In the past year, Tavi Gevinson has graduated from high school, moved to New York, found her first apartment, and made her Broadway debut in the critically lauded play This Is Our Youth. The fashion It Girl (she started her blog in eighth grade) and editor-in-chief also continued producing her Rookie online magazine—by, for, and about young women. Oh, and she just celebrated her 19th birthday.
“What’s most powerful about Tavi is she is the living embodiment of what is possible in the feminist world when girls are empowered to share their vision and voice with the world,” said writer, transgender rights activist and MSNBC host Janet Mock in her introduction of Gevinson during the third morning of the Women in the World summit.
Gevinson is in a unique situation because, as she’s growing up, she’s simultaneously tasked with giving advice to an audience who’s now actually younger than she is. “I started Rookie because I needed Rookie,” she said. “Now I feel comfortable in the world and feel really lucky to have an audience of people who have allowed me to grow and change.”
But Rookie’s not just for teens. Mock said that she’s a devoted reader, as are many of her adult women friends. So what makes the publication — which covers topics of self-esteem, self-care, and relationships — appealing for so many age groups? Gevinson thinks “that’s a testament to the fact that there aren’t actually that many differences between teenagers and adults. I probably flatter myself by saying, ‘Oh, it’s been such a long time since high school,’ but I have the same hang-ups and anxieties as before, they’ve just been transferred to adult life.”
About that adult life: As you might imagine from the preternaturally poised young woman, she’s adapted to her new home in New York just fine. Rather than dwelling on her own life, she said she finds herself swept up in the city’s pulsing, go-go-go atmosphere: “When you’re spiraling or having an existential crisis, in New York it’s like, ‘Shut up, keep going, you’re fine!’
Growing up during the age of the Internet and blogging — and reading back issues of Sassy magazine — helped define Gevinson’s definition of feminism: “I believe in equality. I feel like being a girl does not limit me in any way and I don’t want anyone else to feel limited by that either.”
But Gevinson doesn’t want to stand as some sort of symbol for all young women. Seeing herself called “the voice of a generation” is a “nightmare,” she said, a limiting perspective that can make certain people feel like outsiders if they can’t identify with the people christened with these titles: “There can be a little more democracy about the ideas that get passed around online and the role models people can find for themselves.”
All of the achievements she’s had at such a young age comes with a strange counterpoint. “Culture is so obsessed with youth,” said Mock, “and with that kind of messaging around your age and what you’ve accomplished, do you feel that’s empowering or fetishized?” Gevinson admitted that she doesn’t feel like anyone else out in the world is pressuring her — she said with a dose of self-deprecation that no one pays such close attention to her — and that her evolution is more about the pressure that she puts on herself. “The danger in coveting youth is you’re fighting a losing battle because you’re literally aging every second.”
For years, Gevinson has cultivated relationships with her readers online, where she’s found and developed a supportive community. “I’ve met lots of girls through social media, where there’s a shared understanding on Twitter and Tumblr and elsewhere that we all want each other to feel good and comfortable and like we want to be ourselves.” As for trolls, she just shuts them out. “There is a difference between constructive criticism and useless trolling. If the criticism stays with you and really bothers you, there might be some truth to it — I try to be honest with myself if that happens to me — but I can’t imagine letting something like that affect what’s going on in my personal life.”
Instead of letting online critics define who she is, she highlights how far removed they are from her actual life: “There are so many degrees of separation between who you are, what you write, what critics see, what they take in, what they shoot back.”
It’s hard not to admire Gevinson’s wisdom, which may spring from her previously having felt like an “outsider,” and which she’s now translated into a forum for young, likeminded women. “The human condition is innately lonely or isolating and everyone feels on the outside of something, and that’s why people we think of as successful or great artists can also produce work about that feeling,” she said. “That’s what bonds us.”
Her closing advice echoes the ethos of Women in the World, which has gathered together firebrands, activists, entrepreneurs, and gatekeepers over three inspiring days at the David H. Koch theater in New York. In the early morning hours on the final day, she urged the crowd to “Surround yourself with opinions of people you trust.” Thankfully, all of the women present have already taken her advice to heart.