Burning more than bras: Breaking down rape culture with ‘Speak Like a Girl’
“Just because you hold the door for us doesn’t mean we’ll hold your d—,” reads a sign propped on the ledge behind the Tisch Commons stage.
Two women, one wearing a shirt that reads, “Human decency is not equal to foreplay,” prepare their microphones for an interactive poetry performance to shed new light on rape culture, body image issues and sexual objectification of women—a performance built especially to change the dialogue around feminism on college campuses.
The women are Megan Falley, a queer femme author of two full-length collections of poetry, and Olivia Gatwood, a poet, fiction writer and sex and relationships writer at Bustle, both of whom are Women of the World and National Poetry Slam finalists. Together, they are “Speak Like a Girl,” co-sponsored by Alpha Phi sorority, WU-SLam and the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department to bring their modern take on feminism to Washington University.
Beginning with the contention around the subject of feminism, Falley said, “You know that moment when you find out that someone really close to you says they’re not a feminist, and you’re just like…F—.” And immediately, the whole audience is laughing. She goes on to address the criticism of feminism as “boring” with the clear analogy of feminism to sleep—yes, sleep might be boring, too, but, simply stated, we can’t function in society without either.
“We were excited about the opportunity to partner with WU-SLam on bringing Speak Like a Girl to Wash. U., especially because of recent portrayals of Greek life in the media. They delve into some really important issues often not associated with sororities,” Paulina Gallagher, Alpha Phi’s vice president of campus affairs, said.
After a trigger warning for sensitive content and the general promotion of snaps, claps and single-syllable praise (think: yaas, oooo, ahhh), the two women launch into a powerful series of poems addressing the consequences of our society’s consistent devaluation of women—and the consequences that come from women who say no. Those women who choose to reject a marriage proposal in the middle of a crowded baseball stadium, those who refuse to come closer when prompted by a catcall, those who refuse to have sex for the sixth time in one morning.
Even the depiction of the interesting, quirky girlfriend in our favorite romantic comedies, the Zooey Deschanel character with just enough awkwardness and split-ends and odd hobbies to set her apart, simply falls farther into the trap of our culture’s sexism. Gatwood reveals that this “magic pixie dream girl” has no dialogue about what she thinks or feels, but maybe she plays the ukulele and encourages the male character to take risks—she’s the good girl who’s just bad enough. And yet, everything we learn about her is measured by what’s projected onto the male character; after that, she’s gone as fast as she came.
In between the poems, which hone in on a range of topics from the double bind of women experiencing sexual assault in the armed forces to the demeaning language endured by young women working as waitresses, Falley and Gatwood engage the audience through discussion of rape culture. They define it as a society that not only excuses rape, but normalizes it and sometimes even denies its existence. With a reference to the shootings at the Alpha Phi sorority house at University of California, Santa Barbara, the importance of continuing the dialogue on the effects of rape culture becomes imminently clear.
Although dealing with rather heavy subject matter, Falley and Gatwood are incredibly adept at incorporating humor into their show. One of the more memorable poems is Gatwood’s reaction to the article “Was 2014 the Year Science Discovered The Female Orgasm?” from The Daily Beast: “Imma let you finish, science, but, like, I’ve been having great orgasms since 2004,” continuing with, ”You might want to take a lesson from a woman rather than quoting Freud and passing that off as science.”
With a variety of posters listing poignant phrases from the poetry and a box filled with props like tiaras and bows, audience members swarmed the stage to take pictures with the duo’s selfie stick after the performance.
When asked what she hopes Wash. U. students take away from the experience, Falley said, “I think it’s really important to remember what rape looks like in this world—it’s not typically the man in a ski mask jumping out at you in a dark alley. It’s more likely to be someone you’re in a relationship with.”
Check out “Speak Like a Girl” on Tumblr at www.speaklikeagirl.tumblr.com.