Seattle writer Lindy West, as featured in Ijeoma Oluo's Badass Feminist Coloring Book Credit: Ijeoma Oluo
What exactly is a feminist coloring book? And why has Ijeoma Oluo, a 34-year-old black Seattleite known for her social justice writing and activist Twitter campaigns, created one?
“It started as a stress relief, drawing pictures of people I love,” says Oluo of the soon-to-be-published Badass Feminist Coloring Book. “A lot of them happened to be feminists. I was doing the drawings on the computer but they didn’t have that tactile feeling, so I started printing coloring book pages. Then I decided it would be fun to make it a group project so I asked people if they would send me pictures. Then it just took off!”
The book, which began as a small-scale project for a few dozen friends, turned almost overnight into an internationally crowd-sourced production. It took only two days on Kickstarter for the book to reach its $4,000 funding goal. In the end, more than 600 people contributed more than $21,000 to bring the project to life.
For Oluo, the thrust behind her badass coloring book—which will feature known folks like activist Bree Newsome, who took down South Carolina’s Confederate Flag, and GQ writer Lindy West, as well as lesser known folks like Leticia and Zoe Barba, sisters from California—is visibility. “It can be really frustrating if you’re a woman to try and have any visibility,” she says, “to feel people are representing you at all.”
Oluo wants to give voice to those who champion gender equality—including men (comedian Hari Kondabolu, for example, will be included). She also wants to make sure she includes feminists from all corners of the world. “I wanted to make sure it’s not specifically a Western book,” she explains. “I want it to be as diverse as possible—Jewish feminists, Latin American feminists.”
Which also means including people of all races who have all kinds of bodies. Oluo says it’s fun “to celebrate each other, to view the faces and bodies of people who aren’t usually celebrated.”
But does she worry about her portrayal of people’s bodies? Or find it odd to do so?
“No,” she says. “There is a difference between objectification and appreciation. They are people in their full selves. You look at them and you can see their personality, who they are.
“These are black lines on paper, but you can still see the history and ethnicity of the people. I like spending that much time with these people, interacting with them. I first started the project with my sister and it was so fun to stare at her face all day.”
Feminism is a loaded word in today’s culture, but for Oluo the meaning is clear: “My feminism,” she explains, “is a belief in gender equality and justice. It addresses a societal patriarchal structure that oppresses women, but also harms all people.”
Oluo has written about feminism and race at great length, critiquing movies like Disney’s revival of Cinderella as well as humanizing some of her most poisonous social media trolls; she has a penchant for calling out supremely negative voices on Twitter. But along with writing, visual art has been something she’s always found interest in. “As a writer, I suffer from anxiety. So I started drawing as a way to keep going when my brain had too much going in it.”
The coloring book will include a brief illustrated history of feminism as well as text accompanying each portrait. There will be both adult and kid versions of the book; same images but more kid-friendly quotes for the younger set.
Oluo said she plans to have the book available for sale sometime in August.