There are a lot of stereotypical images of teenage girls: vain, ditzy, obsessed with pop music. Tavi Gevinson makes it her job to break these stereotypes. As she sees it, "A lot of teenage girls are very articulate and maybe they like Taylor Swift and One Direction, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t also smart and strong.”
Gevinson, 17, is editor-in-chief of Rookie, a popular online magazine for teenage girls. She acts as a sort of statesman for girls, giving interviews in media like The New York Times and The Colbert Report. Gevinson said she likes breaking clichés about teenage girls and defending them to adults.
“Every three months some think-piece comes out and talks about how narcissistic my generation is," Gevinson said. "I don’t think the people who write this stuff realize that it’s also very narcissistic to give your opinion in an article.”
Instead, Gevinson thinks that places like Tumblr have a better pulse on teen media. There, along with cat GIFs and artifacts of procrastination, young people discuss serious issues like mental illness and sexism. Tumblr is "a great example about how honesty, and just talking about serious stuff really does resonate with people [her age],” she said. "Maybe when you get older you block that stuff out, but for people who are currently going through all of that, it's helpful to talk about it."
That's why Gevinson makes sure that Rookie addresses serious topics. “Usually people like that," she said. "And I’m lucky to live in a time where people seem really ready for that.”
The magazine isn't all about dark or intense issues, it also contains fashion shoots and candy reviews. What ties everything together is Rookie’s - and Gevinson's - feminist ideals.
“I'm a feminist. Many of our staffers are feminists. Everything on the site is guided by feminist principles," Gevinson said. "We don’t want to use feminist jargon; we don’t want everything to sound like a thesis. Some people think that once you identify as a feminist you're saying goodbye to fun. I think it’s important for people to know that you can be a feminist and also like stuff.”
Gevinson, based outside of Chicago, will be graduating high school this summer. She said she wants to be involved with Rookie after she graduates, maybe even spending a gap year to expand the magazine. However, she doesn’t want to wallow in the teenage experience forever.
“Being a teenager has been such an amazing experience for me, but you don’t want to get stuck in that. You don't want to be like, 'those were the best years of my life — high school — the glory days,'” she said. “So on a personal, creative level it will be important for me to no longer write about this time in my life."
Looking ahead, Gevinson feels like a lot of young people do. "I just want to learn a lot and make things. I don’t know, I want to try a lot of different things. It's so hard to decide on a path right now,” she said.
RadioActive is KUOW's program for high school students, and all the stories here are produced by youth age 16-21. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook.