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For the Teen Who Has Everything: The Badass Feminist Coloring Book

Seattle-area feminist writer, mom and social media activist Ijeoma Oluo was driven to create a coloring book like no other

Published on: December 08, 2015

Photo Credit: Ijeoma Oluo

Many of us have fond memories of filling in empty fields with periwinkle, magenta and copper throughout our childhood and even our adolescence (Remember Doodle Art?). Coloring is a pleasure Seattle-area feminist writer and social media activist Ijeoma Oluo remembered well when, as an adult, she first started coloring printouts of portraits she’d drawn of friends and family.

“I was immediately transported back to second grade — coloring in my Barbie coloring books with loving detail. But this was even better than Barbie coloring books because I was coloring people I loved,” Oluo says. This rediscovery of a childhood pleasure quickly led Oluo to create the newly released Teen Friendly Edition of The Badass Feminist Coloring Book: A Colorful Celebration of Modern-Day, Intersectional Feminism.

The Badass Feminist Coloring Book might be just the gift for the alternative teen on your list with whom you’d like to open a few conversation doors. The book offers dozens of images of feminist activists of different ages, races, abilities, professions, gender identities and sexual orientations. The coloring book’s images of diverse feminists are accompanied by provocative and inspirational quotes. Artist and co-founder of Siren (a conversation community created by artists), Susie Lee, is shown in a hooded jacket and a thoughtful pose, and underneath her image, her quote reads:

I rarely see myself as Asian, Woman, or Short. It still surprise me when these are pointed out because I seriously think: Wait. You don’t see force of nature first?

Winking and open-mouthed with a keyboard slung over her shoulder, Whitney Pow, a video game designer, Ph.D. student and writer, tells us:

As queer people and as women, activists, feminists and people of color, we are fighting for who we are in all of our nuanced selfhood. We are fighting for the right to own our identities.

Each page offers a quote from a feminist who exists far from the headlines, with a few notable exceptions such Bree Newsome, the activist who shimmied up a 30-foot South Carolina flagpole to singlehandedly bring down a Confederate flag earlier this year. 

Photo Credit: Ijeoma Oluo

At the end of the book, Oluo has included four essays on feminism that offer divergent views on the movement, which Oluo says is exactly the sort of inclusive feminism she’s hoping to capture with The Badass Feminist Coloring Book.

“All around the world,” Oluo writes on the book’s final page, “feminists are working to define a more inclusive feminism that will ensure a more just world for everyone. Yes, we face obstacles, threats, even violence every day as the patriarchal world structure fights to maintain the status quo — but the world is changing in our favor. We just have to keep fighting, not only the patriarchy, but the little voices in our heads that say that certain women mean more than others. We can do this, but we can only do it together.”

Here’s what Oluo had to say to Parent Map about the creation of this coloring book and today’s teen culture:

Ijeoma Oluo, Author of 'The Badass Feminist Coloring Book'

How does the Teen Friendly Edition differ from the original Badass Feminist Coloring Book? How did you become aware of the need for a teen edition?

Ijeoma Oluo: The Teen Friendly Edition has a little less swears, but also, some of the quotes from the feminists featured were tailored toward teenage feminists in place of quotes that maybe were not appropriate for a younger audience. Also, I included a special message to budding feminists in the back of the book. When the adult version of the book was in progress, a lot of people stated that they were going to buy the book for their child or their nieces or nephews. Sometimes they would ask, “Will they get it? Will their parents get mad at me?” Enough people were asking these sorts of questions that I decided to go ahead and make the teen friendly version while I was at it. Some people still chose to give their kids the adult version, but many chose the teen-friendly version. While more teen-specific, it is still a very modern, daring, intersectionally feminist book

You mention a memory of coloring in Barbie coloring books in second grade. How do you think coloring book images impact us?

Ijeoma Oluo: I think that image and visual representation is important and inherently political. As a child, I spent countless hours adorning the images of unattainable yet vacant beauty that Barbie represents. I adored that image and that ideal. But I was also very aware that I was in no way represented in those books — the image I was adoring could never be mine. What I’ve found with the Badass Feminist Coloring Book is that these are real feminists, real people, representing themselves — and to spend hours lovingly adorning those images is a far more enriching experience than I had coloring Barbie.

What challenges do you see teens facing today that you faced when you were a teen?

Ijeoma Oluo: Issues of body image, consent, authority, mental health — I see them all just as prevalently as I saw them when I was a teenager. I also think that grownups today aren’t any better at listening to teenagers than they were when I was younger. My son is in high school, and so much of what he talks to me about sounds so familiar to what I was talking about back in the day. I wish I could protect him from it all, but the most I can do is guide him through it.

Photo Credit: Ijeoma Oluo

Do you see teens today struggling with new issues?

Ijeoma Oluo: I think that the issues are mostly the same, but they’ve progressed with time. Bullying is just as prevalent as when I was a teen, but even though most schools seem to take it more seriously than they did when I was a kid, the internet makes it even harder to combat it or escape from it. It’s much easier (although, by no means “easy”) to be gay or bisexual as a teen in many Western schools, but as teens lead the struggle to move beyond the gender binary, they face much of the same intolerance and abuse that queer kids faced when I was a teen. The criminalization of blackness and the school-to-prison pipeline is impacting today’s black youth in a devastating way that it hadn’t when I was young. I think that the future seems a lot more unsure for today’s teen — we live in a world filled with hateful rhetoric and apocalyptic fearmongering not seen since the fifties, our kids will be taking on a shocking amount of student loan debt for a job in a much shakier market, they come out of the gate having to work much harder than we did.

What inspires you in teen feminist culture today?

Ijeoma Oluo: I love the teen feminist culture’s lack of apology. They want it all — they want women’s rights, LGBT rights, racial equality, economic justice, environmental justice — and they want it all now. They are not willing to accept little pieces of justice and they aren’t willing to sell out the less privileged to further their own goals. I really admire that audacity.

The subtitle of the book is “A Colorful Celebration of Modern-Day Intersectional Feminism.” Can you tell us about an example of intersectional feminism you’ve seen in the teen world?

Ijeoma Oluo: It’s been absolutely fascinating to see what feminism looks like for kids my son’s age. It looks like students protesting the school dress code for promoting slut-shaming. It looks like the easy and full acceptance of my son’s trans* classmates. It looks like the incorporation of disability and neuro-diversity into discussions about gender equality. It’s really wonderful to see.

Tell us about one of the badass teen feminists depicted in the coloring book.

Ijeoma Oluo: One of the teen feminists featured is Zoey Luna — a badass trans* rights activist in Southern California. From a pretty young age she’s been fighting for trans* rights and educating others on trans* issues.

Photo Credit: Ijeoma Oluo

What responses have you had from teens about the book?

Ijeoma Oluo: So far, teens have loved it! I’ve gotten emails and Facebook messages from teens saying how much it meant to them to see people like them in a book. Some have even asked for me to sign their copy. My goal with this book was to show how diverse and accepting modern feminism is, or should be, and the reaction from teens makes me think that maybe I’ve accomplished that.

You’re a notable activist on social media. You were recently listed as a feminist to follow on Twitter and you comically reference yourself as an “Internet yeller.” What badass teen feminists do you enjoy following on Twitter?

Ijeoma Oluo: @rowblanchard and @Zendaya are great feminists that I would love to see any teen follow. But from what the kids are telling me, Twitter is for old folks like me. The bulk of your badass young feminists are going to be found on Instagram and Tumblr.

Where can readers buy The Badass Feminist Coloring Book (Teen Friendly Edition) and where can we follow you online?

Ijeoma Oluo: You can buy The Badass Feminist Coloring Book on Amazon and you can find me yelling on Twitter

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