by Emma Saso
Megan Falley and Olivia Gatwood, two unbelievably talented spoken word poets that together make up Speak Like A Girl, took the stage at Claremont McKenna’s Athenaeum Thurs. Sept. 24.
Speak Like a Girl is dedicated to creating and preforming spoken word pieces that explore a wide range of vital aspects of feminism in our society, such as rape culture, street harassment, abusive relationships, and body shaming. They work to challenge the way feminist concepts are conventionally viewed in an effort to disassemble and rebuild social norms and constructs around what we deem acceptable with regards to physical and emotional relationships.
Hundreds of people, all hailing from different backgrounds, crowded into the Athenaeum on Thursday evening to watch and listen in on what the Speak Like a Girl performance had to offer. It’s safe to say that no one came out disappointed.
One key theme of their performance was rape culture. Through eloquent poetry, Olivia and Megan portrayed the idea quite clearly that although we may be unaware of it at times, we are surrounded by rape culture. We live in the thick of it, with cartoons, video games, marriage proposals, and pop culture all attributing to it’s proliferation.
Falley and Gatwood point to the presence of rape culture in the famous Mario and Princess Peach duet itself, saying that Peach is burdened with a forced expectation to fall in love with Mario once he arrives at her castle. She is expected to feel appreciative and forever indebted to Mario for all of the work and trouble he went through just to ‘save’ her. “You keep saying…how I should be grateful,” Princess Peach says in Falley and Gatwood’ spoken word piece. “Thanks Mario, I guess.”
Stemming from the video games and cartoons we grew up with, rape culture runs rampant across college campuses today with one in five college women experiencing some form of non-consensual sexual activity before graduation, according to the National Institute of Justice.
“It’s a discussion that’s really important on college campuses,” first year Lucia Di Bartolo said, where “rape culture is a big deal. Right after their performance, there was a sexual assault at CMC, and recently there was also an assault at Pitzer.”
To bring this point to light, Falley and Gatwood took their own experiences involving rape culture and transformed them into stories and lessons for their audience’s digestion. Bringing their audience with them through mountains of laughter and rivers of tears, they performed these pieces with stunning sincerity, all the while emphasizing the dire importance for an open and safe environment conducive to conversations about rape and rape culture.
First year Olivia Kohn appreciates that their poems “came from their experiences,” because “to hear that and to make it very real and very possible is really important.”
In addition to speaking to rape culture, other issues surrounding feminism including body image and abusive relationships were also brought up. Falley performed an amazing poem on body image called Fat Girl calling women of all shapes and sizes to love their bodies and themselves no matter what social media insists is ‘beautiful’ or ‘desirable.’
“There is a big stigma around the word feminism and it’s not man hating. It’s equality,” Di Bartolo said. Falley and Gatwoodalso addressed the fact that they themselves only represent a part of the much larger and intersectional feminist movement. “Their point of view is a very white, cis-gendered point of view,” Kohn said. However, “they really focused on the idea that feminism isn’t just white feminism.”
Their show was interactive, open and encouraging. Falley and Gatwood put up no walls between what they were comfortable sharing with the audience and what they were holding back. They were open books. They displayed not a single ounce of doubt, of questioning, of worry, but instead stood tall and proud on the stage, all the while seeming to let their confidence seep out and pass itself onto their eager audience.
Once Speak Like a Girl was over, the very people who had crowded into the room an hour earlier not knowing what to expect exited feeling a new sense of understanding of feminist issues and empowerment to take action.
Kohn said she was “amped and excited and grateful for the opportunity to hear that talk.”
Although our society may be recognizing gender and feminist issues as problems in need of attention, inequalities related to sex and sexual orientation somehow still seem to take the back burner on our list of priorities.Falley and Gatwood’s Speak Like a Girl performance left the audience empowered and excited not only to wait and watch for change, but to be the ones to instigate it.