Sisterhood & The Stars:
My Disjointed Life as a Feminist Astrology Columnist
By Ophira Edut, Astrostyle.com
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In college in the 1990s, I discovered two surprising things about myself: One, I was passionate about women’s issues, and founded a multicultural glossy magazine called HUES—for women of all cultures, shapes and lifestyles—to prove it.
Second, I was really, really good at astrology—and so was my twin sister Tali. We had a bizarre ability to remember hundreds of celebrities’ birthdays and to mentally catalog the astrological signs of almost everyone we met. At parties, we could walk in a room and guess almost everyone’s sign, a true twin carnival act that amazed and amused. People started calling us The AstroTwins, a name that has stuck to this day. In that decade alone, I dispensed so much cosmic love advice to friends, I joked that I should open a 900-number. (Looking back, it could have offset those pre-Internet publishing costs.)
In 1993, my college boyfriend Calvin (a sweet Virgo if there ever was one) gifted me with a printed birth chart, accompanied by a 35-page personality analysis based solely on my time, date and place of birth. I was floored. Floored. How the hell did a computer know that much about me? There were weird things, little things, like my photographic memory (Scorpio moon) and straight teeth (Capricorn rising). I’d been intrigued by astrology before. Now I was obsessed with finding out as much as I could.
A couple years later, I downloaded a piece of shareware from the early “world wide web” that allowed me to cast people’s charts. I began doing all my friends’ charts and reading the interpretations from a Sydney Omarr annual guide, memorizing the descriptions planet by planet. Every time, we were stunned with the accuracy. Yes, Mercury in Sagittarius explained why this friend was so outspoken! Saturn in Gemini totally accounted for that one’s fear of public speaking, especially since it was in the tenth house of fame! Weeeeeeird.
So began my double life as a third-wave feminist and an astrologer. By day, I railed against the media in HUES, and later, on my body image website, www.adiosbarbie.com. But in between editing fashion-industry critiques and shooting a “swimsuit issue” that featured multi-ethnic models ranging from size six to 24, I was busy scavenging for the zodiac signs of the MTV Real World cast or pontificating on the Tupac-Biggie/East Coast-West Coast battle, and how fascinating it was that they were both Geminis.
Soon, my life became splintered by the stars—at least, in public. My feminist work fell in the intellectual realm: I’d be invited to colleges to talk about body image and media activism or to speak on panels about my book, Body Outlaws. Although I always infused my talks with humor and pop culture examples, it was more from a mocking, “aren’t-we-so-above-it-all-nugde-wink” perspective. Offstage, I loved nothing more than an unabashed analysis of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s Sag-Aquarius combo (totally better as friends), or how smoothly Snoop Dogg could freestyle about “hoes and tricks” or “gin and juice,” yet braid his hair like an utter Libra metrosexual (yes, in misogynist’s clothing…well-tailored, of course).
In 1999, I moved to New York City to work for the grand dame of all feminist magazines, Ms., as an Associate Editor. Founder Gloria Steinem had just organized a group of women investors to buy the magazine back from da’ man when its mega-publisher threatened to shut Ms. down. Gloria’s warrior-style save was such an Aries thing to do, taking leadership like that. The new owners called themselves Liberty Media for Women and were made up of a cadre of wealthy feminists who truly cared about keeping the revolution alive. I got to come up with saucy coverlines like “wake up and smell the estrogen” (kind of gross, but they went with it…apparently, it tickled the menopausal readers so much that they even packed our launch party invites into fake prescription bottles). The year was packed with press events, at which Gloria bragged that Ms. was founded in 1972, the same year their youngest editor (me) was born. I beamed with pride and celebrity-crushed on Glo for acknowledging me like that.
Back at Ms. HQ, I was diligently researching a huge “feminist time capsule” feature for the millennium issue—all the greatest inventions of the twentieth century that changed women’s lives. (Fun fact: the washing machine is number one. Women used to spend most of their waking hours scrubbin’ dirty drawers.) In between, I would duck into the research room, where a copyeditor named Noelle hit me up for astrology advice on the sly—like a back-alley drug deal. Noelle was my age, a sweet Cancer who was dating a Leo named Chris. Naturally, things were a little rocky: Cancer is ruled by the moon and Leo, by the sun, making them (literally) as different as night and day. In fact, Noelle was contemplating a breakup, even though she adored him. His blustery temper intimidated her and often bruised her tender Crabby feelings. I advised her on a few secrets of the Leo man, and how not to take things so personally (a Cancer downfall).
Fast-forward a couple years: Noelle and Chris are happily married, and she’s moved on to an editor’s position at Teen People magazine. Crediting me partly for getting her to the altar, Noelle called to tell me Teen People was seeking a new astrologer, and scored me a meeting with the editor, Barbara O’Dair. My sister and I walked into Barbara’s office, wall-to-wall in celebrity magazine covers, and smoothly ticked off the astrological signs of each star. Eminem: Libra. Britney: Sag. Jessica Simpson: Cancer.
Being an astrology columnist for Teen People (from 2002-06) gave me a different kind of cool factor, but in the eyes of academia, notsomuch. When I traveled to speak at colleges, I downplayed my astrology work, often leaving it out altogether, even though I was quite proud of my pop culture cred. I didn’t know how to explain my double life during the audience Q&A. And, indeed, a freshly-minted, grade-grubbing Women’s Studies major would without fail raise her hand to ask something like, “Isn’t it kind of contradictory to write for a magazine like that, with the kind of advertising and messages they send?”
Well, yeah. I was a horoscope hypocrite…in a way. I couldn’t fault the students for asking; they were only mirroring my own inner conflict. But I always put an empowering message in my ‘scopes—as much as I could fit in a 75-word blurb. It was like tucking a dog’s heartworm pill in a scoop of peanut butter, wrapping the medicine in something sweetly palatable.
There were other benefits of my Teen People column, too—besides the free tickets to a variety concert where Justin Timberlake (an Aquarius) performed. Where I could reach 10,000 readers on a good run with HUES, the circulation of Teen People was in the millions. What a cool platform—if people wanted to know more about The AstroTwins, they were just a couple clicks away from discovering my body image website, where my feminist principles were on full display. But astrology made things fun, and it was universal. Everyone has a zodiac sign. It was a perfect touchstone for launching into more controversial topics, and so much easier than framing things through exhausting debates about race, gender or other politically-charged topics that left everyone polarized and hurt. When I lectured, I secretly wished I could ask everyone in the audience’s sign. There was really so much I could teach them about self-esteem and unity from the perspective of the stars.
Believe me, there are people who take astrology as seriously as any ivy-tower topic, hosting full moon and solstice gatherings or casting charts with pencil and paper instead of a computer. Back in the Middle Ages, prestigious universities always had a coveted astrology chair. But I don’t belong to the crystal-bearing, caftan-wearing Wicca “wimmin” set. Props to those who do—love ya, Motherpeace Skywalker Whitehawk LadyeStar…if that’s even your real name.
Alas, I’m a saucy, sarcastic, half-Israeli Jewess (and a Sagittarius), who savors the divine comedy of life, along with its wisdom. I hate anything humorless—feminism, astrology, all of it—and I like to gently remind people that it’s possible to laugh and learn at the same time.
Still, as my sister and I type our daily, monthly and weekly horoscopes for Elle.com and MyLifetime.com and a high-end moms magazine, a nagging feeling is there for me. It’s a wish that I could explain how powerful astrology is as a tool for living a well-prepared life, for navigating the obstacles without all the sturm und drang. If you know that Mercury is going retrograde, you’ll back up your computer to avoid a data loss, or you’ll leave an hour early for the airport. You can begin a new venture with an added boost at a new moon, or plan to get extra sleep when the Sun is in your twelfth house. In my columns, I predict and translate all of that, with the hope of helping busy women make powerful use of their limited time.
Our private reading clients are all highly successful women (and the occasional man) who are self-aware, steeped in their own modern feminist principles, and looking for as many tools as they can find to have it all. They have families, careers, interests, pets, relationships, a zillion Facebook friends and Twitter followers…and somewhere in there, they need to go on vacation, take a shower, have sex, and get their roots touched up. As an astrologer, I help them prioritize and plan.
Ultimately, that’s what I adore about astrology, and what, arguably, makes it a gift to womankind—a feminist one at that. We get so many mixed messages, and we’re so busy scrambling around trying to please everyone, we forget to please ourselves. It’s so hard to rise above all the consumer-driven commands to look young, wear this, do that. Your astrology chart is like a blueprint, a roadmap to your soul, the unsung “owners and operators” guide to yourself. (Whoever said kids aren’t born with a manual? Wrong!) When you know yourself, you can make quick, clear decisions instead of wasting time second-guessing yourself, a huge psychic burden.
I’ve run into Gloria Steinem a handful of times since I left Ms. for a dot-com startup in 1999, halfway through the grueling “feminist time capsule” issue. (Sorry, Kate Rounds, Libra news editor, for dumping that beast on your lap. You probably still hate me.) When I tentatively told Gloria I was writing horoscopes for a living, I felt like a disappointment, not worthy of sharing my 1972 birth date with her iconic magazine. That’s all my stuff, of course—she was gracious as ever. In fact, she politely said something about seeing an astrologer when she was in India back in the 1970s, smiled, and floated off to chat with the next fan.
At another run-in, Gloria commented that is was unfortunate that magazines made astrology so “genderized.” I suppose she meant that the media targets women with fluff and man-catching tips. She has a point. Yet, I yearn to prove to Gloria that astrology isn’t only the stuff of fringe-y womyn’s festivals or some flaky back-page bait for Revlon ad dollars. I want her to know I’m still out there helping women, even if it’s through a different medium.
Besides, whether she knows it or not, Gloria is SUCH an Aries: a fearless leader and champion of women. Aretha "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" Franklin is an Aries, too, along with many other women trailblazers. And Gloria’s buddy Jane Fonda? A total Sag. She epitomized Sagittarius bluntness in her outspoken Hanoi Jane days, and she’s such a truth-teller that she copped to a recent facelift and wrote poignantly about her marriage to (Scorpio) Ted Turner. And Eve Ensler? What else could she be but a flowy, compassionate Pisces who can feel the pain of humankind and channel it so poetically.
I can’t help it: I analyze everyone through the lens of astrology.
When I last saw Gloria Steinem in December 2010, she confessed that she was frustrated. She wasn't getting any writing done on her book (only a go-getter Aries would be worried about that at age 76) because she didn't want to say no when she was asked to appear at an event or champion someone else's cause. I wanted to tell her, "Gloria, don't worry--Jupiter is in your twelfth house this year, which makes you feel a bit foggy and susceptible to guilt. When it goes into Aries from January 22-June 4, 2011 you'll be able to focus on yourself again—and your thoughts will be much clearer."
But I didn't. Damn.
I love that Our Inner Lives exists, because there really aren’t many bridges between the academic/intellectual and the fields that can’t be scientifically quantified, like astrology or energy work, or trends like the Law of Attraction. We can’t explain why they work; they just do. Yet, we’re seeing sleek centers like Donna Karan’s Urban Zen open in New York City or Meggan Watterson’s REVEAL conference, and women are flocking to them. We’re yearning to feed what Marianne Schnall, this site’s founder, calls the “unnamed hunger.” We name ourselves life coaches, energy workers, astrologers, spiritual counselors—or some variation on this theme. But it’s really about so much more.
Of course, we can’t float so far into the ether that our feet stop touching the ground. We need the news and research science and sociological data as a framework, a context to understand the world that we inherited (if only so we can use our New Age powers to change it, moohahaha). In between mapping out Jupiter transits and Neptune aspects, I’m reading Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter, about the media’s sexualization of little girls. As the mom of a nine-month-old girl, I need to be prepared to fight the lure of Bratz dolls and Toddlers & Tiaras pageantry in a couple years. And I’m drawing on all of my tools—from that Women’s Studies 101 class where I learned to critically analyze the media, to my dog-eared copy of Planets In Transit—to make sure I’m equipped to fight that exploitation.
Who knows, maybe I was a witch in a past life—or even one of those esteemed astrology professors during the European golden age. A girl can dream. (She can also check the north node in her chart—total case for reincarnation.) Be it nature or nurture, I feel privileged that I was born with this uncanny ability to understand and translate astrology for powerful women, clearing the path for them to kick ass and change the world. In fact, my sister and I have said that our “ideal client” is a woman world leader or future world leader. Our customers and readers fit that profile—they’re CEOs of fashion and media companies, secretaries of state, even the daughter of an African president (how fun to advise her on setting up clean water systems back home with her newly-minted Masters degree).
J.P. Morgan said that “millionaires don’t use astrology; billionaires do.” How’s that for an antidote to the seventy cents women earn to each man’s dollar? Before you dismiss all horoscopes as bird-cage lining, get your chart done. Learn a little more and you’ll see. I wish everyone could be as electrified as I was when Calvin handed me my birth chart, wrapped in a special box from Ann Arbor’s Crazy Wisdom bookstore. You don’t have to travel to an ashram like Elizabeth Gilbert to find yourself—not that you shouldn’t. Turns out it’s a lot easier than that, though. Turns out we are all made of stars.
Ophira Edut is a writer and one-half of The AstroTwins, astrologers for Elle.com and myLifetime.com. When not charting the stars, she divides her time between developing LoveYourBody.org and being the proud mom to daughter Cybele and stepdaughter Clementine. She lives in New York City. She is the author of Body Outlaws: Reinventing the Rules of Beauty & Body Image and Love Zodiac: The Essential Astrology Guide for Women. Find her online at Astrostyle.com