Chat & Selfie

Tacos, bras, bars and patriarchy

Chat & Selfie: a talk with Kate Johnston, co-founder of the Women's Center for Creative Work

The California section's Amina Khan recently took a stroll along a surprisingly lush stretch of the Los Angeles River with Kate Johnston, a co-founder of the Women's Center for Creative Work. Since 2013, the center has roamed Los Angeles without a permanent home, whipping up projects such as the Feminist Library on Wheels, a bookcycle offering a crowd-sourced collection of feminist writing. Now the center has settled into a space along the L.A. River, not far from the historic Woman's Building in Chinatown. After the river walk, we emailed Johnston a few questions. We've crunched the conversation into this.

What is it with you and the L.A. River?

The L.A. River is an in-between space: between pavement and nature, between freeway and railroad tracks, between beautiful and abject. In-between spaces are generative; new ideas can slip in where things are not fully formed.

Creative medium of choice?

Graphic design.

Rock, paper or scissors?

Rock. I collect rocks everywhere I go, and they're all over my house.

After a year roving Los Angeles, your organization finally got a space. Is it better to rove or put down roots?

Both are important. When you're mobile, you get to exist in that in-between space with infinite potentiality in all directions. When you're stationary, you get to create a home. We will never stop doing mobile programming, even though we now have a brick-and-mortar location. Now we just have more options.

Favorite thing to eat in L.A.?

Tacos are the quintessential Angeleno food: Inevitably there is more than one, so your plate has several centers. The structure of meat on tortilla is loose and filled with potential; you can choose to make each one into what you want with various toppings.

In the space of a tweet, what is feminism?

To paraphrase bell hooks, feminism is the process that works to dismantle the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.

Who isn't a feminist?

Todd Akin

Someone tells you that feminism is about bra-burning and husband-hating.

Bras are amazing tools that keep your boobs in place when you're working out; why would you want to burn one? Also, if you hate your husband, that sounds like a personal problem. The myth that feminism is a separatist movement of humorless extremists was started as a way to shame women into not feeling like they deserve things like equal pay. I tell people to come to our events, then they find out that feminism is more about having dance parties. I personally appreciate wearing a bra at a dance party, but to each their own.

L.A. has a reputation for being a difficult place to develop "community." What does that term really mean?

A community is a group of individuals who are brought together by a shared intention. The usual line is that we have to be very deliberate about building community in this city because we have so many centers and a paucity of public space. But temporary communities count too: If you're standing in line at the grocery store and a child drops a glass bottle and juice goes everywhere, everyone turns and looks at the same thing for a moment; maybe they even say something about it to each other or to the child's parent. That's an instant fleeting community, and it's super real.

Is there a specific 2-foot-square spot you'd go stand in when you're feeling low?

In front of a bar. Few things can't be cured by a drink with a friend.

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