Deborah Siegel is Co-Leader of our Public Voices Fellowship program at DePaul University and a public seminar leader. This Q&A is a special for our Chicago newsletter. Sign up for it by emailing here.
1) How long have you been with OEP? What brought you on-board?
I joined the ever-growing crew sometime in 2010. But Katie Orenstein and I go way back. I’d been giving workshops on translating ideas for trade, and making ideas pop, ever since I finished my PhD; I knew I wanted to write more broadly, and outside academia, myself. Once Katie, who worked with me on reframing my dissertation into a book, showed me how to reshape my prose, I knew I wanted to help other scholars figure out ways to rethink the public import of their ideas, too. Katie had lobbied to bring me on board earlier, but I was involved with other things at the time (helping launch She Writes, raising infant twins…!). When I had to move on from She Writes, and the timing was finally right, I started teaching the core seminar. I love it so much, I haven’t stopped.
2) You’ve published a book on feminism–with a great pink cover I might add. How does it relate to your work with OEP?
That book, Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild, was my bridge. It started out as a highly theoretical treatise on an academic topic, and ended up being a widely read book that landed me on The Today Show, on campuses giving talks, and more. I still travel during Women’s History Month and do talks on feminism across generations, and the sociopolitical issues still affecting women’s lives. But there’s a story here. I had to convince my publisher that this book should be on their “trade” list, and not only their scholarly one. In the process, I learned a different way of carrying my ideas forward, a broader-reaching one. It was such a thrill to feel that wider impact around the ideas I was passionate about, I immediately wanted to share what I had learned, and pass it on.
OEP is all about mentorship, and coaching others wishing for a larger voice to do what we ourselves have done. It’s about helping forge the bridge that enables other people’s voices—underrepresented voices—to be heard.
3) Your TEDxWindyCity video talks about the gender and your boy-girl twins. Can you tell us more about that?
I’m currently engaged in a multimedia experiment in thinking aloud, and in community, about the gendering of earliest childhood (Tots in Genderland). The TEDx talk [below] is part of it.
My husband Marco is a graphic designer by training (and an OEP Chicago alum!). We’ve always dreamed of some kind of creative collaboration—not that raising twins isn’t one, but we want to team up professionally in some way too. During our children’s first three years, I kept a running log of my hopes, expectations, and blunders while striving to follow feminism’s so-called “rules” for raising a liberated daughter and a sensitive son. I also launched a Tumblr blog (The Pink and Blue Diaries) where I capture links, quotes, and threads from popular debates around gender and kids, and a Pinterest board (Tots in Genderland), where people are posting photos of young kids upholding, and breaking, gender norms. I’ve been thinking about ways to integrate the verbal and the visual, ways to pull together the personal, cultural, and theoretical strands. Later this month, the two of us will be spending time at Ragdale, a writing residency, to work on the graphic memoir that will likely result from it all.
4) What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m a proud member of a coalition of girls, businesses, experts, not-for-profit organizations, activists, parents and educators that make up the recently formed Brave Girls Alliance. We’re out to counter toxic media and toys that risk healthy and empowered girlhood and ask media content creators, retailers, and large corporations to do better by our girls. Our communities and all our allies have been using the hashtag #BraveGirlsWant to express their wishes and aspirations. We want to magnify their voices by showcasing them in digital billboards and special venues all over the world. We’re starting with Times Square. There’s a powerfully viral video and an Indiegogo campaign to fund the purchase of electronic billboard space on October 11th, the second International Day of the Girl —there are 30 days left to make it a go. The momentum is pretty phenomenal.
5) Any words of wisdom for aspiring thought leaders and/or writers?
One of my favorite bits of writing advice—and it’s been said by others as well—comes from Bonnie Friedman, who writes, “Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.” Because writing is full of difficulties. The key is to stick with it—and to run (fast!) and find yourself a writing community, if you haven’t already. Friends don’t let friends write alone.
Writers, increasingly, have a tremendous opportunity to become thought leaders when they develop their platform and their leadership profile in ways that make their ideas pop and spread. I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “thought leadership,” where it originated, how it gets used and abused. I’ve been posting some thoughts on it all at Thought Bubbles, the new-ish blog at my home site, and at Girl w/Pen, the group blog I run. Can thought leadership be communal? Is a curator a thought leader, or must thought leadership always “make it new”? What can thought leaders outside of academia learn from those operating from within, and vise versa?
I’ve long been interested in the cross-fertilization of knowledge both within and across campus walls. Personally, I strive to lead by example, and am always hungry to adopt new ways of spreading messages. I think to be a writer who leads with her thought, or a thought leader who spreads her message through writing, you have to be willing to take risks, experiment, and play. If that means pushing yourself past your comfort zone to master new tricks, so be it. Just be sure that you’re also having some serious fun. Only when activities bring an element of pleasure do they become habits, and that’s the secret to thought leadership, I feel: fostering contagious change out in the world and inside yourself.