Lily Myers ’15 and Kate Weiner ’15 are both spending the semester abroad in South America (Myers is studying in Argentina, Weiner is staying in Chile), but distance hasn’t stood in the way of their literary collaboration. The pair has created a brand new feminist blog called The Shapes We Make, and it’s now accepting submissions. The blog was partially inspired by Myers’ slam poetry piece “Shrinking Women,” which was awarded Best Love Poem by the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in 2013 and has gotten over two million views on YouTube. The Argus checked in with Myers and Weiner for a Skype conversation about thigh gaps, catcalling, and the power of poetry.
The Argus: First of all, what shapes do we make?
Lily Myers: We make all different shapes! That’s the point, I guess. Every person makes a different shape, and we need to value that more.
Kate Weiner: Our bodies have the capacity to express a lot of wonderful things, like love and friendship, and it’s important that we value what we let them do in relation to other people. We make shapes together.
LM: And also, what I like about that phrase is that “make” is a verb—it’s not “the bodies we are,” or “the shapes we are.” Because our bodies are changing, you know? As we get older, we do all sorts of different things, but we tend to think about our bodies as static things that take one shape. But they don’t.
KW: It’s active.
A: I noticed a video that you posted on the blog. Melissa Harris-Perry [author, professor, and MSNBC host] is slamming Lululemon for making pants with material too flimsy to withstand people’s thighs rubbing together when they work out. Is the thigh gap a “shape we make”? What’s your take on this craze?
KW: I think that Melissa Harris-Perry says it best. She’s talking about body shaming. Your body is a function of genetics; having a thigh gap has to do with how wide your hips are. So this main goal that women pursue is really punishing.
LM: Yeah. I also think that if you’re healthy and normal, and you have a thigh gap, I don’t want to shame you for having that, you know? But it’s this obsession with it. There’s this fetishization of it, as though having a thigh gap will somehow bring you happiness. It’s this weird tangling of how you’ll feel when you achieve this “body.” I don’t even think a body should be framed as an achievement.
A: Why and how did this blog come to be?
KW: It was a pretty recent idea, and we got it up and running pretty fast.
LM: I had a video [“Shrinking Women”] that became pretty popular, and because I knew that people were watching what I was putting out, I wanted to use that for something good, something that’s affirmative, joyful, and positive, especially something that has similar themes as the poem. So Kate and I just kind of talked about it, and we came up with this idea.
A: Lily, how did it feel to become an internet sensation when you were so far away from home? How did you find out that this video was gaining notoriety?
LM: It was really weird, because I was traveling in the north of Argentina with my group, like in the desert, with no phone or Internet or anything for 10 days. So we got back to a hostel in a small city, and there was really intermittent Internet, and I checked my email, and I had, like, a bajillion emails. Then I was like, “Oh. This happened.”
A: Is there a difference in the way that written poetry comes across, as opposed to spoken word? Is there a different power in reading something than in hearing it performed?
LM: I love them both. I don’t really have one that I prefer to the other, but they are different. Spoken poetry I love because it has a real energy to it, and it feels very immediate—especially watching it in person, it’s this very palpable thing, and the audience gets excited, and the speaker gets excited, and it’s this moment of [everyone] feeling this thing together, which is really awesome. Written poetry doesn’t have that, but it has other virtues.
KW: I think written poetry is nice, because you can sort of take it home with you and sit with it for a bit. With spoken word it’s more in the moment and more of an exchange of energy, which is nice. It’s very interactive.
LM: I also think that often, the quality of writing is a lot better on the page. That’s a huge generalization, but with slam poetry I feel like you get so caught up in the passion and the drama that the writing suffers—which is also fine; it just depends on what you want to do.
KW: It’s really nice to revisit certain sentences. Some of the poems on the blog I really love, and it’s really nice to be able to go back and re-read and get to know it better.
A: What is it like to be feminists in South America? Have you come up against differences in culture that challenged what you thought you knew in Middletown?
KW: For sure. Lily and I have talked about this a lot, but the street harassment here, and the way that men feel licensed to treat you, and to touch you, is so different than anything I’ve ever experienced. And I think that’s made me a lot more aware of what it means to be a woman. So much of my day is shaped by crisscrossing the street to avoid people touching me and approaching me, and not feeling safe when I run. It’s made me very grateful that at home I don’t have to experience that regularly. Because here it’s a lot more pernicious, and a lot more persistent.
LM: I’ve experienced that, too. I mean, there definitely is catcalling in Middletown, but there’s so much more here. It’s made me really aware of my body and aware of myself as I walk around. When women walk around the world, we’re made constantly aware of the shapes we make, basically. We’re made constantly aware of our femaleness. And because we live in a rape culture, and a culture where men have power, that means it’s dangerous for us.
KW: And without doing anything, you’re being punished, which I think is very frustrating. Just by virtue of being a woman, you’re experiencing all this attention, and what’s interesting is that street harassment is articulated as a women’s issue instead of a men’s issue. Being here has made realize that that’s ridiculous. First of all, it’s everyone’s issue, but it’s all putting the emphasis on the victim, the person receiving the catcalling or being harassed, to change their lives.
LM: I mean, one in three women has been raped or sexually assaulted, and that means that it is a real fear, a real danger. And of course
it’s going to freak us out when we get harassed on the street, because we don’t know who of these people mean us harm.
KW: It’s sad, because you want to be trusting. You don’t want to have your automatic assumption be that someone wants to hurt you. It’s a hard balance, and I don’t think I was aware of that until I came here.
A: What do you hope for the future of The Shapes We Make?
KW: There’s this quote by Adrienne Rich that I love. Here, let me find it—
LM: I was just thinking of the same one!
KW: “When a woman tells the truth , she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.” I really envision this as creating a space for women to tell the truth and then inspire other women to tell the truth in a way that’s very compassionate and loving towards everyone.
LM: Yeah, I agree. Something that’s really important to both of us is stopping all the shame that goes on for women, like body shaming and slut shaming. I don’t think that we should be shamed. You’re licensed to have your body look the way that it looks: the shape that you make.