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Local Luminary: Marianne Schnall 

click to enlarge Photo taken at the Garden Cafe in Woodstock. - KELLY MERCHANT

Writer Marianne Schnall has published interviews with dynamic and powerful women in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, In Style, and the Huffington Post, among others. Schnall recently released Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share insights on Courage, Happiness, and Finding Your Own Voice (Blue Mountain Arts, 2010), a collection that brings together words of wisdom from many of today's most renowned and influential women, including Maya Angelou, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Eve Ensler, Madeleine Albright, and many others. Schnall is also the co-founder and executive director of Feminist.com, a leading women's website and nonprofit organization that recently celebrated its 15-year anniversary. Through her writings, interviews and websites (she is also co-founder of Ecomall.com, a website promoting environmentally friendly living), Schnall strives to raise awareness and inspire activism around important issues and causes. She lives in Woodstock with her husband and two daughters. Schnall will read from Daring to Be Ourselves at Borders Bookstore in Poughkeepsie on February 12 at 1pm.

How did Feminist.com come about?

Back in 1994, my husband decided to launch ecomall.com, an environmental website. At the time, most people didn't even know what the Internet was and he was picking up all these domain names, which were free at the time. The next thing I knew, I had the domain Feminist.com, and I had to figure out what to do with it. Most women's organizations didn't even have websites, and most women weren't even on line—only 15 percent of online users at that time were women. I immediately called up colleagues of mine to get together, and our first goal was to help women's organizations find their way onto the website and the Internet by giving them a free Web presence. It evolved in this very organic grassroots way over the past 15 years, and the goal is to figure out a way of looking at feminism that serves not just women but all of humanity.

How did you decide on the title Daring to Be Ourselves?

Finding the title was not an easy task. I wound up involving so many of my friends and colleagues. It was a huge e-mail campaign and we had all different ideas, but none of them seemed perfect. Then, when I started reading through all the quotes again, and trying to figure out what was the underlying theme, I just kept hearing it again and again and again. Just be who you are. And Leung Ung's quote, "Courage is when you dare to be yourself," evoked the theme so exactly. Which seems so simple—"Just be yourself." But honestly, in our society, there's so much pressure to be something other than who we are, it does take an element of courage to not fall under that spell, and to try to find out who you are and live your life authentically as that person.

Susan Faludi recently wrote an article for Harper's that suggested that young feminists don't seem to respect their elders, or care to learn the history of the feminist movement. Your have a quote from Courtney E. Martin saying that "there's just so much generational segregation in our society that it creates these divisions." Do you agree that this divide exists?

I don't. I do agree with Courtney that there aren't enough opportunities to interact intergenerationally. I attended Omega Institute's Women and Power conference last year, which was intergenerational. It was so powerful and beautiful, and I think that if anybody attended that, they'd have to disagree. What might be interpreted as being a divide is actually because today's feminism just looks different than what looked like back in the days of the suffragist movement, or the days of Gloria Steinem's era. Women today have different concerns and different conditions in their lives and different issues to address.

I work largely in the online world. And that may be why I don't see this so-called apathy, because what I see is that the Internet is just brimming with all these young, empowered women's voices. It may not be us marching in the streets anymore, but that's how we do it in the year 2011.

I particularly like the Gloria Steinem quote "This is a revolution, not a public relations movement." What you think about the somewhat recent movement on many college campuses to move away from "Women's Studies" and into "Gender Studies"?

I think there's the misconception that the word "feminist" doesn't include men, that it's antimale and that women just want to take over the world. There's no way to look at these issues that are impacting women without also acknowledging and looking at issues that impact men. Like what's going on in the Congo right now with so much rape and violence against women and children. You can't just address what's happening to the women, you have to also look at the culture that's producing the men that are doing this. So it's a good thing to have new words and new dialogues about new ways of defining all of these things were facing.

What about the notion of self-identifying with the word feminist, and the struggle many young women ask: Am I still a feminist even if I shave my legs or wear makeup?

I think that what feminism needs to be now is to stop judging each others' choices. Choice is about a woman being able to make her own choices for her life that are rooted in authentic self of what she wants. Some people think that feminism doesn't support a woman who chooses to give up her job and stay home with her kids. But if that is truly what brings that woman joy, and that's what her intuition tells her she should be doing with her life, then that's a feminist act. Feminism has this reputation of being this strident movement that says you can't belong if you shave your armpits, work out, or if you want to get dressed up sometimes. But these are feminist acts if they don't border on things like eating disorders or if you're fixating on being a supermodel size, that's when it's dangerous and not feminist.

In your estimation, do you think we'll ever get to a point where feminism as a revolutionary movement won't be necessary because we have reached equality?

That's a really hard thing to say. I think that we have to think that big. We have to believe it's possible, or else, then why bother? Of course, equality should be the goal. I think that humanity is still evolving spiritually. Our consciousness is still evolving. We have a black president now. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was just repealed. And these are not just victories for black people or for gay people. They're all ways to recognize and celebrate the interconnection and victories for us all. They should not be ways to separate us based on our gender, our race, our sexual orientation. We're all one human family on Earth, so in that sense I think that anything's possible and I think it's important to keep focusing on the positive, which is often what keeps us going.

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