Getting to the Point with Anushay Hossain
Former Iris intern and UVA alum Anushay Hossain is best-known for her work as a writer, cultural critic, and women's rights advocate. She has written for The Huffington Post and The International Herald Tribune, among other publications. She is also the woman behind the blog Anushay’s Point and has a regular spot on Broadminded, an XM/Sirius radio show. Last week, we were able to talk to Anushay about her career as a celebrated writer, the state of feminism and activism in the internet age, and her life as a new mother. Iris: Which three words best describe you? Anushay: Ambitious, curious and passionate. Iris: In the forthcoming Spring 2012 issue of Iris, we are including articles spanning the magazine's 30 years of publication. Over the decades in which the magazine has been published, feminism and activism have been defined and redefined. Where do you see feminism and activism today? Where do you see them going? Anushay: I am very positive about the future of both feminism and activism. I also think the two are more linked than ever. I think decades of war, societies having to be rebuilt, and economic development has shown the world what feminists have always said: You cannot have sustainable development without the participation of 50% of your population- women. I think we have proven that there can be no real democracy without the inclusion, education and health of women. How women frame the protests throughout the Middle East in the ongoing Arab Spring demonstrates how activists are using social media to mobilize around their causes. This gives me a lot of hope. Information is power, knowledge is power and I think the Internet is empowering feminists and activists around the world. They have been organizing underground for so long, many of them under regimes that specially target their rights, like in Iran and Saudi Arabia for example. We can no longer afford to systematically exclude women and girls from participating in their societies. The only place women have to go is up. Iris: What did you gain from your intern experience at Iris? Anushay: I was so young when I interned at Iris! Gosh, exactly ten years ago, during my last semester at UVA before I graduated. I learned a lot. It was the first time I worked with an all woman staff. I saw how women are able to do so much often with the smallest of resources and funds. I also learned a lot about women writers, and how a publication is put together from selecting the pieces, to using programs like Pagemaker. It was an education in magazine and office management. Iris: What advice would you give to a young writer? Anushay: Write. That is the advice I would give all writers. Be disciplined, practice and hone your skill. I try to live in a way where I have no regrets, but there was a good seven years of my life during which I struggled with a case of writer’s block I thought would never end. I so wish looking back that I had kept writing, even if I was frustrated with what I was producing, or not producing. Letting go and giving up on the skill, even temporarily hurt me and my confidence. Looking back, I should have had more faith in myself and just kept writing. Whatever your skill may be- writing, painting, never abandon it. Iris: What is your most memorable career moment? Anushay: Getting on TV for the first time in my life for Canadian news channel CBC. They read a piece of mine on NPR and invited me to provide live commentary about the burqa ban in Europe. It was the first time I was speaking on behalf of myself, giving my thoughts and opinions as the author of my own blog, and not representing an organization or group. I felt very empowered. Iris: How has your career evolved with the influx of technology in the realms of publishing and journalism? Anushay: My career has totally evolved with the influx of technology in the realms of publishing and journalism. I am not sure where my writing career would be without the technology available today. Five years ago, I could barely spell the word “blog.” In fact three years ago when I decided to start blogging I was so hesitant. I keep asking myself, “Does the world really need one more blog?!” It is so easy now to establish and promote yourself. You no longer have to wait for someone to give you a platform. You can create your own. I love that power but with it comes a tremendous responsibility. In this day and age, if you have something to say it is easy to get heard. Your voice is so accessible now but it is important to remain focused and have something meaningful to say. My blog, Anushay’s Point, thrust me into feminist activism 2.0. Iris: What inspires you to do the work that you do? Anushay: Women inspire me. All women, from the women in my family like my mother, whose work and career had a profound impact on my life, to the women in my country to the women organizing against the Islamic Regime in Iran to the women defying the driving ban in Saudi Arabia to the women in Egypt challenging forced ‘virginity tests.’ Telling women’s stories, giving their plight and their successes whatever voice I can is what motivates me every day to do the work I do, both in my writing and my work as a feminist policy analyst in Washington. Iris: Who are your heroes? Why? Anushay: My four month old daughter, Ava, is my hero. I spent most of my twenties lamenting about how becoming mothers robs women of their independence and identities. Now that I am a mother, of course I know that is not always true. My daughter is my hero because she shows me how something I always thought I did not want was exactly what I needed. Her birth has completely transformed me, and filled my life with so much love. She motivates me to be a better person without saying a word. I know it sounds cheesy, but it is true. When you become a mother, all clichés become true.