Commie Girl in the OC

Laurie Penny interviews Rebecca Schoenkopf about politics, life, feminism and getting 'finger-fucked' by Hillary Clinton

July 6, 2008
6 min read


Laurie PennyLaurie Penny is a freelance journalist who blogs regularly for the New Statesman.

‘My mother always taught me that women cussing is sticking it to the squares.’

On reading her columns, you might expect Commie Girl to be an effusive, larger-than-life lady with Hunter S Thompson’s grin and Rosa Luxemburg’s haircut. But Rebecca Schoenkopf is neat, petite and fragile-looking, her heart-shaped face traced with the lines of a life lived well and a bodhisattva smile playing on a mouth as foul as a Soho alley after midnight. An obvious assumption is that she is looking askance into the very fabric of your socialist soul; but she has a glass eye, having lost her left in a childhood accident.

‘One of my brothers was throwing a stone at another one of my brothers – and I lost the eye. I was ten. In high school, I just wore an eyepatch, and boys in bars would come over and lift up my patch. Just like that. I mean, how is that acceptable?’

It’s endless questions about the basic assumptions of capitalism, patriarchy and republicanism that have made her columns, with their gleefully despairing leftist humour and little political intimacies, such a phenomenon in the US and across the world. A collection of her journalism, self-titled with her cheek-biting moniker Commie Girl in the OC, has just been published in the UK by Verso.

Schoenkopf is hesitant to discuss the self-branding nature of her work – but Commie Girl in the OC is a brand; a feminist brand with its roots in Gonzo and Riot Grrl and self-assertive socialism, and a clever one at that. The book is a manifesto in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, without any of the gratuitous post-adolescent drug binges. Well, not too many.

‘My book is very modest, really. It’s a compilation of my columns divided into five rough topics – god, love, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, what’s wrong with the way we live, and politics.’ Simple themes guide the reader around a complex personal philosophy that interrogates salient facts about American life and world politics.

So, is there an overriding theme to her journalism? ‘Eat the rich,’ she says, ‘although I do enjoy going to their parties.’

‘I do a lot of fancy things, you see, and that’s good – it means I can make fun of those fancy things later.’ The Commie Girl brand allows Schoenkopf a measure of cross-political acceptability in the tediously Republican state of California, which she enjoys immensely. ‘I’ll turn up to an event and everyone will be like, “Oh, it’s just Commie Girl!”‘

It has to be asked, given the distinct lack of faux-Stalinist badges and the packet of pre-rolled cigarettes: why ‘Commie’? ‘By communist, I really mean a form of socialism,’ she says, ‘the name’s a little self-mocking. By British standards, I’m a socialist, and a middle-of-the-road one at that, but in the USA, it’s not possible to get very much more publicly left wing. That’s starting to change, though.’

The slow and inexorable revival of American liberalism fascinates and energises Schoenkopf. ‘It’s more and more acceptable to call yourself a liberal these days,’ she says excitedly. ‘The tide is really turning. When Barack Obama is president, we’ll see those changes move faster.’

Despite not being the first American left-winger to desperately evangelise the Obama campaign as a forgone conclusion, she does so with a quiet energy that is infectious. ‘It’ll happen,’ she says. ‘When I think of America today, I think of those four little black girls, burned to death in that church in Alabama in the sixties. And now, pretty soon, we’re going to have two beautiful little black girls of about the same age in the fucking White House. Now, that’s really something.’

Schoenkopf is philosophical about the business of liberal journalism. Her own career started rather inauspiciously with a semi-reluctant stint as an intern on a family friend’s paper. She explained how, stuck for an opening for her first story, she opened the newspaper, ‘and I saw a headline that read: “Jesse heard voices”. And that made me catch myself because my brother, Jesse, was a schizophrenic.’ Jesse committed suicide at 21, when Rebecca was 17. ‘So I sat down and wrote about my brother. It was the first piece of real journalism I ever wrote. When it was published, they ran an ad at the bottom of the page. It had a golden retriever wearing glasses, and it said: “Why is Jesse smiling?”… and there it was. I was meant to be a journalist.’

It’s not been an easy journey. Schoenkopf has fought her way up through the American weekly industry to become a well respected writer while raising a son, Jimmy, who she adopted when she was 22. But every career progression has been made in the face of an industry riddled with prejudice.

‘Male editors – like all high-achieving men – can afford to be lax. They can afford to not be at their best and to take days off, because there will always be a brilliant, keen and enthusiastic woman in a junior role only too delighted to take on the extra work. As a woman working in media, politics, anything, you have to be that extra bit better, try that extra bit harder.’

‘One time I dreamed I was getting finger-fucked by Hillary Clinton’

‘I was in Seattle and I’d just come back from yet another interview for a job I didn’t get, when yet again I’d been told I was a strong candidate, that I was qualified, brilliant at what I do – I am brilliant at what I do – and told I’d been runner-up. Not one of those people I was beaten by was a person of colour, and not one of them was female. That night I dreamed that I was in a hotel room and in walked Hillary Clinton.

‘Don’t the Jungians say that you’re meant to represent every person who appears in your dream? In walked Hillary Clinton, and she was a maid, like Jennifer Lopez in that movie – Maid in Manhattan. And I forced her to finger-fuck me, and she wasn’t enjoying it – hell, I was practically raping her, like …’

At this point, Commie Girl makes a hand gesture I can’t quite bring myself to describe.

‘And I woke and thought, this is it. I’m always going to be getting fucked, I’ll never be in charge, and I’ll always be worked over and raped.’

Book deal or no book deal, Rebecca Schoenkopf has retained the indefatigable energy of dissatisfaction that makes her political writing so compelling. The Commie Girl brand is an essential model for 21st-century feminism of dissidence: darkly defiant, and still sticking it to the squares.

Commie Girl in the OC is published by Verso


Laurie PennyLaurie Penny is a freelance journalist who blogs regularly for the New Statesman.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue


1