Meet Lauren Rankin: Activist, Jazz Musician, and Pundit Of the Week
Unusual thing I learned this week: PolicyMic writer Lauren Rankin used to do voice-overs for Walgreens. True story. On a separate note, she's our incredible pundit of the week.
As part of the "pundit of the week" blog, we spotlight one exceptional PolicyMic-er to share personal experiences with our community, and pose one never-been-asked question to a staff member. This week's question is for our queen of viral content, (and social justice editor) Elizabeth Plank.
Check out last week's Q&A with Robert Taylor!
About Lauren: Lauren Rankin is a feminist activist, freelance writer, and graduate student in women's and gender studies at Rutgers University. Currently living in Asbury Park, NJ with her boyfriend and dog, she loves to read, write, laugh, travel, and sing. Lauren believes wholeheartedly in the power of collectivity and social justice.
Caira Conner (CC): Let's get started. Tell me about when and why you decided to join PolicyMic.
Lauren Rankin (LR): I started writing for PolicyMic in early April of this year, and that's in large part due to my admiration for PolicyMic editor Elizabeth Plank. The fact that a major political blog for millennials dedicates a section to feminist writers and feminist analysis really sparked my interest.
CC: You're a prolific writer on gender and feminism topics for our site, and unfortunately, a frequent target for trolling. Can you shed a little light on why you think your particular hot-button issues generate such vehement reactions, and if you have any words of wisdom for writers who want to speak out on these issues, but may be hesitant to do so? Do you think trolling is inevitable for certain issues, no matter what?
LR: All feminist activists and writers receive trolls, derogatory comments, and sexist epithets. To a certain extent, it goes with the territory. We are challenging a structure of white, straight, cisgender male dominance, and those who have benefited most from that power structure often find it difficult to really embrace social justice movements. The trolls always find their way to work that is meaningful, and they try to tear it down. Feminist activists and writers, as well as activists and writers of any movement, are contributing, creating, discussing, interrogating. I think a lot of the hatred from trolls is a means of tearing down and derailing those efforts. That's what trolling is all about.
I do think that feminist writers and women receive a certain kind of online vitriol that others don't receive to the same extent, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that we are challenging male privilege. We are challenging power. When you challenge power, those in power or those who benefit from that power structure are going to push back. It comes with the territory of being a feminist activist, and I have developed fairly thick skin. Honestly, I try not to read most of the comments, as I know that many will be either hurtful or offensive.
My best suggestion to other feminist activists and writers is to know that trolls are a sign that you're doing something right. No one would bother to intimidate, offend, or follow your work if they thought you were irrelevant. And honestly, the best advice I can give is this: try not to read the comments. By and large, there won't be a lot of fruitful discussion there. Instead, cultivate relationships with people you trust, people who respect you, even if they don't always agree with you, and seek a discussion there. As my boyfriend says, the internet often caters to the lowest common denominator, and I have found that comment sections reflect that.
CC: What are the advantages of using PolicyMic as your platform? What is one thing you wish you could change about your user experience?
LR: There needs to be a better system in place of removing trolling commenters, especially those who continue to comment over and over again on every single piece with demeaning or inane comments. While there have been some respectful and fruitful comments, by and large, it has become a distraction from the work that I'm doing, and I've mostly stopped reading them. It's become burdensome and irritating, and it takes away from those who are genuinely interested in having a real, respectful discussion.
CC: If you could choose one professional outcome to result from your having used PolicyMic as your platform, what would it be?
LR: PolicyMic has already been a launchpad for me writing at other publications, including the progressive blog TruthOut. I'm definitely going to continue to branch out. There are a lot of online and print spaces for feminist work, and I'm beginning to tap into those.
CC: Let's go offline. What do you like to do when you're not PolicyMic-in'?
LR: Well, I'm a graduate student, so the scholastic year for me is filled with reading and writing papers, which I actually love. I'm definitely a nerd in that way. I live on the Jersey Shore, so I love to spend time on the boardwalk with my boyfriend and our dog. Before graduate school, I was a singer and voice-over actor (I did the voice-over spots for Walgreens for two years, actually), so I still have a soft spot for singing at jazz bars and things like that. I love college football, especially my alma mater, Northwestern University. Go Cats! Mostly, I just love to laugh. It rejuvenates me.
CC: Your turn. What's one question you have for a member of our staff?
LR: My question is for Elizabeth Plank. What brought you to feminist consciousness and what fuels the work that you do?
Elizabeth Plank: My mother. She's my hero, my inspiration and she's the reason I became the feminist that I am. Without a strong and outspoken female figure in my life, I would have never been bold enough to swim against the tide and fight for my ideas to be heard. She dared me to be different. She dared me to be myself. She dared me to think outside the patriarchal box. The other great thing she did was marry my dad. He gave me a deep sense of compassion and empathy for others that I just haven't been able to shake. It motivates everything that I do. Having a very low tolerance for pain and sufferance motivates me to keep fighting against inequality.
CC: Lauren, PolicyMic is lucky to have you. Thank you for sharing your voice!
For more news on Lauren, follow her on Twitter: @laurenarankin