A conversation with Marcelle Karp about Motherhood, Writing and Feminism’s Fifth Wave
by Brooke WilliamsShare
Marcelle Karp is a force of nature. Back in 1993, she co-founded Bust Magazine, because the world needed a positive and outspoken women’s magazine that spoke to her generation. She has been speaking truth to power ever since, be it through her online magazine Barb, her supporting role as the mother of 17 year old outspoken feminist/comic/supergirl Ruby Karp, or the quietly consistent way she energizes her network of remarkable friends. She is a true Gladwellian connector, if ever there was one.
We check in with Marcelle regularly, because she is a beacon of sanity in this crazy world and she always inspires us to be our best selves. Plus she’s hilarious and always has a good story or two up her sleeve. Here is a bit of what she had to say, the last time we sat down for lunch:
It’s the thing I love to do more than almost anything else. Writing saved me as a 20 something year old when I started Bust, writing saved me as a parent… I never want to give up that way of connecting and reaching out to people. I try to blog 3 to 5 times a week… I started blogging in general in the wake of the 2016 election because I was so angry. I think at the beginning, the first 3 months of me blogging was about my anger.
And it’s very cathartic when you have a place to let out that anger. I have a 17 year old daughter, so I write about our relationship, I write about the choices I make while parenting her. I also might have lunch with a friend and she’ll inspire me to write a blog post the next day. Also I try, every once in awhile, to write about a day in the life because I do feel like a day in the life of a woman is so fascinating. If a woman works inside the home or outside the home there are so many facets to her day.All the choices and decisions she needs to make just to get through.
I’m writing a vampire detective novel that I’m really excited about. Oh and I also write about feminism because I do think that as you grow in the world your take on feminism evolves. When I was 15, and I was super angry, it was one thing. But now in my 50’s it’s a different kind of thing— I mean it’s always been the same basic idea that men and women are of equal value, but my birds eye view has become more myopic with age.
On raising a strong daughter
In raising a girl today I don’t so much think that it's important that she be “strong” or “powerful”… I think its very important that your child, male or female, is kind and generous and has empathy for other people. Because strength and power comes from that. Of course we started with the baseline that boys and girls are of equal value. My daughter Ruby is 17 now, but in kindergarten she delivered an ‘Expert of the Day’ paper explaining feminism to the class. It really distilled down to “if you can do the monkey rings, so can I” because in kindergarten it’s your physical ability that differentiates you. It’s not gender specific.
And I think in some respects, Ruby was born into feminism. Because I co-founded Bust for one. And then in our case, I raised her myself (with the help of my friends!) so there was no other adult in the apartment to take care of stuff. Mom changes the lightbulbs, Mom makes dinner, Mom walks the dog, Mom pays the bills… that has been her lens. She’s always known that I did everything and so can she. My lens was different. I had both a father and mother to do everything. My feminism was much more of a rebellion against tradition.
As a parent I think it’s very important to encourage your child to embrace what’s coming as opposed to hiding it. If they can do that, they’ll be able to deal with just about anything.
On dealing with a high profile kid
My daughter Ruby has done her own stand up show since she was like 11 or 12 at Upright Citizen’s Brigade East, so she’s accustomed to being on stage.
And now she’s published a book Earth Hates Me:True Confessions from a Teenage Girl - so there’s all the stuff that goes with that. I just always try to keep her grounded. You make sure that she has friends that are her own age while she is also working and navigating in this adult world. She always has friends around that are her own age— I mean she’s friends with adult comics, but they’re not asking her to meet them at the Elbow Room to go do karaoke! You have to keep your child balanced in her world.
So for my daughter in high school, it was so important for her to make the school play or to impress her teachers… The stuff outside? Not as important. It’s matter of balance. I also kept the business stuff out of her purview, and then when it came time to talk about creative, she would be involved directly. In her Instagram world, she has the official account and then she has a Finsta, which is a fake instagram. It’s an ultra private instagram that isn’t even in her name.
That’s where she has only 10 friends who follow her and help her decide stuff like which outfit she should wear today or tomorrow… like a normal teenager. It’s so important to keep her feet planted in her own world. We saw with the book that the publisher wanted her to do a lot of stuff… but she was 15! She didn’t know how to do her own publicity or how to reach out to a famous person. I kept all of that stuff off her plate so that she could concentrate on stuff like being at sleep away camp.
On making choices vs having it all
This is where we as parents face a real challenge. I had my child at 36, so I had 15 years before that to have a good time and go see Pavement shows and do all the things that I did. And then I had my kid, and I raised her. I will admit it, I lost a bit of myself when I became a solo parent and I realized that I had to work so that someone can pay the bills (me), and so we can have health insurance and a financial plan… Having it all…? That was my all. I had my very beautiful career on the one hand and my very beautiful child on the other, and I had to make some real hard choices. Until 8th or 9th grade, she was the focus and I was not. But once she got into high school and had some autonomy, I got to claim myself back. I have a relationship, I’m writing again— It’s really important to keep an idea of yourself inside the space of being a parent.
Because at some point your child leaves home to go to college or to start life on their own, and if you don’t have yourself then you’re suddenly 55 or 56 trying to figure out who you are. But if you’ve been connected to yourself the whole time, then you’re in really good shape.
On looking forward to a bright future
Personally, I’m looking forward to enjoying my relationships with my boyfriend and my daughter. I really want to write the opus on How To Raise A Feminist and publish it on a mainstream scale so that information will be available to everyone. I’m also looking forward to what our daughters are going to do on a political scale. Tragically our children have woken up in a way that may have come a little too soon, but now they are going to determine who gets into office and will be making decisions that will have a huge impact on our future. We laid a lot of groundwork down in the 90’s, but we need a new generation to build up on the infrastructures that we established with the third wave of Feminism.
To watch the 4th wave come in and use social media as a tool? For it to be weaponized in a way that is empowering and that is for the good? it’s so invigorating! I mean can you imagine? And then when our daughters are our age, there will be a 5th wave of Feminism and they will be able to claim a woman in the white house. They will be able to claim gun control, they will be able to claim all of this stuff that we worked so hard for in the 90’s.
Oh my god think of the possibilities. No pressure on our kids or anything, but their generation is going to kick ass. They are going to make the difference!