Last night one of my dreams came true: I met Tavi Gevinson, the creator of Rookie, an online feminist pop-culture magazine for teenage girls. Because I lived under an internet rock, I was a bit late to joining the Tavi train and didn’t even know about Rookie until a couple of years ago when the focus of my project shifted to teenage girls and a friend of mine told me about this awesome magazine. Having grown up with Seventeen and YM, and no real feminist figures in my life, I was blown away when I saw that Rookie talked about all of these supposedly taboo subjects. From “Everybody Farts,” to “How to Look Like You Weren’t Just Crying in Less Than Five Minutes,” and “Freak Like Me,” Rookie makes space for the awkwardness of being a teenager. So while Rookie contributor Krista gives young girls tips for how to make it look like they weren’t just crying, she is careful to note that, “it’s OOOOOOOK. I just have a lot of feelings. It’s fine to cry. Let it out. There’s nothing wrong with crying.” Her drawn out “ok,” all in caps lock, serves to mirror the excessive nature of having “a lot of feelings.”
After finding out about Rookie I decided that I needed to write about it in my academic work. I wanted to show the world of academics just how awesome this website is and all of the amazing work it’s doing for feminism. I found this TedXTeen Talk with Tavi where she explains her motivation behind starting Rookie and the magazine’s feminist politics: “I wanted to start a website for teenaged girls that was not kind of this one-dimensional strong character empowerment thing, because one thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be feminists they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in their beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all the answers. . . and this is not true and actually recognizing all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I realized that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process.” I love how Tavi basically says: “Look, we’re not perfect and we’re not going to be. That’s okay. Let’s just recognize that and make space for the contradictions and imperfections of being a feminist.” Tavi and Rookie work to get rid of all of the fears that surround not being a “good feminist.”
Young girls have enough to worry about. Like the narrative that they feel too much, their feelings are too intense, and this fear has become internalized. In an essay entitled “The Wallow” from 2014, Rookie contributor Emily describes how “in high school, my emotions overwhelmed me. Joy, misery, confusion, embarrassment—I was powerless against the undertow of every one, constantly grappling towards the shore.” When she went to college, Emily decided to counteract her, “teenage emotional tornado by intellectualizing all [her] feelings away” – but in truth, she was terrified and was “afraid of seeming like an emotional person because I’d internalized our culture’s misogynistic view of women as ‘hysterical’ and weak.”
When we accuse someone of wallowing, we usually associate it with negative affects: one is wallowing in self-pity or wallowing in their ignorance. And yet, etymologically, to wallow means to devote oneself to unrestrained pleasure; to indulge oneself immoderately in or give oneself up to unlimited enjoyment. In the verb wallow we find both pleasure and pain and we find excess. And these are the very characteristics that Freud ascribes to the hysteric. If we were to read Emily as Freud might, then it would appear that Emily’s feelings have control over her. But for Emily, wallowing an intentional act, one that demonstrates control: “When something happens to me that brings on a flood of emotions, I give myself a set amount of time to feel those emotions fully, deeply, as dramatically as I want—but for 20 minutes max […] In those 20 minutes, I devote all my energy to being furious, or embarrassed, or uncomfortable, or whatever. If I get bored with my emotions, too bad: I order myself to continue […] Once they’ve had their day in the fun, my feelings don’t feel so powerful anymore.” For Emily, “The Wallow lets me turn in to my emotional advisors and act in a way that properly honors them.”
What I love about Emily’s essay is that her solution to overcoming this harmful narrative is to “wallow” – an act which, as Leslie Jamison points out in her essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” tends to come in the form of an accusation (214). In other words, to wallow is to perform suffering rather than experience it. Like Jamison, Emily takes issue with this claim and turns wallowing into a productive site for working through her feelings, while not getting trapped by them.
There is perhaps no feeling more befitting of the term wallow than FOMO: the fear of missing out. Thanks to the internet age when and all manner of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr), you can see all of the fun things your friends are doing without you – and you can wallow in the pain of being left out. In her essay, “Saying No to FOMO: A roundtable about feeling like everyone’s hanging out without you” Krista defines FOMO: “FOMO is so many things. It’s the feeling that you must attend a particular party, even though you’d much rather stay home, because what if this party is the most fun party of the entire year, where stuff so crazy happens that everyone talks of nothing else for months? […] FOMO is feeling pressure to go to the same college all your friends are going to, or feeling pressure to go to college at all, even if you don’t want to go, because OMG WHAT WILL YOU BE MISSING, you know? […] It’s a black hole of suckage and negativity, and a handy acronym that neatly encompasses a huge range of complicated emotions, including feeling left out, envious, hurt, anxious, angry, and unconfident. Awesome.”
Krista defines FOMO as feeling envious. It would seem that envy is a feeling that is antithetical to fostering relationships with others – unless we’re talking about the dreaded “frenemy”: the friend who secretly hates you. Interestingly, Freud argues that envy can help produce “group feeling” and foster group formation. But as Sianne Ngai notes, “the subject’s identification-based sense of collective belonging emerges only after he is forced to give up his ugly feeling” (164). What would it mean to be able to keep one’s ugly feelings? To embrace them as part of your lived experience, but not let them destroy you? What we can see in Krista’s roundtable discussion are myriad voices who make a similar claim: “it’s kind of inevitable that you’ll feel FOMO, so long as you still want to be a part of the digital age. We all feel it. Here are some strategies to help manage it.”
In her editor’s letter to the May 2014 issue “Together,” Gevinson writes: “We all feel a little uncool, we have all known pain, and this commonality serves as the basis for so many kinds of Together that my heart feels more ready for than ever.” For Gevinson, the internet can invoke FOMO, but it can also serve as “the onramp en route to a feeling of Together”: “Sometimes this desire to be part of a whole is FOMO, sometimes it’s the disturbing dopamine rush from seeing new Instagram notifications, but often it’s just the itch to learn from and share with other people, and what could be more pure, human, and/or earnest than that?” In other words, FOMO can bring us together – not by eliminating or ignoring the feelings of jealousy or envy; rather, if we dig deep and ask ourselves what those feelings are about, we realize how they represent our desire to be together.
In Gevinson’s diary she writes: “I’ve always felt a little too inside it or maybe a little too happy, more recently, to understand how badly some people love [Rookie] and relate to it and hold it close on an emotional, not just an intellectual, level. But now I fully understand the immense comfort of knowing that something like this exists, that people care, that we’re all feeling everything. I’m crying!” And Gevinson’s feelings are reciprocated by her readers. Amanda writes: “I once sent an email to the submissions address that was really just a teary, sad, hopeless ‘I’m never gonna work in the field I want to’ thing. And I’ve regretted sending it, but the reason I did is that Rookie ~really is~ this emotional place where all us readers can come to feel safe and cared about.” gracelliot tells Rookie “now I’m crying! <3” while Kal feels a “multitude of emotions” and Mae85’s “heart burst with joy a thousand times while reading this.” Gevinson’s editor’s letter has produced an excess of feeling so strong that Mae85’s heart bursts, not just once, but a thousand times. What in reality is a grotesque and hideous image is used to represent tenderness, intimacy, and care. Put another way, what is hideous, excessive about teen girl feelings works to facilitate bonds of communication and produce a community of affect, where “we’re all feeling everything” together.
This post was written by Margeaux