by NICK BUCHANAN
“Studies predict that if women stopped buying cosmetic products and services, every economy in the world would collapse overnight. This is a call to collapse the economy. Let’s cover our scented tampons in hairspray, light them on fire, and throw them at Maybelline’s headquarters.”
After a loop of Beyoncé’s greatest hits died away from the loudspeakers and a shaky, clearly-read-off-the-iPhone introduction was given, “Collapse the Economy” was Megan Falley and Olivia Gatwood’s bold introduction to Tiffin University students in Osceola Theatre on the evening of Feb. 21. Together, the duo led an hour presentation that made audiences think about the female orgasm, video game characters, gold-star lesbians, manic pixie dream girls, and more.
Why? Because they want to show the world how to Speak Like a Girl – and clearly, it’s not as proper as the title of the show suggests. Instead, the women deliver feminist-fueled slam poetry, seasoned with sass and plenty of expletives, covering topics from gender inequality to sexual assault.
Campus Activities Board (CAB) president Shelby Quinones said that the organization booked the pair after seeing their performance at a National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) convention.
“They were just great. We loved them, so we booked them right there,” Quinones said.
The current state of the touring passion project has been a year in the making between the two writers – Falley, an author of full-length collections and literary journal features, and Gatwood, a sex and relationship columnist.
“We’ve only been around for a year. We started writing together in August of 2014 as part of a national poetry slam team, and we wrote group poems together and found that it was just really easy for us to write together, which is a really rare occurrence to find that collaborating is an easy process,” Gatwood said. “And so not long after that competition, Megan proposed the idea that we go on tour. We weren’t really sure what we were setting out to do – or why – and as we did more shows, our vision kind of honed it, and we saw both the demand and our passion for the topic and formed Speak Like a Girl.”
The women are a few stops into their spring college campus tour, which is meant to cultivate conversation about women’s rights, LGBT+ visibility, and sexual assault. Colleges are prime locations for the women’s show, as they’re environments that Gatwood believes are ill-informed about rape and sexual assault.
“The social climate around sexual assault is largely just inaccurate, and also ignored. Students are coming in as freshmen and receiving inaccurate sexual health education; they’re not receiving education around sexual assault, or the education they’re receiving is wrong – and when I say ‘wrong,’ so much of it is like, ‘don’t wear these things’ or ‘don’t go out at these times,’ instead of teaching students what sexual assault actually looks like and not to do it,” she said. “And what’s then happening is when students are being sexually assaulted and reporting those assaults, colleges are not handling that. They’re mishandling those cases, or bribing those women to keep quiet, or suspending the students who were assaulting for, you know, two days. It’s a very, very messy situation. Our aim is to reform that and make it something that is accurate, and healthy, and fun, and creates a conversation on campus that students aren’t afraid to have. Students are having it, but it’s happening behind closed doors, and college administrators are not the ones initiating it, so we want to be the ones to do that.”
Tiffin University takes sexual assault claims seriously. Title IX complaints involving discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct or assault, and retaliation can be filed with Dr. Sharon Perry-Fantini, the Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Title IX Coordinator.
The women’s messages couldn’t have come to campus at a better time: a publicized sexual assault case has hit the media circuit within the past week and has pushed its way to the top of social media feeds, reaffirming the need for presentations in the vein of Speak Like a Girl.
In a complaint filed in Oct. 2014, pop artist Kesha Sebert claims to have been physically, psychologically, and sexually abused by music producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, the executive producer and co-writer of her two full-length albums. On Feb. 19, 2016, a New York judge ruled against Sebert’s preliminary injunction to nullify her joint contract under Sony Music Entertainment subsidiaries, sparking a viral outrage from fans and fellow recording artists through the #FreeKesha movement.
According to court documents from New York Supreme Court case Gottwald v. Sebert, the upheld contract requires Sebert to release three more records, each with at least six tracks produced in collaboration with her alleged rapist, through RCA Records and Gottwald’s Kemosabe Records.
“I think it’s unfortunately not surprising,” Gatwood said. “It’s why we have Speak Like a Girl. Colleges do the same thing to female students: they force female students to go to school and sit in class with boys who raped them. We see this all the time: we see this in jobs, in music with Kesha, on film sets, and in classrooms. I think that it speaks to the fact that our first instinct is to not believe women who have been sexually assaulted, and our second instinct is to minimize their experience and then make them seem like the crazy ones. It’s horrific.”
The show is rooted in feminism, a polarizing term that has been granted more definitions than can be counted. Gatwood outlined the viewpoint on feminism that both she and Falley subscribe to.
“I think the most accurate definition I’ve found was from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The popular way that that speech has been sampled is within Beyoncé’s song “***Flawless.” It’s the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes, and I think that’s true. I think it’s about equality across the board,” she said. “Feminism is a social movement that understands that women have been held back and is looking to bring women up to the same level that men have been treated for all of history.”
Not everybody agrees with them, though – there are some who detest the ongoing waves of the feminist movement. Both Falley and Gatwood are puzzled by the idea of a woman whose idea of feminism equates to the hatred of men or stay-at-home mothers.
“I would want them to interrogate why – to ask themselves why that it is, especially given that previous quote. Why wouldn’t you want to be equal?” Falley said. “I think that historically, feminism has been, in the media, portrayed as ugly, hairy, angry lesbians. I mean, that is so much rooted in sexism. I think that the reason that it’s portrayed that way is because society wants [fewer] feminists, so they make it the worst thing that you can be. The idea that a woman who is empowered and angry can change the world… people don’t want that.”
While many classes are integrated to promote all forms of diversity at TU, undergraduate gender studies classes are few and far between. According to the latest academic bulletin, the university offers only Gender, Culture, and Visual Arts (CUL410), Women and Literature (CUL448), and Sociology of Gender (SOC361).
A lack of college classes doesn’t inhibit the ability to learn about gender inequality and feminist issues, though.
“The Internet is a wonderful place,” Gatwood said.
Falley agreed, emphasizing the influence of online slam poetry from feminist authors such as Janae Johnson, Andrea Gibson, Angel Nafis, and Rachel McKibbens.
“I think poetry is a great example, especially online. Spoken word and listening to feminist poets is a great way to get somebody’s story in three minutes in an impactful and emotional way. I think that’s the beauty of spoken word,” she said. “It’s a very human way, I think, to see a performance. Of course reading books is phenomenal, but I think [slam poetry] would probably be a newer way [to learn] for people who are college students and don’t have time to pop open a textbook, but have three minutes online.”
A favorite poem among the two performers and TU audience members alike is the duo’s “Princess Peach Speaks,” a comical, yet eye-opening, three-minute piece written from the perspective of the damsel in distress from the Super Mario Bros. video game franchise.
While introducing the poem on stage, the pair pointed out a number of factors that the Millennial generation has grown up with that normalize rape culture: for example, the idea that Princess Peach is a weak woman who needs saving from a plumber and the portrayal of Pepé Le Pew’s incessant badgering of Penelope Pussycat on Looney Tunes as humorous.
“We like to ruin people’s childhoods,” Falley said with a laugh.
Another notable poem, “Fat Girl,” was performed by Falley with a brownie in hand after the pair read a number of mean YouTube comments – including one that compared Falley to a hippopotamus. The piece zeroes in on body image and ends in a triumphant, “Fat girl, thick skin. Fat girl, dance anyway. Fat girl, shirt off. Fat girl, lights on.”
“I like reading ‘Fat Girl’ a lot. I’ve been reading it for years. Anytime I think, ‘Oh, I’m going to get sick of reading this poem,’ the reaction it gets and knowing that some people are hearing that type of body positivity for the first time [makes me] really glad that I read it,” Falley said.
Audience members like Morgan Hixenbaugh and Claire McKenna left the audience with warm memories of poems like “Fat Girl” and “Princess Peach Speaks,” but Gatwood and Falley hope that much deeper meanings are attached to the night’s performance.
“The stereotypes around feminism or around many of the things we talk about – sexual assaults and queerness and gender – and all of these preconceived notions that are being fed… I hope those go away,” Gatwood said. “And also, I think that the human experience stays regardless of education, and I think that young girls can feel that they’re being treated differently than the boys around them. I hope that even students who came here not necessarily knowing all of these terms or have never taken a women’s studies class feel validated in their experience. We ask how many people have been cat-called and almost every woman in the audience raises her hand, so I think that says something about the fact that we’re still experiencing this regardless of what kind of education we’re receiving. I hope that we can make people feel less alone.”
Falley picked up where Gatwood left off, ending the post-show interview with a call to action not only for females, but also for anybody who can see injustice.
“I would want people who have not had these experiences to feel enraged, or to want to make change, and to help,” she said. “I get very skeptical of the person who says, ‘Well, that’s not about me, so I want nothing to do with it.’ I want somebody sitting here to be like, ‘F—k, this is what’s going on around me. I want to take part in making this better and healing this wound.’”
Speak Like a Girl will continue its college campus tour through April. Students can follow the project on their official website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.