Zoya Patel is a writer, editor and public speaker. In 2014, she founded online feminist literature and arts journal Feminartsy, after four years as Editor-In-Chief of Lip Magazine – an online magazine that aims to provide intelligent, thoughtful content to young women. She has been writing about feminist issues since the age of 15 and has had work published in multiple publications. Zoya was highly commended in the Scribe Publishing Non-Fiction Prize 2015, was the 2014 recipient of the Anne Edgeworth Young Writers’ Fellowship, and was named the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year.
With Feminartsy as a platform, Zoya’s goal is to raise the profile of women’s voices in the media. The site has gained her the Canberra Critics Circle award in the category of ‘Writing’, with credit to her for creating a platform for women writers. Zoya is set to release her debut book, No Country Woman, this year.
1. Feminartsy creates opportunities for female writers by offering writing residency programmes. Have your own life experiences affected the way that you try to support women today?
I have been very lucky in my writing career to have amazing and talented women open doors for me. I had my first piece published when I was 15 years old in Lip Magazine, by then-editor Rachel Funari, and I also had my first editing role with Lip. That made me realise how important it is to have more experienced writers supporting and developing emerging writers, and it’s something I aim to do with the Feminartsy residency programs.
The residencies are also all paid, which is really important for me, because art is often not valued with monetary payment, but writers gotta eat!
2. When you created the site, what did you want Feminartsy to provide for women that no other site was offering?
I wouldn’t say that no other site was offering the kind of thoughtful, ‘deep dive’ writing I was interested in publishing, but I did feel that feminist writing online had started to become very polemic. I was interested in sharing personal stories to try and open up discussions on feminism and gender to a broader audience, and to also keep that old feminist catch cry of ‘the personal is political’ at the forefront of what we publish.
3. In the last year, feminism has become a marketplace trend, with a lot of big brands using it as a ‘slogan’ to cash in on. What are your thoughts on this?
As much as I love a feminist slogan tee as much as the next gal, I do have a huge problem with the commercialisation of feminism. Mostly because I see gender inequality and capitalism to be intrinsically linked. While we have an economic system that is focussed on profit and that basically reinforces socio-economic inequality to drive capitalist gain, we can’t possibly see meaningful gender equality.
Because for a capitalist system to work, someone has to be doing all the unpaid work that has to happen for society to function – like caring for children and the elderly, domestic work, and even just low-paid, ‘low skill’ work like service positions. And those tasks are overwhelmingly carried out by women.
So when I see big brands using feminism to seem more woke, and essentially piggy-backing off the movement for their own gain, it really frustrates me!
4. As a female writer, what has been the most difficult thing for you to overcome when it comes to business?
I have had to push against my natural resistance to asking for money. I think women especially, but also people in general, are taught to believe that talking about money is somehow impolite, and this is a huge issue when it comes to working in the arts. Writers are generally expected to work for free for however long it takes to ‘make it’, and I remember around 2014-15 feeling really frustrated by how much unpaid work I was doing.
I finally decided to start asking for a fee before committing to any freelance work, and it was quite a psychological challenge. I worried that I would come across as arrogant, or just as a bit of a bitch. But you know what? Once I started asking, I just started getting paid. It really was pretty straightforward, after I got over the initial squeamishness!
5. What advice can you offer to women who want a career in writing?
I’m known for telling everyone that they should write – it’s because I really, firmly believe that sharing stories through writing is one of the most powerful ways we can break down cultural and gender barriers, and build a more inclusive world.
To women who want to write – just do it. Send your ideas to as many places as you can, write your stories regardless of if you feel ready to share them. Writing is like a muscle you need to stretch, until eventually you won’t even notice the hard work, and the words will just flow.
And just for fun…
6. We’ve heard you’re a bit of a Harry Potter fan. If you could write a book with J.K. Rowling, what would it be about?
Oh man, I feel like if I got the chance to write a book with J.K. Rowling it would be an obsessive fan manual about her and her writing routine, and all the little secret titbits she knows about Hogwarts that she hasn’t shared yet!
7. What’s the most enjoyable moment you’ve had whilst appearing as a guest speaker?
One time I spoke on an Australian commercial television show about how Fifty Shades of Grey was an affront to feminism. I literally got flown in just a half hour before the show to say two sentences on why I found the book irritating, and then got flown back home. It felt really glamorous at the time, but I did have to speed-read the book which I hadn’t actually touched until they asked me to go on the show!
8. What’s the first book you remember reading?
That’s a tough one! I read loads and loads as a kid, but I do remember buying a Babar the elephant book as a kid from a $2 shop in Australia. The first book I remember reading and loving was this huge collection of really short fairy-tales my parents bought me, which I would read practically every night.
9. Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people?
I have a secret love of truly trashy reality TV. I obsessively watched Love Island in the UK over summer last year, and have since downgraded to Celebs Go Dating. Even though these shows have terrible gender values, I just can’t tear myself away – it’s like watching a scandalous car crash.
10. The first letter you wrote on paper. Can you remember who it was for and what it was about?
I’ll hazard a guess it was for my Nan, who lived in Fiji and would send an envelope of individual letters to each of us every few months. I had loads of pen pals as a kid, and I still try to write handwritten letters to people now.
Zoya’s book is due for release in 2018. Learn more about Feminartsy on their website.