The French Market at Ogilvie Transportation Center is swarming with tourists, commuters and business types who mill around the kiosks like bees at a hive. The smell of russet potatoes and black truffle oil permeate through the air as Cassie Sheets, editor of The ‘F’ Word zine, a feminist publication at Columbia College Chicago, settles into her seat across from me at the table. She wears her auburn hair in a pixie cut reminiscent of Jean Seberg and a full, cotton skirt in a shade of faded viridian with an antiquated jean jacket speckled with pins and wayward brooches. Her doe eyes look around with a timid fascination at the people who impatiently wait at the kiosks for their food.
Cassie Sheets is presently earning her BFA in Fiction Writing and a minor in Women & Gender Studies from Columbia College Chicago. Sheets, and several other members of The ‘F’ Wordoversaw the editing and printing of the first zine last year prior to their annual spring conference. The zine aims to be a supplementary digest to the forum, publishing essays, poetry, short fiction, flash fiction and original artwork all based around feminism.
For Sheets and other members of the organization, The ‘F’ Word is a labor of love, a passion that Sheets finds energy and enthusiasm for despite her overwrought schedule. The labor of love paid off last February, when The ‘F’ Word was paid a visit by none other than Gloria Steinem. For Sheets, her visit was merely a harbinger of great things to come for the organization.
I was lucky enough to sit down for an interview with Miss Sheets who shed some light on her involvement in the The ‘F’ Word organization and zine, Kate Zambreno and the controversial women’s blog, Jezebel.com.
Tell me about “The ‘F’ Word” zine and forum:
The F Word is Columbia College Chicago’s feminist and womanist student organization. We aim to be a collective, not a hierarchal group. The board tends to be comprised of members who can dedicate the most time to event planning, discussion leading, etc. But everyone is welcome to attend our events, weekly meetings, or participate in discussions with us online. We’re dedicated to fighting oppression in all forms. I’ve been a member of the group for a year and a half.
The zine started as a way to raise money at our annual Spring conference, which we put on in order to connect with Columbia students and the Chicago community at large. The conference is free and open to the public, but we do sell buttons, chocolates, zines, raffle tickets, and accept donations in order to raise money for Chicago-based non-profits.
What are your aspirations for “The ‘F’ Word” zine?
I hope to start publishing issues on a more regular basis. I’d like the issues themselves to be a bit bulkier. A web designer from The F Word group has offered to do something fancy with downloadable online issues, which would help us reach a larger audience. I would also like the torch to be passed around, in terms of who curates the work for the zine. We have members from a lot of different fine arts backgrounds, and their eyes and talent would make each issue unique.
We get some incredible submissions that tackle the topics we try to tackle in our group. Topics that can make people feel uncomfortable, but that can also change people. Zines are a wonderful platform for work with the potential to upset the status quo. We don’t have to censor an artist’s voice, dialect, experience, or truth. My biggest aspiration is that our zine can be a platform for artists that influences the world in a positive way, and that our readers find something they cannot stop thinking about in our pages.
What are your thoughts on Jezebel.com and the way many people approach feminism today?
I don’t really read Jezebel enough on a regular basis to have many thoughts about them. I have read articles that I’ve found offensive or dismissive of women’s experiences (especially women who are not upper-middle class able-bodied white women), so I stay clear of the site.
People approach feminism in so many different ways, and every feminist definitely doesn’t agree on every issue. I hope The F Word is a safe space for people to discuss their approach to feminism or womanism, for us to sort through complex differences in theory and practice, and work toward separate or common goals together.
Do you think we’ve come a long way in regards to feminism or is there still work to be done?
Yes to both. While gains have been made, the feminist movement has served some people better than others; namely, people with some amount of privilege. We cannot demolish the patriarchy and end sexism without demolishing all forms of oppression. In the future, I hope to see feminists with white privilege, straight privilege, able-bodied privilege, cis-gender privilege, upper or middle class privilege, etc. working in solidarity with people who are oppressed in ways they are not to make the movement inclusive to all people, and to serve the needs and protect the rights of all people.
What is your favorite quote and why?
I don’t know if I have a favorite quote, but if I did it would probably come from Tumblr.
What is your favorite book and why?
Making me narrow it down to just one favorite book is cruel! I recently read Heroines by Kate Zambreno and enjoyed it. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez made a lasting impression on me. I still catch myself daydreaming about it sometimes. Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks was one of the first books I read when I became interested in feminism, and I would recommend it as a first read to anyone who is curious. Buy it too. I reference it and reread it constantly. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri is another book I catch myself daydreaming about. It contains some of the most beautiful short stories I’ve ever read.
If you could tell the modern woman anything, what would you say to her?
There are so many different types of modern women with different lives and beliefs. Maybe I would tell her I support her. I have her back, and I will defend her autonomy and her rights alongside her.
Tell me about your major and minor and time at Columbia College Chicago:
I’m pursing a BFA in Fiction Writing and a minor in Women & Gender Studies. Both departments are excellent, and I’ve had professors in both who have shaped the person I am today. Cynthium Johnson-Woodfolk of the Fiction Writing department pushed me to be fearless in my writing, and Juliet Bond (also the advisor to The F Word) sparked my interest in activism. And I’ve had many professors and fellow students who’ve encouraged me to keep pushing and growing as a writer and an activist (which are often one in the same for me). Ramona Gupta, Sharon Powell, Keisa Reynolds, and J Nash are some of the most amazing activists and artists I know. Columbia College is my extended family.
What do you see as a major problem plaguing society today? What are your theories on how we can improve and fix this problem?
There are so goddamn many problems. But I think every major problem in society is caused by the same thing. To solve the major problems in our society, no one person can have privilege over another or be “more equal” than another person. We need to dismantle the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy (to borrow from bell hooks), and make sure every person is on truly equal footing.
The F Word is attempting to address the problem of sexual assault and abuse on campus. Keisa Reynolds has taken the lead in starting a SAFER (Students Active for Ending Rape) chapter on Columbia’s campus in the near future.
Who or what inspires you?
My friends, colleges, and fellow F Word members inspire me to be a better person. Women who write, whether I know their writing or even like their writing, are inspiring to me, because they are asserting their voices in a world that doesn’t generally respond kindly to them doing so. That goes for anyone who speaks out or talks back when speaking out or talking back can have such incredibly hard consequences.
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