Here is a version of the talk I gave at U of Rochester-NY last Tuesday. Enjoy! Don't forget to join our FB page if you haven't already!
was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin—a medium sized progressive city in
the Midwest known for its cheese and beer. I started out as a feminist at an
early age—probably after my mom took me to my first gay pride march in downtown
Madison when I was in preschool. I don’t remember it too well—mostly I just
remember it being very loud and crowded, but exciting as well.
following day at preschool, I led my fellow classmates around marching and
chanting, “2-4-6-8, how do you know your kid is straight!?” This was my first
foray into feminist activism.
forward to high school, I began to self-identify as a feminist near the end of
high school. Previously, at 15, my older brother introduced me to Riot Grrrl
music by buying me my first Sleater-Kinney cd, “The Hot Rock.” Later, I had a
friend introduce me to Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna, and I was in love.
Before these introductions, I listened to music my brother listened to—Smashing
Pumpkins, Weezer, NIN, etc. Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill were the first bands
I listened to where women were writing the music, the lyrics, and playing their
own instruments. It was empowering and inspiring. It propelled my ability to
identify as a feminist around junior/senior year of high school.
high school, I went to a small liberal arts college called Edgewood in Madison.
I was really proud of myself for getting into college. There was a time when I
didn’t think I would go to college. In third grade, I had been diagnosed with
two learning disabilities (dyscalculia: the math version of dyslexia, and a
language-processing disability, which makes it difficult for me to express what
I know in my head on paper, or somewhere else external, thus, I’m a horrible
test-taker). This information was presented to me as something
negative—something no one wants. My teachers told me that I wasn’t smart, and
that I wouldn’t be like the other kids, in terms of intellectual development.
traumatized me. I internalized all of this (how could I not?), and didn’t believe
I was intelligent until I was an undergrad at Edgewood College. I decided to
apply to college because of one teacher I had, later in high school, who
believed in me, and treated me like my thoughts and opinions mattered (thanks
Ms. Finnegan!) At Edgewood, I finally had professors who valued my
contributions to classroom discussion, and who complimented me on my hunger for
While in college, I decided to minor in Women’s Studies and through this
education, I received knowledge that allowed me to contextualize my feminism on
a deeper, more theoretical level. I finally had language to confirm things I
had known and felt about this culture for years. I started volunteering at the
local Rape Crisis Center, and developed an even stronger desire to be an
advocate and an educator.
2006, I studied abroad in Rome, Italy, where I compiled research for a project I
titled, “Visual Silencing: Italian Women’s Identities and Visual Culture.”
Through this project, I looked at advertisements in Italian culture, and
women’s responses to these advertisements. This project furthered my hunger for
activism, and was an important step in claiming my Italian American identity.
In some ways, this project was the precursor to the book anthology I’m
currently working on getting published.
college, I decided I wasn’t in enough debt with student loans, so I applied and
was accepted to DePaul University’s Women’s & Gender Studies M.A. program
in Chicago. In the two years I was in graduate school, I learned so much about
myself and about my feminism: the kind of feminist that I wanted to be. The classes and coursework were often emotionally
exhausting. We would have three hour classes where we would discuss something
like rape culture and all the many screwed up things about society, and class
would end, and then I would make it back to my apartment thinking, “What could I do—as one person about this huge
problem?” Though it was difficult, it made me think—it made me activate my
at DePaul, I also helped organize Take Back The Night marches. During the first
year that I participated in this march, we did our usually scheduled walk around
the Lincoln Park campus with the police following us. After chanting, “Hey-Hey,
Ho-Ho, Sexual Asssault Has Got To Go!”, one of the police officers said, “Well,
maybe you shouldn’t drink so much.” We wrote down the police officer’s badge
number and name, and later called to report this, but of course nothing came of
it. He is just one of the many reasons we do Take Back The Night.
graduated with my M.A. in 2010. After my academic education was over, I missed
the conversations my classmates and I would have. I missed flyering images
around campus with the feminist group I joined. I missed the talking, the
strategizing, and the activism of it all. I wanted to create a space for this.
I wanted to create an activist community.
Feminism, as it was to be called, began while working for a horrid boss—as most
amazing things do. I liked the work I was doing [teaching literacy to adults
who had disabilities, which is similar to my current job where I teach high
school students who have disabilities], but my supervisor made it difficult for
me to come into work each day. I decided I needed to do something that was
outside of my job description.
I began using the printers and laminators at work to create feminist placards,
postcards, flyers, etc. I printed strong slogans like, “Rape is Rape,” or
images from girlVIRUS (a Toronto-based feminist activist collective).
After doing this for a while, I almost always had a stack of wallet-sized
images in my purse.
the way to and from work each day, I would leave feminism on trains, buses,
newspaper stands, etc. I tried to be stealth about it, but I’m sure I wasn’t—I
mean, I was doing this in broad daylight. My favorite part was watching others
interact with these images. I would watch their eyes attempting to gage their
reaction. I became really good at noticing people’s feelings about the
images—no matter how impenetrable the citizens of Chicago tried to act.
began papering Chicago with feminist phrases and pictures. The idea was to get
feminism out to the masses. I wanted to create accessibility. I wanted to
educate and inform.
had a few friends who would accompany me on weekends to paper feminism on the
dirty streets of Chicago, but I wanted more people involved. I wanted this to become
In 2011, I created the Guerrilla Feminism Facebook page. I decided to use
Facebook for this venture for obvious reasons: its popularity, accessibility,
and general easiness to use. The name, “Guerrilla Feminism” came about because
I thought of my street activism as a “surprise attack” on patriarchy. I also
loved the feminist art group, Guerrilla Girls.
In the beginning, my goal for GF was to facilitate feminist street activism in
other locations around the globe. I posted images of feminist flyering and
graffiti on the Facebook page for motivation. Within months, the group
exploded. I started posting feminist news articles, and received such a good
response that this became largely what GF is today—a one-stop-shop for feminist
news and activism. The page has over 30,000 “likes” and continues to grow.
of the population of this online community, the need for moderators is
enormous. Internet harassers, or “trolls” as we know them, infiltrate the page
often, typing tiresome sexist comments like, “Go make me a sandwich.” This is
when the ability to “ban” someone comes in handy. On any given day, myself or
another moderator will end up banning at least one person. Most of the banning
that goes on is self-explanatory—someone posting a sexist, misogynistic
comment. Other instances of banning can get a bit murky.
couple of months ago, I banned someone for using transphobic language—I don’t
want to repeat what they said, because it might be triggering for some. After I
had banned this person, they immediately took to their Twitter to call me
names. Then, they wrote a blog post on me. After this, they went on to create a
Facebook page identical to GF. As if this wasn’t enough, this person then went
on to purchase the domain name: guerrillafeminism.com—in case I had ever thought
to create a website for it [though I found out later they misspelled it]. The
main difference between our pages? Theirs is not inclusive of trans and queer
would be lying if I said this experience didn’t make me nervous. I couldn’t believe
that another feminist was attacking me, and that it had begun in the community
I had created. The thing about communities—there has to be some rules—some
guidelines, or it would be complete and utter chaos. GF had implemented a
comment policy months before I had this interchange with my online harasser,
but it didn’t appear that she had read it. If this person had read our comment policy, she would have seen that questioning a
whole group’s existence, by saying they are not real—is hate speech, and will not be tolerated.
I created this community to be inclusive of all—except, you know, misogynists. I think critiquing different facets of the feminist
movement is a good thing (and it’s needed!), but I don’t think denying the
existence and experience of a whole group of people does any good for anyone. I
don’t know how anyone can be a feminist without looking at the
intersectionality of oppressions. Feminism is not just a cis white woman
thing—maybe it was during the 2nd wave—not to knock the 2nd wave, because
a lot of great work was done then, but feminism has since progressed and
transformed. We shouldn’t be working so hard to exclude others. We should be
working harder for inclusion—for support—for compassion.
How can we in the
feminist movement be of any service to this world if we are too busy fighting
each other (and ourselves)? We will, of course, differ in opinions, but we do
have a few core beliefs that should bring us together. We can’t exclude people
because they’ve had different life experiences. This is acting like the
oppressor. It comes down to this: treat others how you wish to be treated. Think about
how your comment, words, etc will make someone feel. How would it feel for someone to deny your existence?
For me, feminism is about unlearning and relearning. It’s
about action and activism. It’s about inclusion.
inclusion that GF mandates from its community is one of the biggest things that
seems to cause internal fighting. There is a definite bifurcation between
feminists who are inclusive of trans and queer identities, and those who are
not. Like I said earlier, GF is all about applying an intersectional analysis
to feminist issues. Because I’m vocal about trans and queer inclusion, I’m sent
hateful messages from other feminists. It saddens me, but I can’t back down
from my beliefs. I don’t want anyone to feel triggered or unsafe in the GF
community—sometimes this is out of my control, but I will do all that I
possibly can so its members do not need to relive violence in an online
Because of GF, I now have a fairly sizeable
online presence, which I enjoy, but sometimes I receive very difficult
questions and comments. Part of what happens when you head up a community is
that some people see you as an expert on the topic. I'll say that, I do have a
few credentials—especially if we're discussing yoga or feminism--however, I'm
not a licensed therapist (and I don't pretend to be).
Feminism, I receive a lot of questions from women who have either just been
raped, or who are dealing with trauma from a past rape. Previously, I have
volunteered at the local Rape Crisis Center, and I currently volunteer at the
domestic violence shelter in town, so I have some legit professional training
(as well as some personal experience—having been raped myself).
It's maybe not so much the topic of questioning that is difficult for me, but
rather the fact that it's through the computer—it all seems very disconnected
and not personable.
I always come away
from answering one of these messages feeling like I wish I could do more, or
wondering if I did enough. Sometimes I'll hear back from the person, but more
often than not, I don't—so I'm left to wonder... Did I do any good?
internet questioning might not be that personable, I still deeply feel the
authenticity and validity of the person asking said question. Because of my
professional training at the Rape Crisis Center and at the domestic violence
shelter, I don't generally take these stories "home" with me. I don't
generally lose sleep over them. Once in a while though, when reading a question
through Guerrilla Feminism, the story will really stick with me—so much so that
I will spend hours trying to articulate the best possible response.
I take leadership
and advocacy roles seriously—sometimes to a fault. When a young woman writes me
telling of how her partner raped her 20 minutes ago, and she needs advice,
there is no other option for me than to step into this role of Advocate. I can't
leave a message like this unanswered. I can't pretend it's not happening. Our
culture is constantly pretending it’s not happening.
One of the most
recent questions I received was from a woman I'll call, "Sophie,"
living through domestic violence at the hands of her husband. The two have a
daughter. Sophie, living in an Asian country, stated she was unable to leave
her husband, and that she had no friends to turn to. She also said there were
no crisis centers she could go to or call in her area. For the next couple of
hours, I researched all I could and sent these resources to her. I informed her
that I didn't know how much help any of them would be since they were all
outside of her country, but I let her know she had options, which she
appreciated. I didn't hear from Sophie for a few days, and I found myself
getting increasingly worried about her and her situation. Then, about a week later,
she wrote me. She told me she used some of the resources, and was able to
safely get herself and her daughter out of the situation.
I like being
someone that people can come to and talk to about anything. I like being an
advocate—I always have. Whether this advocacy takes place offline or online, I
enjoy doing it, and I think it to be immensely important.
This type of work
can, however, be difficult if not relying heavily on self-care tools. In the
beginning of GF, it was difficult for me to drag myself away from the page. I
would worry some fight would break out if I wasn’t watching the page steadily
in real time. This is when I realized I needed to 1) ask my friends to help
moderate it, and 2) take more breaks away from the page for my own sanity. I
must admit that it’s sometime’s difficult relinquishing control over the page,
but I continue to get better about it. I’m a certified yoga instructor, so
letting go of control is something I constantly seem to be working on.
intention with Guerrilla Feminism was never to “convert” people to feminism
(though, if it happens, that’s awesome), but rather to create a dialogue in
various communities about women’s and gender issues. Then it’s up to the
community if they choose to take this dialogue “offline,” or choose to keep it
in the confines of the online realm.
there is anything I can impress upon you today, it’s this: If you want to start
something, do it now! Don’t waste time worrying about what others will think.
What keeps me going through any criticism I might receive is this quote by
Kathleen Hanna from an issue of the Bikini Kill zine in the ‘90s: “If your best
friend gets it, that’s all that matters.” Lucky for me, my best friend is also
a moderator of GF, so she most definitely “gets” it.