When the Pirelli said earlier this year it would redefine its historically provocative calendar of scantily clad pin-ups to represent female empowerment, Tavi Gevinson thought it was almost too good to be true. “So excited to be in unreal company,” she tweeted. This year's calendar girls are indeed an all-star feminist cast - Yoko Ono, Serena Williams, Patti Smith, Fran Lebowitz, Amy Schumer, Ava DuVernay, to mention a few. All were photographed fully clothed by Annie Leibovitz—a first for Pirelli. “Clothed women are having a moment again,” Lebowitz noted dryly in a promotional video. For Gevinson, who is admittedly wary about questions regarding feminism’s current “moment,” the humorist’s biting sarcasm struck a chord.
How are you inspired by the other women featured in the calendar?
When I was a junior in high school my friend and I went to a Patti Smith concert and waited by the stage door. We got in trouble with the people at the venue because we wouldn’t leave. [Patti] was photographed right before me, so when I got to the shoot she was still there. I didn’t want to bother her, but she was taking pictures with everyone and I was like, I have to do this, obviously. It’s on the makeup artist’s phone though, so it’s floating on the cloud or something—I don’t know where the photo is. She was so sweet though because Annie brought her a copy of the Rookie yearbook number two and gave it a lovely endorsement. She said she was very accessible, so whatever we needed, which is so nice to make yourself available like that to someone who, unbeknownst to her, stalked her outside a concert.
You’ve been called “girl power’s last hope.” How do you feel about that?
I think the most crucial element behind the idea of this calendar is that are there are many different types of women. I’ve never liked the idea of “girl power’s last hope” or “the new face of feminism” or “the voice of a generation.” I think it’s really toxic to put people up on those pedestals because it makes it harder for them to proceed. It’s why Harper Lee never wrote another novel. Well, she did, but…it took a while. I think that the people who are looking for an introduction into feminism, if they don’t have a lot of context, it doesn’t really let them in because they would have to look like me or identify with me in some way. That’s limiting. I’m really excited that feminism is “having a moment,” but I hope that it can be more than a moment and I hope that the celebration of women who are part of the idea of empowerment isn’t confused for real progress. What I’ve learned so much about from Rookie readers, or just from reading online, is how important it is to account for all types of experiences. The most exciting thing to me about this calendar is that there are many different types of women represented who do lots of different things. There’s an understanding that feminism and the struggles that come with being female mean different things for everyone. It’s crucial that people also talk about that when they talk about “girl power” or women supporting each other.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
I think in middle school. I don’t think my parents ever used the word, but they are feminists and I think it just made sense to me. I saw a lot of girls who had blogs using the word and it didn’t seem to limit them in any way—it opened their world up a bit. There’s a lot of stigma attached to it, and people are afraid of the label. I also understand that many people have taken issue with the movement or the way it’s treated some women historically, and that’s completely valid. I’m not really interested in dragging anyone out of the feminist closet or shaming anyone for not identifying as a feminist. I think it’s a little besides the point, but I have found that for me personally, and for a lot of people I know, the basic principle of it—aligning myself with that just feels right to me.
Fran Lebowitz, who was last shot by Annie Leibovitz for Playboy as the only woman with her clothes on, said that “clothed women are having a moment” again. What do you think about the collision of the new Pirelli calendar with Playboy no longer shooting nudes?
It’s so interesting. As an editorial decision, it just makes sense because there’s really nothing you could show people of a certain generation that would shock them at this point. I feel pretty desensitized and I can’t imagine a young person finding Playboy in their parents' closet and being shocked. I think to go for something that’s a little more ambitious…There are ways to shoot nudity that are beautiful and challenging. For Pirelli, I think it’s great to celebrate all kinds of women for the different things that they’re doing. There calendars have always been beautiful and not the kind of thing that kids my age are desensitized to.
The Pirelli photos have the same artistic quality of those in a magazine, but people expect something different from calendars, it seems. What do you think about the calendar as a medium for photographs?
I’ve never really thought about that. I think that because Pirelli is so specific and iconic, my interest is piqued. It’s this prized object.
You’re the youngest in this year’s group of Pirelli women. Views about feminism can vary with generations. How do you relate, or not, to the views of these women?
I have looked up to many of the women involved, and was happy to learn more about the ones I was not already familiar with. Those generational gaps are real, but I think you can learn from people of all ages. I don’t think that the youngest people are the most enlightened. Everyone has access to different points of view based on how they’ve moved through the world.
Your month in the calendar is August. Any connection there?
August is when I first moved to New York. It’s also my parent’s anniversary. It’s like back to school, I guess?
Do you follow astrology?
Now I do, because Rookie started doing horoscopes. I was like, I need someone to tell me what’s going on! It’s addicting, but I’m also like, I don’t know if I can live my life according to this. If my horoscope is like, here’s your soul mate…I don’t know.
You cut your hair at this shoot. Was it a spontaneous decision?
I had been thinking about cutting my hair for a while, and I was like, this is the best place to do it.