Speak Like a Girl, “a feminist, interactive spoken word poetry show designed to change the conversation on campus," recently visited Penn State, courtesy of Penn State Words. The amazing Olivia Gatwood and Megan Falley were kind enough to share their words of wisdom with us here at Her Campus. If you couldn’t make it to the show (sucks to be you), here’s a taste of the fabulous minds behind Speak Like a Girl.
HC: Could you each give us a brief background of yourselves?
Olivia: Sure. My name is Olivia Gatwood. I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I moved to Brooklyn three years ago to study writing. I majored in fiction, but I’ve been a poet for much longer. I started doing slam poetry when I was a sophomore in high school as a sort of a rebellious act against organized sports, which I had been involved in for most of my life. Then I continued on forever, graduated college, and went on tour with Megan.
Megan: My name is Megan Fally. I have always lived in New York. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. It was always how I went to process my feelings and deal with my rage issues. *Laughs* No, I’m just kidding. But to deal with whatever I was feeling, I would always go to my journal first. I went to college for writing and English. In 2012, I had my first book published on Write Bloody Press. I went on a poetry tour cross-country by myself, in a car for 100 days. I did about 50 shows and just drove the whole thing. It was about 15,000 miles. And I’ve been full-time since then; so about three years. Within the last six months, Olivia and I paired up and started touring together, which has been a world of fun and feminism.
HC: Was there a specific event in your life that you feel ignited your passion for feminism. If so, do you mind sharing it with us?
M: Oh, I can start. I took a women’s studies class in college - I’m not even sure when I took it - but it definitely conceptually really resonated with me and started changing the way that I saw the world. But, I was in an abusive relationship my last year of college and into the summer after with somebody I eventually had to get a restraining order against. And I think I was really able to feel, you know, there’s the feminism you can learn in the classroom and then there’s the feminism you learn in the field and there’s a quote - I can't quite remember who said it - but it goes, “I got my women’s studies degree in the field.” And that’s really how I felt getting out of that relationship. Seeing how people reacted to assault, how people want to silence women or people want to just sweep these stories under the rug really kind of pushed me and catapulted me into a very strong sense of feminism.
O: I think I feel similarly. Um, I think the first time I was given names for what I was feeling was in a women’s studies class, which is of course extremely important. But I think it’s really interesting to look back on the moments in your life when you were doing things that are feminist without knowing that you were doing those things. So, when I was 16, I led a class action lawsuit of 28 women against my boss for sexual harassment. And, I didn’t mean to do it. I just knew that if I stayed I would be raped, and I knew that if anyone else had to stay they would be raped. So I thought - I just have to make this not be a reality. I went to the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and told them what happened, and they said you just have to sue him. So it wasn’t exactly what I meant to do or what I set out to do. I just was a 16-year-old and knew that I needed to stop this from happening. It ended up being a class action lawsuit and me and 19 other women won. And now, I look back, and I’m like god, Olivia! What propelled you to do that? You know, I’m not even sure I would do that now! Okay, I would, but I would be scared. And I don’t even remember feeling scared, I remember feeling a duty to do it. And I think that that was definitely the first moment for me.
HC: Why do you feel college students are an important audience for your poetry?
M: Well, our show primarily is about rape culture and the culture of violence against women. And rape and assault is extremely high on college campuses. One thing that we hope to do is get into a lot of freshman orientations, so that we can start these conversations and ways of thinking earlier. The survey that I quoted yesterday at the show about how college men were asked if they’d ever raped somebody and they said no, and then they were asked a series of similar questions...Have you ever had sex with somebody who was too drunk to say yes? Or who was asleep? Or used physical force? And they started saying yes. It was a study done amongst college men. And, I think for us to sort of re-center how people view what rape is on college campuses feels important because it could act as a form of prevention. I also know when we do that catcalling survey, and ask people if they’ve been catcalled and people look around and see, “Oh, this isn’t something that makes people feel safe. It makes them feel unsafe and scared.” I think we’re kind of looking at college-aged -not necessarily college students - but college-aged people as potentially some of the change makers. It feels important, like maybe this show or this discussion can make college campuses safer. Olivia tells an interesting story about how her campus dealt with rape education.
O: Yeah. My first two years of college at a state school I remember, and it wasn’t honestly until very recently that I remembered this and knew that it was bad in the context of what we do. I think that what we do taught me that this experience was not the way to teach about assault. My freshman year, the portion of our orientation in which they tried to talk to us about sexual assault, they put us all in a lecture hall - probably 200 of us - and they turned the lights off, and they staged a rape for us to listen to. It was basically just a woman begging for help and a man grunting, and then they turned the light on. And they said, “Okay, that’s what rape is, and don’t do it.” And I’m not exaggerating when I say that was the extent of it. And, I, at that time, was pretty progressive and understood that that was not the gist of it. But for someone who didn’t and someone who has received no prior education to it - for men who have never been assaulted or have never felt threatened to be assaulted - I can not imagine that that is anywhere near sufficient or even makes a mark on anyone. I think it’s important for Megan and I to acknowledge that and work really hard to meet students where they’re at. I think students like slam poetry, I think students like humor and I think that if you can sort of trick them into listening to these issues, it can make a huge difference.
HC: What would you say to young girls who are scared or hesitant to declare themselves as feminists?
M: Why? *Laughs* I think I would ask them: Why? I would tell them to write all of the reasons down why they are hesitant to call themselves feminists. And I think a lot of those reasons, if investigated, would probably be what the media - what the patriarchy - tells us to think about feminism so that less women are empowered. Like they might write that feminists are all lesbians or all have mustaches and hairy armpits, which some of us do, and are! *Laughs* Or they might say that they’re angry or hate men. I'd have them make this list of why they’re against saying it, and then examine that list and realize that that’s an image of feminists that have been fed to us so that we are less likely to band together and fight for equality.
O: And I think it’s ironic to say that feminism is stupid, when you're in college especially. Like I remember once seeing a girl that I knew tweeted and said something like, “I hate feminists.” And I wrote back and said, “Why?” And she said, “This feminist in my sociology class won’t shut up.” And I thought that was so ironic, and I told her that the fact that she was in a sociology class, with men, is because of feminism. My college used to be an all men’s college, and women weren’t allowed to be educated, and in large parts of the world, girls are still not allowed to go to school. Or when they’re on their period, they have to stay home from school if they can even go. These are still very big realities, so the fact that we are in a college is a privilege and is thanks to a world that listened to women when they spoke up. And so I think that it’s honestly just ironic.
M: Yeah, I’d ask them to examine. I think there’s a lot of self-hate going on. It’s either self-hate or outside forces.
HC: What advice do you have for girls who want to make a difference surrounding the issues of gender inequality and rape culture but don't know how?
O: I think community is a big aspect of that. I think it’s important for people to know there are communities everywhere and they can exist on college campuses, they can exist in your cities and every position is needed. So, not everyone needs to get on stage like we do. Not everyone should have to do that or should feel like they have to do that. We’ve got girls working with us booking shows and some of them may be introverts. All they want to do is send some emails, and that’s how they feel comfortable and safe. And they’re still helping spread a feminist message, and they’re still making a difference in this field. They’re needed, and they’re wanted. Whether you’re a female music-maker, or a moviemaker, or an engineer, or a doctor, sometimes your sheer existence is feminism. I think it means knowing yourself and allowing yourself to be yourself. Believing that you existing and being a woman and being outspoken is revolutionary.
M: Not even necessarily outspoken always, because that might be really fearful for somebody. I don’t think there’s one way of feminism that has a bigger impact than another. Maybe you’re a mother, and you just want to make sure that when you're in front of your daughter, you never once criticize your own body because you never want her to grow up hating her body. That’s a huge act of feminism that can inspire a lineage of girls toward self-love. There are little things. Like maybe your brother says “bitch” in a derogatory way, and you just say, “Hey, it hurts me when you say that, and here’s why.” There are these little small moments of impact, and I think that when you’re brave enough to make them, that can be enough. That can have a way bigger effect than you think.
HC: How can we see more of you?
M: Wow, so much.
O: We’re all over the Internet: YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, email (see below!). And we hopefully will be coming back to Pennsylvania, so we’ll let everybody know who’s on our mailing list.
M: And f*ck it up!
HC: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
M: Um… I’m gay. *Laughs* We exclusively work with women and women-identified people, and we’re often with other musicians, with other poets, graphic designers... we’re always trying to work with women. It’s our goal. Olivia and I are making our living doing poetry off of feminism, and we want other women to make a livelihood doing feminism. So when there’s opportunity for us to be doing that, we post about it.
O: We have intern positions. We have a girl army. They’re paid interns, so they work with us booking shows. And we post about that when there are openings sometimes. We’ll definitely need new positions like accountants, tour managers, lawyers, so stay tuned on our Facebook page.
M: We’d love to work with you!
Email: For booking shows & sleepover invites.