time for pretty much everyone. But there’s something about being 16 and female that is… hellish? Debilitating? All of the above? 

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that teenage girls are consistently stigmatized and labeled as volatile and immature. Maybe it’s that we’re raised in a culture that teaches us to strive for this intangible societal concept of perfection, to hate every facet of ourselves, and then we are chastised for being “egotistical” or “shallow.”

Regardless of what the cause or causes may be, I think it is universally agreed upon that it is extremely difficult to find a “safe space” as an adolescent girl. Somewhere that you can feel free to express ideas, emotions and fears to a community of peers and older adults who won’t judge or ridicule you based on your appearance, age or gender. But it’s out there, guys! In the form of “Rookie” — an online magazine created primarily by, and for the enjoyment of, teenage girls.

Tavi Gevinson, a 15-year-old blogger from suburban Illinois, started Rookie in 2011. For those of you who have never heard of her, let me just say that Tavi is a goddess. I worship her. Literally. Not only is her entire wardrobe the epitome of aesthetic perfection, but she is undoubtedly the most articulate and genuinely charismatic person that I have ever not met, but Internet stalked probably way too much. 

She has spoken at TEDxTeen and the Sydney Opera House in Australia, as well as being featured in a handful of films including “The Punk Singer,” where she discussed Kathleen Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement. She also edited “Rookie Yearbook One” and “Rookie Yearbook Two,” compilations of some of the best pieces from the online magazine throughout its first two years in a tangible, paperback form. All of this and she’s only 17.

Rookie itself has a wide variety of subject matter. It features creative writing, articles about fashion and pop culture, and advice and narratives on numerous social issues including (but not limited to) feminism, racism and LGBTQ issues. A significant amount of the magazine’s notoriety is gained from its interviews with celebrities such as Sofia Coppola, Morrissey, Emma Watson and Joss Whedon. The interviews are often deeply personal and intriguing, bringing to the spotlight new and enlightening questions for those being interviewed. Because the magazine is geared toward teens, many of them discuss their high school experiences, which are often surprisingly mundane, and occasionally verging on pathetic. 

Another really creative segment is called “Ask a Grown Man.” Basically what this is is when the readers of the magazine get to send in any questions that they may have for a “Grown Man,” and then prominent male celebrities (Andy Samberg, Thom Yorke, Jimmy Fallon, etc.) answer them to the best of their abilities. They’re always wildly amusing, and usually fairly educational as well.

But my favorite aspect of the website is probably just the stories and anecdotes from regular, non-famous girls who grew up surrounded by regular, non-famous people. All of the narratives are extremely well-written and personal, and offer guidance and support for people going through similar experiences. The material is unique in the sense that none of it is censored or sugar-coated to make it “age appropriate.” It’s real people who experience real obstacles; things that teenagers feel and/or experience all across the world, but are rarely discussed because they are considered to be taboo.

The magazine celebrates the stereotype of teenage girls. It encourages girls to own themselves and every facet of their personalities. It reminds them that it’s OK to be awkward and clumsy or passionate and obsessive, and that being 16 and female isn’t synonymous with weakness and passivity. Rookie teaches girls growing up in an oppressive society that they’re not alone, that they are strong and able, and gives young women all across the world a sense of solidarity.  

Katie Huntington is a junior at Oneonta High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk