How This Teen Is Revolutionizing Social Justice Publishing

Photo Courtesy Evelyn Woodsen
The 19-year-old editor of ‘Affinity Magazine’ explains why adults shouldn’t be surprised that teenagers are talking about politics, too.

The internet was recently set alight by Teen Vogue weekend editor Lauren Duca’s op-ed “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.” Many online praised Duca for her succinct criticism of Trump’s malicious manipulation tactics, but commenters on both the right and left seemed to have a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that teen girls, Teen Vogue’s readership base, would be interested in reading about politics.

Newsflash. Teens are highly interested in political discourse and social justice, because all of these issues impact their lives, too. And not only are teens consuming political information from mainstream publishers like Condé Nast, in some cases, they’re writing and publishing commentary and news themselves.

Teens are highly interested in political discourse and social justice, because all of these issues impact their lives, too.

Evelyn Woodsen is one of those enterprising teens. As a 16-year-old in Baltimore, Maryland, Woodsen founded Affinity Magazine, a social justice online magazine written and published by teenagers, for teenagers. Started in 2013, the site reaches an average of 350,050 readers each month in over 200 countries and, in its own words, works to amplify and publish “the voices of teens — regardless of age, gender, race, and sexual orientation.”

Reading through Affinity, most adults would be humbled by the expertise, humor, and political savvy of the writers. But teens will also be delighted and eager to read more about what matters to them. Some of Woodsen’s favorite recent stories include a so-called “white commentary” on Beyonce’s Lemonade, a story on why light-skinned privilege means diversity doesn’t look very diverse, and an essay succinctly titled, “Actually, Straight White Men are the Root of Our Problems.”

And adults would do well to pay attention to this “teen” publication. While major media outlets are somehow failing to diversify their editorial teams and writers, Affinity provides a platform for socially conscious teens of all backgrounds to speak to their experiences, share their opinions, and discuss pressing national and global socio-political issues.

Affinity has fun, too, and publishes stories that would never make the pages of mainstream glossy women’s mags and stand in stark contrast to much of the sex-negative propaganda taught in many middle and high schools — with stories about anal sex for teens and what first-time penetrative sex feels like.

Now a 19-year-old college student, majoring in international affairs, Woodsen believes it’s time for a teen publishing revolution, and took time from her busy schedule as an editor, publisher, writer, and student to speak with The Establishment about Affinity, why teen publishing is more important in today’s political climate than ever before, and why adults shouldn’t be surprised that teenagers are talking about the tough stuff, too.

Why did you want to start Affinity Magazine?

When I was younger, I had stacks of teen magazines. As I grew older I realized the teen magazines lacked actual teen voices, and a lot of the articles weren’t very realistic and sounded like pandering. So I decided I wanted to solve that problem by starting my own magazine.

How did you learn how to run your own online magazine at such a young age?

I’ve always been a big media fan; I started using computers when there was still dial-up, and I would just sit on the internet all day. By 14, I was running a successful fan blog on Tumblr for Tyler, The Creator [a rapper and now-fashion designer] and collecting revenue from ads. So I was always prepared to run Affinity, honestly. It’s been a lot of hit and miss, but for the most part I think I am good at what I do, even though I’m young.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the fact that teen girls (like everyone!) are interested in political discourse. You’ve tapped into this sentiment for years already, though. Why do you think people are so surprised that teen girls care about politics?

I think it has to do a lot with the way teen girls are often portrayed in movies and TV and even in teen magazines. That was my problem with teen magazines initially. They weren’t multi-faceted; they only showed one type of girl. My magazine shows many different sides. We allow teens to talk about politics, feminism, LGBT+ issues, and even makeup and hair. So it’s just not one type of girl, it’s many different types: the political nerd, the socially conscious teen, and many more.

That was my problem with teen magazines initially. They weren’t multi-faceted.

Affinity is remarkably intersectional and inclusive, elements that are largely lacking in the publishing industry overall. How have you been able to successfully represent all of the voices that matter to your readers?

The magic is we allow different voices regardless of sex, religion, or background. I have writers who are Muslim, atheist, Catholic, Christian, and many other religions. I love diversity, so when I see an application that has someone from Dubai, I immediately pick them because I know they will have very interesting stories to share. Our readers are as diverse as the staff of writers, so it’s our job to make sure the stories represent them.

Why is it important to you that teens read social justice content written by other young people?

It’s important because it’s written in a way other teens can understand, from lingo to humor. As opposed to adults trying to frame themselves as teens, not realizing lingo and everything else changes very quickly with us.

I’ve heard you mention a revolution in teen publishing. What does that revolution look like for you?

Teens actually writing teen articles. When I turn 21, I obviously won’t be writing articles as much for Affinity, but I will still be doing administrative work such as marketing and everything else. I will continue to have the platform for teens by teens. I believe that sometimes, adults need to take a step back and allow teens to lead because we know a lot. We have teens like Malala who got shot in the head for advocating for the education of girls. We should not underestimate girls or teens in general.

I believe that sometimes, adults need to take a step back and allow teens to lead because we know a lot.

It’s so possible for independent teen magazines to be successful; Affinity is proof of that. Never in a million years did I think that it would be verified on Twitter or read in over 200 countries. It shocks me everyday.

How do you envision the role of Affinity under president Trump?

It seems like the tides have changed. A lot of big publications are actually printing news about Trump that tries to normalize him for the things he does. Affinity will continue to critique him. We will not normalize him. He might be president, but we don’t have to agree with all that he does.

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