POV with Jennifer Baumgardner:

Jennifer Baumgardner is an accomplished author, playwright, filmmaker and publisher, who was first introduced to the feminist publishing industry through her position at Ms. magazine in 1993.  She then left the magazine to write articles (Glamour, Teen Vogue, Bust, New York Times, The Nation, etc.) and books (Manifesta, Grassroots, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics, etc.) and to make documentaries (I Had an Abortion, It Was Rape). After 4 years as ED of Feminist Press, in 2017 she launched Dottir Press, a name inspired by the Icelandic word for "daughter". To this day, Baumgardner is working to bring awareness to the struggles that women and other minorities experience in their lifetime, and is advocating for change, one book at a time.

Dottir Press was founded in 2017 with the mission of passing on and building upon feminist intellectual and creative legacies. It actively transmits female intellectual production, while also ushering forth narratives that are suppressed in widely distributed channels. Dottir Press serves as an outlet for feminist and LGBTQ+ advocacy, and showcases the talents and messages of both authors and artists who are passionate about bringing forth representation and change in society.

DW: Why did you start your own publishing company?

JB: I work well with other people, but I don’t work well for other people. I think being a boss is hard. But having a smaller publishing company, it’s given me and the people who work for me to have more opportunity to do more things. Anytime I start a project I realize that I have to finish what I start. 

DW: What struggles or challenges did you have to overcome in the publishing industry?

JB: My first job was at a feminist magazine. We didn’t have enough resources back then and got used to working on operating on a shoestring budget. I have never worked in a traditional company—like in banking. I’ve always worked in organizations dominated by women. Working only in feminism you become sensitive to intra-feminist conflicts.

DW: How would a high school student like me get involved in activism?

JB: First you need to find your cause. What are you interested in? For me it was mainly through my personal experience. My older sister went through a traumatic experience in high school. She was slut-shamed and demeaned in high school because of it and the experience stuck with me. It’s been something that I’ve been working on my whole life. I’ve been writing books about it. I made a documentary about my sister’s rape. I produced a play called Slut with another author, then the play turned into a TV show called Grand Army. Right now I’m creating a sex education program for 7th graders at my son’s school. So this is how I came to my cause, through my sister Andrea’s story, and the guilt I felt about it. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I do think that the things we do, the actions we take, is because of something that we are trying to work on inside of us.

DW: My brother and I are fortunate to go to an international school because we are taught to respect pronouns and celebrate differences, whether it’s sexual orientation or people’s perspectives. The first step to respecting others is to learn their names. At my school, the teachers make it a prerogative to pronounce all the student’s names correctly. They understand its importance. As a mother of two sons growing up in NYC, how should kids today think about all the social evolutions we are going through and how do we fit boys into feminism?

JB: Kids today already know how to step into this. It’s definitely a dialect they’ve learned since a young age. Even at age 4, my son Magnus knew what being non-binary was and the importance of referring to different pronouns. These kids don’t have to spend a lot of time wrapping their minds around these concepts like we have because they’ve been born into it. Feminism has become more socially accepted but now there are other elements that come into play than just men and women. 

DW: How did you get into activism? What made you that way or were you born that way?

JB: I kind of was born that way. I’m a bossy middle child. My older sister was kind of shy and my younger sister was kind of shy. I felt it was sort of innate. And because of what happened to my older sister in high school, I felt like I had to act, stand up for her and protect her. I think people come into activism through their personal experience. My older sister’s experience where I saw her getting put through the meat grinder, I knew the way she was treated by other girls and everyone else was wrong. Once I was in college I wanted to know more, to be able to reframe it. I was able to sort of put words to the experience and start making sense of it.

Most of my life, being a feminist wasn’t considered popular as it is right now. If you called yourself a feminist you could expect a lot of blow-back so if that was going to be a part of my identity I had to steel myself. So that is probably what helped shape my identity growing up.

Powerful words with Jennifer Baumgardner.