She-roes Speaking Up to Redefine Feminism

It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month again and girl power is in the air.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve been fixating lately on a simple question that  Emma Bee Bernstein and Nona Willis Aronowitz asked me two years ago in October of 2007:

What does feminism mean to you?

Nona and Emma had just begun an extensive road trip for a book that they were writing, which debuted earlier this month. They interviewed women all over the country in the name of Girldrive, attempting to discover the truths about what twenty-something women today really care about. As an interviewee, they asked me about my hopes, my worries, my dreams and my ambitions. And they asked me about feminism.

To be honest, I was at a loss for words. These hipster ladies seemed to be the epitome of twenty-something feminism. How could I align myself with these incredible skinny-jeans-(before-they-took-off)-wearing women, who are both daughters of women involved in the early feminist movement, and who were on the road redefining feminism? It is only now– two years later– while reading about myself on page 41 of Girldrive, that I truly understand what feminism means to me.

When you are in the workforce and the adult world, feminism is everywhere and– here’s a lovely surprise– it is always on the move! Penelope Trunk wrote about having a miscarriage at work in the name of feminism. The Dalai Lama considers himself a feminist, and one of Obama’s first actions in office was his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January. Girldrive taught me that feminism is more than these things, though: It is a call to action.

It is being yourself and it is talking about it.

The things that Nona wrote about, mostly and thankfully, weren’t the things that I said when I was watching my words. In a single page in a book, she wrote about some of the personal struggles that I’ve faced as a woman– that I guess I never realized were struggles at all; It was just my life. But then again, maybe that’s feminism: just being a woman who believes in herself and being alive to talk about it.

Nona wrote about my spontaneous move to Seattle with no money or plan, and how my “sunny disposition” (flattering, right?) seemed at odds with my status as an art major at The University of Chicago. They touched upon my relationship with my sorority, and the personal story behind the brooding self-portraits that I created for my senior show in college.  They described me as “a bundle of contradictions” (I often feel this way about myself as well). Before Girldrive came out, I didn’t think twice about the crazier aspects of my personal choices. I didn’t realize that my passions, dilemmas, and obstacles might be any different than those of other twenty-something women (and the powerful truth is that they aren’t that different).

The short article has put my own courage and quirkiness into third-person perspective- and it makes me realize the importance of sharing stories. To me, that is what feminism has become within the last two years: the courage to do whatever it is you need to do, and a willingness to speak about your lessons and adventures. I don’t think this particular case applies to only women, either.

“The more women talk, the more they can make informed decisions about their lives, their level of activism, and their relationships with people around them… The biggest delay to social change is silence, and the biggest roadblock for the future is the erasure of history.” – Afterword, Girldrive

I owe Emma and Nona a great deal of credit for getting me to think about my own definition of feminism and helping me to uncover the incredible strength of sharing my personal experiences. The book is filled with stories of everyday inspirational women, and it provides great discussion-fuel! I think that all women are “she-roes” in their own way. When I entered the working world two years ago, I didn’t think of myself as one of those she-roes out there in the great beyond. Now, I see where I stand and I’m happy to be here playing my part.

So, find your own story:

What does feminism mean to you?




A handful of nonprofit organizations and museums supporting she-roes:

American Breast Cancer Society


Equality Now

Girls, Inc.The Women’s Museum

Global Fund for Women

International Museum of Women

League of Women Voters

National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Organization for Women

Planned Parenthood

Step Up Women’s Network

Women’s Health Foundation

Posted on by colleendilen in Book Reviews, Nonprofits 5 Comments

About the author


MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

5 Responses to She-roes Speaking Up to Redefine Feminism

  1. ajlovesya

    I LOVE this post. I always struggle with how I define feminism/womanism. Im constantly looking at the intersection of race and gender since both include my definition of womanhood. Do they address this at all in their work?

  2. Elisa

    Colleen, I can totally relate! If there is one moment that I can identify that led me to where I am now in my life, it would be the moment when, back in college as I interviewed for a job at the Womyn’s Resource Center, I was asked how I defined feminism.

    I was completely speechless after getting that question. Thankfully I did get the job and dedicated a significant amount of my first year there organizing a conference on feminism(s). It was an amazing experience and led to a job in a women’s rights organization in DC and eventually to where I am now.

    The thing that still fascinates me is that the definition and what it means to you constantly changes – but its always there helping you to be stronger.

    Thanks for this post!

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  4. colleendilen

    Thanks for the comments, Allison and Elisa!

    Allison- they do interview a few women that identify intersections between race and gender. The book is made up of many, little one-page stories so it perhaps provides talking points and leaves the ladies to their opinions in the book.There are two interesting girls (Mayaba and Mandisa) in New Orleans that stood out to me because they are the first in the book to directly state that feminism should not be devoid of race or ethnicity. There’s a girl (Pia) in NY who says she is not a feminist and that racial activism is a higher priority for her. I’d love to learn more about your thoughts on the intersection of race and feminism, Allison! I imagine you’d have a lot of interesting things to share.

    Elisa, glad to hear I’m not the only one who has been completely caught off-guard by (the term) feminism! I knew what it meant, but I hadn’t outwardly communicated a connection to it before. You are sure right that the definition constantly changes. How cool and strange is that? And I find that it changes *with* me as I gain more and more life experience. I love that your being asked the question led you to work in a women’s rights organization. It’s just like your blog post ( These things start so simply, and then before you know it…

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