September, 2012

Patricia Valoy: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! 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 cultural 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.

Today, our Badass is Patricia Valoy. Patricia is  an engineer, a feminist and an activist who is working hard to bring women and the STEM-fields closer together. She has her own blog, Womanisms, is an avid Tweeter under the handle Besito86, and she’s a co-host at Let Your Voice Be Heard Radio.

And here is what she had to say to us!

What inspired you to study engineering? What was that like, and what does it feel like now working as a woman in the field?

While on a tour of the Bosch company in Stuttgart, Germany, my junior year of high school, I realized that there was a way to combine my imaginative and practical tendencies, in Engineering. Studying Civil Engineering was not easy, and many times I wanted to quit. I felt intellectually inferior to many of my classmates who had come for schools with excellent science programs. I attended an inner-city high school in Brooklyn, NY, where science and math classes beyond the basics were not an option due to lack of qualified teachers. Needless to say, I had to do a lot of catching up and take advantage of the many tutoring services offered to me. As one of the few women in my classes, it often felt that I was not smart or rugged enough. Now that I am a woman in the professional world of Engineering, I still fight with feeling inadequate, but I know that if I can do my job well I am on the right path. Confidence is cultivated, no one is born with it.  Everyday I strive to stand up for myself, be a role model for other young women (and men) who are interested in Engineering, and align myself with people who uplift me.

What came first, your feminism or your interest in the sciences?

I only recently started calling myself a feminist, but I have always been a science lover. The term “feminism” was never used in my household, although I consider my mother a true feminist in spirit. I lived with a conservative extended family that ostracized my mother for teaching me and my sisters about safe sex and having the guts to leave an abusive marriage. As a child I was fascinated by technology, gadgetry, and things that could not be seen (atoms, air, gravity.) My curious nature allowed me to break free from my family’s expectations that I become a traditional woman; I now question scientific theorems and a patriarchal society.

You do a lot of outreach work in schools, introducing girls to the STEM fields. What are some common questions or concerns that they have, and how do you address them?

The best part of my job is doing presentations where I show students what their imagination and a little science is capable of doing for our society. Boys’ toys are still a lot more creative (LEGOs, sports equipment, etc.), than girls’ toys (Barbie, makeup kits, etc.) When speaking to students I find that girls and boys are equally eager to really understand how science, technology, and engineering affect us, but girls are often more curious to learn about me as a person and a woman, and boys want to know if I physically build things. The most asked question among co-ed groups is “What do you do?” But when I’m only speaking to a group of girls, I get asked “How does it feel to work with so many boys?”

You are also a moderator at Let Your Voice Be Heard Radio. How did you get there and what do you do there?

I would have never imagined I would be part of a radio show, but life has a way of surprising you in the most unexpected ways. I was asked to join the show, which at the time was done out of a college radio station in Old Westbury, NY, by a high school friend. We would constantly chat about politics, social issues, women’s rights, etc. and he felt that I would make a great addition to the show. In no time I was a regular host and now we are on an FM station out of Harlem, NY (90.3 FM, www.whcr.org). Every week we gather interesting topics, and after finalizing which topics will become segments I get to researching, booking guests, and preparing questions. I have hosted segments on sexism in the media with Jennifer Pozner, healthy sexuality with Soraya Chemaly, and white privilege with Dr. David J. Leonard. Next weekend I will be hosting a segment on street harassment with Holly Kearl. It is truly one of the best ways I can spend my Sundays.

What projects are you currently working on? What plans do you have for the rest of 2012?

Currently I am working on several projects, but my favorite one is overseeing the renovation of a historical building. It will require that we design in the Beaux-Arts style of the early 1900s in order to retain the historical authenticity of the building. The project will include the restoration of ornate copper trims that were very popular in the early 1900s, though has decreased in popularity due to the rising cost of copper. I tend not to plan my life too much, but I am looking forward for the rest of 2012. I am currently gathering essays written by women who feel marginalized by Western feminism for an anthology. It is a project that sprung from a lunchtime chat with a friend, but has quickly become my most desired goal.

 

Thanks for your time, Patricia!

Brooke Elise Axtell: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! 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 cultural 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.

Today’s Badass is Brooke Elise Axtell. Brooke is a singer, songwriter and poet, as well as an adcovate for survivors of sexual assault and violence. She is the author of the poetry book Kore of the Incantation and creator SHE: Survivor Healing &Empowerment, a community for survivors of abuse and their allies. Her contributions have been featured in many outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here’s what she had to say to us!

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer/performer and what motivates you in your work?

I grew up dancing in professional ballet companies and started writing poetry at the age of 7. I eventually transitioned into music and discovered my voice as a singer and songwriter.

The arts have always been a place of refuge for me. I am motivated by the desire to make meaningful connections, to honor both the beauty and ruin of life.

Bearing witness makes everything sacred.

A lot of your activism centers around advocating for survivors of sexual assault. Among other things, you work with the speaker’s bureau of RAINN. What do you hope to achieve with your work, and what do you see as the most important aspect of advocating for survivors?

I hope that through my writing and activism I help women recognize that they are not alone. The deception of isolation is so painful. When I write and speak my truth, I am inviting others to do the same.

The creative process is a powerful instrument of transformation. The core of healing is the reclamation of worth and power. I try to remind those in my community of their own brilliance. Recovery is a process of remembering who we are.

You are a contributor to Seal Press’s new anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom“. Can you describe the book for us, and why you chose to contribute to it?

“Dancing at the Shame Prom” is an anthology featuring essays by 27 courageous women writers who found ways to confront and release their shame. We address everything from addiction to eating disorders.

When Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter invited me to contribute, I knew I had to be a part of the project. I intuitively sensed that it would be a healing process for me to give voice to hidden and silenced parts of my life. Their vision was immediately compelling and I felt that it would be a collection that contributed to women’s emotional freedom.

Please give us a sneak preview of your contributing essay, “What I Know of Silence”. What is it about, and why did you chose to write this particular piece?

I wrote about my experience of sexual assault and child sex-trafficking as well as my recovery process. I felt that bringing this darkness into the light would be the next step in my own healing and that other survivors might be encouraged to share their truth. Here is an excerpt from my essay:

Eventually, I decided to go underground in search of a healing path. I left the music world behind and moved to Boulder, Colorado to study poetry and Buddhist meditation at Naropa University. I started attending a recovery group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and began to recognize how the beliefs I formed as a little girl colored everything I touched.

Before I felt compassion for myself, I felt fierce compassion for the other women in my group. To learn how to value myself, I imagined what I would want for them and then chose to embrace that vision. When they talked about how they had been used and exploited, how they still struggled to feel any sense of worth, I knew I was willing to do whatever I could to contribute to their healing.  With their help, I created a body of knowledge, a body that finally belongs to me.

In my meditation class, I learned about aspirations as a contemplative practice, a way to offer loving-kindness to ourselves and the world. Whenever I had flashbacks, I would turn to my own aspiration as a touchstone, a way to ground myself in the present moment: “May all who have suffered as I have suffered be liberated from their suffering and the roots of their suffering. May they be guided even now to what they need for complete liberation and healing.” I turned to this mantra to remind myself that I am not alone and that through my own recovery I can bring hope to others.

Isolation is an illusion. So many of us have suffered through violence against our bodies, souls and minds. I hope that by sharing my story and what I’ve learned through recovery, women will be inspired to break open their silences. Suffering can be the seed of awakening. When we awaken, we encourage others to do the same.

Sexual assault sends the message that our voices and our desires do not matter. Creative expression provides a sacred space for honoring the truth of our experience, so we can begin to heal. In the midst of my pain, I sensed that if could draw pictures of the abuse, write about the abuse and bring every trace of shame into the light, it could not destroy me. No matter what happened, I could bear witness and embrace myself with tenderness.”

What other plans do you have for the rest of 2012? What projects are you currently working on?

I recently contributed an essay to a forthcoming anthology on the songs of Joni Mitchell called “Blazes All Across the Sky.” It is the first book on her poetry that she has actually endorsed.

In my piece, I explore her song “Magdalene Laundries.” Outside of Irish towns, the Catholic Church ran laundries that depended on the slave labor of women who were deemed “fallen”: prostitutes, unmarried mothers, some victims of incest and clergy abuse. A woman could also be institutionalized if she was considered too attractive or sexual.

Many Irish girls were forced into the laundries by their families through the help of their parish priest. If they tried to escape, police would intervene and return them to the nuns. Church, State and family worked together to ensure their captivity and the continued violation of their human rights.

I am glad I have the opportunity to pay homage to her work and address this history of exploitation.

I am always working on something new, so please come visit me at my website.


 

Thomas Cabus: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! 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 cultural 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.

Today’s Badass is Thomas Cabus. Thomas is a Parisian born creative director, designer and photographer. He has worked for top companies like Oracle, Orange and Air France. He has worked for big Hollywood studios like Warner Brothers, noticeably on “Syriana” and “Blood Diamond” movies.

He’s a Badass because he also uses his design talents for social good. Thomas worked to design this very blog and the entire look and feel of The Line Campaign. He’s worked for “Out and Around”, a queer political venture documenting a lesbian couple travelling the world in search of “Super Gays”. He is a fine art photographer, focusing on the urban street, and his work has been in shows in Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco and published widely. He studied design for 1 year at “Les Ateliers de Sèvres” in Paris, then for 4 more years at “EPSAA” (Ecole Professionelle d’Arts Graphiques et d’Architecture de la ville de Paris), where he graduated with honors. He splits his time between Paris, San Francisco and New York.

You can see a full overview of his work here.

Circle of 6 is his first mobile app.

Here’s what he had to say to us!

What made you decide to design Circle of 6?

When Nancy approached me about this project, and told me that, according to White House statistics, 1 in 5 young women will be sexually assaulted in the course of her studies, I was absolutely shocked. Joe Biden and HHS created a technology challenge, which gave us the opportunity to play our part and try to change this, by designing an app that would empower people and help prevent violence before it happens. We ended up winning the challenge, which was awesome.

I saw this as a way to help young women, of course, but also people at large. Everyone that may be in a dangerous situation due to their gender, race, or sexual orientation.

She told me about the team that would be involved in the project: Nancy, of course. I have known her amazing work for years now. Deb Levine, founder of ISIS and the Sex Tech Campaign, and Christine Corbet Morand, an MIT alumni, organizer of TedX Zurich, Physicist and developer. It all sounded like incredibly interesting people to work and make a great product with!

I had never designed an app before, so I thought it would be fun to take on the challenge. I really believe in the cause and don’t shy away from a challenge – so coming on board to design the user interface of Circle of 6 was a no brainer. Now I’m the Creative Director and in charge of everything visual related to Circle of 6.

How did your prior experience designing the look and feel of a sex-positive anti-violence campaign like The Line Campaign influence your awareness of the issue and how to approach it visually?

I’ve known Nancy as a friend for years. We worked closely to design the The Line Campaign logo (the sexy legs!), the stickers, the website identity and even motion graphics.

Working on all this with her really got me closer to her story as a rape survivor, and the outpouring of stories from students, it became so clear to me the necessity to create awareness about sexual violence in a positive, empowering way.

As a gay man, I find many bridges between Women’s right, gay rights, and all forms of oppression and bias. It’s all connected, it’s all the same pattern. I strongly believe that we should work for each other’s “causes” whenever we have the opportunity to do so. That’s the best way to educate and empower each other, and I was inspired to lend my design talent to the cause.

Going back to design itself, for The Line Campaign, we went with a very clean, uncluttered, gender-neutral but also sexy art direction.

The focus is the content, all these people doing an amazing job sharing their experience. We want it to be easily accessible and not distract from by overdesigning.

The whole campaign is about positive empowerment, so I wanted something contrasted, bright and luminous. Hence a lot of white space, with just a few dashes of red accents, and a Sans serif font, for an overall clean and bold look & feel.

How did you apply this to designing the User Interface for Cirlce of 6?

For the circle of 6 app, although it tackles the same kind of issues as the line campaign, the design challenges were very different.

First, it had to be a very simple, efficient, tool. Chances are that people will have to use it when in a situation of stress or danger, so we wanted to make it as straightforward as possible. Once you set up your circle of chosen friends, you just have one, big, central button. Tapping it will trigger the 3 options helping in the scenarios that we thought were the most important. Help is 2 taps away. The actions are represented by big icons, which keeps it simple and private from prying eyes.

Second, it had to be engaging. Our goal is to address to and help young students in their 20s about a serious issue. I don’t think a super dry design or a scary, danger oriented one is the right way to do so. Since our very first discussions with the team, we agreed that it’s all about positive empowerment, trust and friendships: my friends have my back, and in return, I’m here for them. The design had to highlight the tight knit social relationships of the targeted age group.

So we came up with this idea of a circle of protective people around the central action button. They’re your friends, your family, anyone you really trust. They’re on screen when you launch the app, ready to be triggered for help. It may sound like a small thing, but I think that creates an immediate, positive emotional connection with the app, which is important when you’re in an uncomfortable situation.

The colors are bright and fun, purple and green, not too girly as, again, we want to be as gender neutral as possible. The purple theme might come from my weird obsession with Prince, though! I was listening to him when working on colors for this.

Overall, it looks more like a social game app than a “personal safety” app, which is very conscious from our part. Beyond the targeted users engagement problematic mentioned above, it was really important for us that a potential offender peaking at the screen wouldn’t really know what it is about. That is true for these moments of immediate danger, but also in some less hectic situations. You’re on a date or talk to a person at a party, say. It starts to get weird and creepy. You feel uncomfortable, you need an interruption. You use the app to trigger your circle so your friends call you and pretend they need you. It would be really awkward if said creep looks at your screen and sees a big, red, danger button. That would be a sure way to escalate the situation in a potentially dangerous one. Not to mention the scenario of a person actually harassing you.

We put a lot of attention and craft in its design, to make it easy to use, engaging, and private. Designing the App created the basic visual recipe for the whole circle of 6 brand, which we implemented on the website, print marketing materials, social media pages, educational toolkits, etc.

What’s next for you?

We just launched the Android version of the app, which we’re very excited about. I can think of a few ways to make it even better, visually and feature wise.

Also related to circle of 6, we will soon launch an educational toolkit for universities. There’s a lot to be done design wise on it.

In other news, I’m currently working on two big campaigns for Oracle, a regular client. I recently finished a website for Orange France, called Culturemobile.net. It’s a high quality content space, that provides in-depth articles by journalists, thinkers and artists on how communication technologies impact us and our societies.

I also just finished art directing the branding and UI of Darkhorse.fm, a great tool created by Mike Kascel, that helps musicians find band mates and share projects, using social media and location based technologies. This launched a few days ago.

I have a few new apps projects under development, and need to refocus on photography, which I had to put on the side lately due to lack of time.

Right now, putting all the Android design assets in place – I’m ready for a drink ;)

 

Thank you for your time, and enjoy that drinbk! :)

 

Want to Meet Feminists in New York?

I hope everyone enjoyed Labor Day!

We are back with a shout-out from our friend Liz Grover from The Feminist Press. She asked us to help her spread the word about a new project for feminists in New York. This is what she told us about it:

After graduating from Colgate University back in May of 2011 I thought to myself, so what now? I left the university bubble and entered the ‘real world’ worried that I would never participate in the same engaging conversations I took for granted in college. I talked to one of my professors about this and she suggested I get in contact with one of her former students living in NYC.

That former student, Rachel Greenburg, introduced me to the Feminist Press about a year ago and told me that they were trying to start a Young Patrons Steering Committee. I immediately wanted to know more about it and soon found myself helping draft a mission statement and officially joining the group. I joined because after leaving school and moving to New York City I realized, yes there are tons of feminists here, and yes I follow a whole slew on twitter, but I still did not feel connected. I wanted to be part of a feminist community and meet likeminded people. Just because my Women Studies Seminar ended over a year ago, doesn’t mean I’m finished discussing feminism and social justice. I still want to have those stimulating conversations that challenge what I may read in the mainstream media. Through the Feminist Press I have met other people that feel the same way as I do and together we are building the Young Patrons Committee.

The Feminist Press Young Patron Committee Mission Statement:

The Feminist Press Young Patron Committee (FPYPC), a subset of the Feminist Press, is a group comprised of young professionals (ages 22-40) who:

  • Promote books and authors published by the Feminist Press
  • Organize interactive events relating to social justice, human rights, and feminism.
  • Create educational and networking opportunities for our members, by building a pipeline of dedicated activists to work toward achieving the Feminist Press’s goals.

We are having a mix and mingle event on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 at the Dove Parlour in NYC starting at 7pm (free entry; cash bar). At this event we will talk about who we are and what we’re all about! We will talk about upcoming events and where we see our group in the future. All are welcome! Please spread the word!

 

Sounds great to me! I know I would go if I was in the area. We wish Liz and The Feminist Press good luck with the new project, and I hope lots of people make it to the event on September 19th.

All Posts from September, 2012