Dear Readers, Happy Friday!
The WIYL blog is kicking off an all-new series of interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Without further ado…
You’re one of our favorite, most unapologetic and opinionated bloggers. Can you talk a little about what made you start Tiger Beatdown, voice your opinions with such conviction, and what challenges that might have posed you in the course of your work?
Aww, thanks! Tiger Beatdown started the way most blogs start: I had a lot of things to say every day, and didn’t think the people in my life would be interested. It was pretty common for people to make fun of me, even just affectionately, for being “too feminist.” But I needed a place to be as feminist as I wanted. As more people started to read the blog, I felt more empowered to take my opinions seriously and value them and voice them loudly. Now, people still make fun of me for being too feminist, and there are still moments when I feel insecure about being accepted socially or professionally because of that, but the people who make the jokes are also aware that they can’t freaking stop me. There’s a different tone to the jokes now, because I’m not the one who’s feeling threatened.
In the past two months, you have launched two Twitter campaigns — #DearJohn and #Mooreandme — defending the rights of rape victims, illuminating how bogus and dangerous a redefinition of rape will be, demanding justice, accountability and making some serious noise. What happened as a result? Were/are they successful? Why twitter?
I think in terms of #MooreandMe, our impact on the narrative looks pretty small, but it was profound. There are no longer stories about how these women have to be lying, stories which openly seek to discredit them without a trial; Naomi Wolf is no longer saying that an unconscious person can give consent. People are still minimizing the charges, and there’s still a false dichotomy being put forth, that you can either support WikiLeaks or believe Assange might be guilty, but not both; anyone who doesn’t say Assange is innocent is still accused of saying he’s guilty. And the charges are still being downplayed by the press. But we stopped the very worst manifestations.
The thing is, with #DearJohn, we’re challenging the exact same misconceptions that informed the Assange case: The idea that rape has to be “forcible” in order to be rape. People who couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that coercion or unconsciousness equaled non-consent in the Assange case are now shouting from the rooftops that unconsciousness and coercion equal non-consent, in order to oppose the GOP. It’s a little irritating, but I’ll take it.
Twitter was an instinctive choice for #MooreandMe, because it made the target of the protest accessible and ensured that he could hear us. But I liked it as a medium for #DearJohn too, because it was really equalizing, it wasn’t hierarchical, it ensured that voices and perspectives could influence the conversation regardless of how well-connected or well-known they were, and it was a very visible, trackable way to register dissent.
And that has to do with the other major accomplishment of these campaigns, in my opinion: We’ve mobilized sexual assault survivors, and made them a powerful base. I’ve gotten so many letters from survivors about how these protests made them feel like they could finally speak up, and gave them hope that their concerns actually mattered. Instead of being silent or divided, survivors are speaking up and exercising political and cultural power, as a group. Which is really impressive. I like the idea of the people in power being intimidated by rape survivors, and having to take them into account when they make decisions. That really brings me great joy, just to contemplate it.
Do you speak to a specific/target audience, or do you speak mostly for yourself, with the responses you receive as a side effect?
I try to be as inclusive of as many people as possible, while also not speaking for anyone else. I try to listen as closely as I can to legitimate criticism, because I’m not useful or interesting when I speak only to my own concerns, but I also can’t say what it’s like to be a woman of color in this society, or a lesbian, or a trans woman, so everything I write comes specifically from me and my base of knowledge. I do like getting responses. I even like getting critical responses, if they’re smart. And as I’ve grown, I’ve become more focused on who I’m serving, and not just on my own need for self-expression. Sometimes I don’t want to talk about rape at all, but I still think people need to hear it. So it’s my job to drag my ass to the computer and repeat the basics about why rape is bad, again.
What do you think is the most harmful gender stereotype out there and what’s the best way to combat this? Humour plays a large part in your writing – are these things related?
I mean, there are so many. If you speak about sexism, you’re a bitch. Or you’re a whiner. Or you’re making things up, you’re delusional. You’re too serious; your issues aren’t serious enough. You’re too intimidating; you’re too weak. Everyone’s a winner. I definitely make jokes, sometimes just to keep the posts interesting and because it’s how I talk, but also because it’s hard to call someone an over-serious bitch or a weak, hypersensitive whiner when she’s got a big shit-eating grin on her face. If you’re clearly laughing, it doesn’t even matter if anyone else thinks you’re funny; you’re not coming from a defensive position any more.
You’re also one of the most committed online feminist activists out there – what keeps you committed and motivated to keep catalysing change? What movements inspire you?
I just have this really serious problem with not being listened to. I don’t accept it. If I know I’m right, then I just get louder and more persistent as more and more people disagree with me. Sometimes it’s not even because I think I’ll win; I just do it to annoy people. I don’t think it’s a gift. I think it’s just my innate obnoxiousness. Did you not hear me talking? I’ll yell. Did you not hear me yelling? I’ll get a megaphone. Did you not hear me with the megaphone? I’ll stand over your bed at night and aim my megaphone directly into your ear. DO YOU WANT ME TO SHUT UP? HOW ABOUT NOW?
I’m always keeping my eyes open, and trying to stay tapped into all the vital stuff that young feminists are doing, especially online. I read a ton of blogs every day, just to get a sense of what people are thinking and talking about; it helps me, not just as a writer, but as someone who is hopefully serving a community when I organize. Even if I see something that irritates me, or something I disagree with, it informs what I WON’T do, next time I’m planning a similar action. What energizes me is not so much any particular movement, but the fact of so many movements and individuals in dialogue with each other, particularly online.
Is there anything you’d like to say that we haven’t asked — ?
I would just like to remind readers that they’re powerful enough to do this sort of organizing themselves. The key is to reach out to each other and work together. #MooreandMe involved a whole lot of people, but I wasn’t taking steps to delegate anything to anybody, so I actually felt really isolated and drained and martyred. I felt alone, when actually I was surrounded by people who wanted to help, and some (like my co-blogger, Garland Grey) who were taking key roles in the protest.
With #DearJohn, I actually took the time to talk to everybody I knew, and to draw in people I didn’t even know that well, so that they could to serve vital functions within the protest. The result is that I feel empowered, I feel like part of the community, I’m doing better work, and I have a ton of people to talk to and learn from as we form strategy and talking points and such. One of the strengths of the political Internet, which a movement like #MooreandMe or #DearJohn makes clear, is that there are so many great voices and so many ways for people to connect and influence each other. So if you see something that you think you have to oppose, use your voice to speak up against it, and try to get any friends or sympathetic people in your online space involved as well. The way you go from a blogger to a person building a movement is simple: You say, “hey, I want to build a movement, who’s interested?” And when they’re interested, you start talking to them, and then you start to move.
Remember, getting pissed off is good. Channel it, get inspired and we’ll move with you. You can start by signing the Petition to stop HR3 here.