Christen is a feminist, an activist, a self-defense instructor, and co-founder of She’s the First, a non-profit that fights gender inequality through education.
She’s the First began as a grassroots movement in 2009, and has since grown into a worldwide movement with programs in 21 countries. STF partners with local organizations to support programming for girls, including training and grants for capacity building; the organization also trains students on more than 200 high schools and universities in 10 countries to be gender activists.
Christen has spearheaded change by leading focus groups on uncovering reasons for high drop-out rates in West Africa, creating a framework for understanding community priorities in rural Nepal, and consulting on pregnancy policies in Uganda. Above all else, Christen works to ensure that girls’ voices are heard first.
In this episode, we talk about how to find your change-making sweet spot and direction, the power of providing education, examining privilege and using it for good, misconceptions around how to make an impact (I learned a new word: voluntourism!) and so much more.
This episode is sponsored by Let [A Podcast] Out. Wanna start your own podcast but don’t know where to begin? Let [A Podcast] Out is a comprehensive workshop for anyone looking to host, produce, and launch a podcast of their own. This 8 module workshop is designed to answer every question you have about podcasting. Former WANTcast guest Katie Dalebout is the OG of podcasting and the person I go to when I’m feeling lost or alone in this crazy podcasting world. Her goal is to make the whole pod process easier to navigate, and to help you dial down the logistics so you can focus on crafting the best content.
I knew this moment was coming. While not “big” by industry standards, my Instagram numbers were steadily growing, and between three speaking gigs in two weeks and a brand new collab underway, I was seeing an amount of traction that was abnormal for what I’d experienced thus far. I knew, also, that as my “numbers” began to grow, that so would my trolls.Maybe if I kept things sterile and serene on social, but that’s not my jam, because I believe that if you have a voice people are listening to, you should use it.
But also, I know it wouldn’t really matter either way. I could post about politics or I could post about pomegranates. I could post about body image or I could post about the best bakeries in Manhattan. I could post instrospective captions or I could post a string of vague emojis that don’t really mean anything in particular. I know that women are bullied on social media for just existing (much like in life!), and I also know that the more outwardly successful you are, the more bullying comments you receive. Just go to the comments section of anyone you deem even mildly #famous and you’ll see what I mean.
this was the pic, btw.
I also want to add that this isn’t the first time I’ve been harrassed online. I’ve received DMs on all platforms and seen men tag each other in my posts commenting with wagging tongues or some other disgusting emoji or outburst. But this was the first public-facing comment that was directly directed at me, whose direct purpose was to knock me down and dehumanize me.
I’d like to say I was unaffected and laughed the second I saw it. But when it showed up in my notifications, my heart dropped. I can;t say I wasn’t expecting it – part of me for the last month had been whispering in the back of my mind, Wait for it… – but it still stung. After the first 15 seconds, I shook off the sting and started laughing. I’ve Made It!, I cheered to myself! And proceeded to check out this dude’s account then block and report him, not before (of course) snapping a screenshot for harassment proof and to text my friends. Oh, and blast on my personal social accounts.
I knew sharing this would be a little social experiment. How many people would laugh, how many would get angry? How many would know that this is sadly expected, and how many would be agog that this would happen to ME, “violently positive” (as I’ve been deemed by some friends) Katie Horwitch, who keeps her posts PG-13 at their racy-est and proactive at their most charged? I’ve come to expect a wide gamut of reactions based on the wide gamut of experiences and perspectives all people come into a conversation with.
But what blew me away in THIS conversation was the overWHELMING prevalence of this one comment:
This is obviously a very sad person and we should send him light.
Now, not everyone commented with these exact words. Most came to me in the form of “Wow, what a miserable life he must lead” or “What a sad person he must be” or “Laugh at their misery with compassion” or “Imagine how shitty his existence must be and how badly he must need a hug” or even “By the looks of it, this guy is clearly so sad in life and clearly needs medication.”
I’m not one to downplay mental health issues. But the overarching theme and connecting thread between all of these comments was: he gets a pass because of how hard life must be for him.
I know my friends were well-meaning when saying these things, and didn’t meant to downplay anything. I know this because I know this kind of deescalation is a conversation and perspective that’s been taught. It’s kinder than “stooping down to their level.” It’s more “enlightened.”
It’s the “high road.”
But it begs, no, PLEADS the question:
Why is our default response with hurtful men, particularly WHITE men, to play the compassion card, while when it’s a woman or POC, it’s to get angry and spew hate their way (even when they’re NOT actually being a bully, but that’s another conversation)? Why is it that the bully in the situation gets a free pass when the bully is an angry white dude?
I am strong and confident. I’ll be just fine. But some people aren’t. And saying things like “don’t let it get to you, they’re just sad in real life” excuses the bully’s behavior, writing it off as a supporting example of a greater thesis statement about that person’s life. A life that doesn’t involve you, but in this moment, actually does.
Even more than that, using excuses like “what a sad human being” normalizes pushing others down to make yourself feel better. And even MORE than that- and this is what really gets me – it makes the harrassee, on the prey, feel GUILTY for not feeling compassion for their bully.
I see it happen on a small scale in instances like this one and on a more serious scale with my black or gay friends who are told that they should feel sorry for the people who speak such hateful words about them. That, to quote Shakespeare or someone like him, “they know not what they say” and should be sent, to paraphrase, “love and light.”
Well, I call BS on love and light. I call BS on the default of putting yourself in the shoes of the oppressor, whether it’s the man catcalling you on the street or the online troll smearing your DMs with racism. I call BS on it all.
So how do we do it then? In the true spirit of how I write, and WHAT I write, and what others SHARE on this platform, how does this turn into a proactive post offering tools and insight instead of a reactive post venting and offloading emotion?
•SHARE. Brené Brown says that shame can’t live when spoken out loud. Names are shame’s worst enemy and take away shame’s power. When I share things I feel shame around or stuff people say to me that’s meant to tear me down, though, I check my intenitions behind the share. Am I looking for pity or to engage in a hatefest? Or am I posting to expose darkness, to show that this can happen to anyone, anywhere – and we must join forces to take on that darkness?
•Engage with the bully **when PRODUCTIVE and PROACTIVE.** Is commenting back going to help someone learn something or help prove a point when it comes to creating the world you want to live in? Then post away. I thought of posting a comment back to this guy to show others who might be watching how to disarm a bully (my personal tactic is humor and confusion. “I actually thought of this same joke in middle school so I could poke fun at it before any of the mean 12 year-old boys could!” would’ve done it). But this particular comment was so juvenile and nonsensical that it didn’t deserve the time of day – mine or anyone else’s. If the photo or caption had been different – maybe more sexualized or risque – I would have used it as an opportunity to assert my right to portray my body however I pleased. My right to take pride in my sexuality instead of it simply being fodder for others (men) to comment on and make decisions about.
But this wasn’t the case. It was about him leaving a nonsensical comment that didn’t have anything to do with anything except general punny slut-shaming because it’s “funny” and demeaning. It was a classic bully move. This dude didn’t follow me (I checked). This guy didn’t care about what I had to say. He wanted to come into my space, spit at me, and then leave. It would be a waste of my time to try and engage and create a comment war or generate more anger – all on MY page, mind you, which I have worked hard to build and have strict community guidelines around. Namely, don’t be a dick.
I’ve been shamed before for my choices in clothing or maybe a look that “feels” provocative. But those are my choices. I know who I am and I know what I’m doing. And I will always defend that, so that others who might not be able to find the words themselves can have a point of reference if and when it happens to them.
•SCREENSHOT and REPORT hate speech. I’m not talking about silencing voices you don’t agree with. Don’t do that. It’s a reeeeal bad look, to put it mildly. I’m talking about the old PSA of “if you see something, say something.” I’m talking about if someone is coming at YOU or someone else with toxic, malicious vitriol, take a screenshot for your records and then report that shit. Platforms like Facebook are preaching that they have zero tolerance for hate speech and harassment. At the end of the day, they’re businesses. They exist because of us. And their noble claims of being an inclusive, tolerant zone, as much as I would love to say are all about their core values, are most likely ALSO a direct result of a shift in user experience. See something? Say something. Make those platforms do something about it.
Interestingly enough, this also happened the day before the news broke about the US administration’s talks about making it illegal to recognize more than two genders in our country. I shared a post by my friend Kelsey, which I thought was so succinct and well-written. Not even an hour later, I received an extremely nasty DM from someone telling me that I looked stupid and our country looked stupid, and while I was “over here caring about stupid pronouns” there were “people dying from bombs across the world.” Apparently I wasn’t allowed to care about Trans rights *and* international warfare. ::shrugs::
And this is where it all starts to get blurry. How do you interact with, if you even interact with at ALL, people who are yelling AT you and not speaking WITH you, who slam you with hate speech and view life through a very narrow lens of their own making?
I’m still working this out. Right now, I’m thinking it’s futile to argue with people who are hell-bent on interpreting your words, your decisions, and your SELF as they see fit. As a quote shared by brilliant Vienna Pharon and @mytruthnturs said, “self care is also not arguing with people who are committed to misunderstanding you.”
But I am still learning. And next year, month, week, hour, I might feel differently. That it’s important to speak up no matter what, even if the person on the other end is determined to shut you down. Yet right now, I don’t have time for that shit. I have work to do.
When consulting with brands and “influencers,” I’ve heard people say that they feel like having a certain amount of visibility or recognition will allow them to talk about things they actually want to talk about. That once they reach a certain number or achieve a very specific self dictated level of success, the conversational doors will fly open and the soapbox will appear. When that happens, they say, they’ll talk about racial injustices, gender disparities, wage gaps, the whole shebang. When, when, when.
My question to them is always: why aren’t you talking about these things now, if those are the conversations you want to be KNOWN for having??
And this is where I’m at. In this period of unusually rapid growth, it’s even more vital for me to use my voice in the way I know how and know I must. If you’re looking to build a genuine following and highly engaged community online: post your values. Post your Self. It’ll get rid of the noise real quick, and you’ll end up with the people who are Your People. Win win.
Oh, and as for my last name? You’ll notice I didn’t change it when I got married. Katie Tucker is pretty adorbs and could have worked quite nicely. It could have also avoided this lame bullying comment.
But here’s the thing. I’ve spent years making peace with my last name. I’ve spent years emotionally sifting through the self-deprecating comments of my family members about how much it sucks, or women telling women to make the change as soon as they can. I’ve learned to make loving jokes, and I’ve learned to find the power in it.
One crisp and slightly ethereal day last year, I ran into my friend Michael after I finished teaching one of my classes. Not unusual (we do work at the same place), but this time, his face lit up differently when he saw me in the hallway. Like I was a walking epiphany. “This might sound weird, but I was thinking about your last name the other day,” he started. Oh no, I thought. Here it goes…
“I broke it down and I realized your last name is made up of two labels devised by the patriarchy. ‘Whore’ (or Hor) for sexually empowered women, and ‘Witch’ for socially and politically revolutionary feminists. Your last name is made of up two terms that were created by men to demean strong and powerful women who were viewed as threats. Your last name is basically the most badass, most powerful, and most on-brand last name you could have.”
Damn straight. I’ll take it.
(**my people, for the record, believe in trans rights, believe that black lives matter, believe survivors – and while my people and i might not agree on everything in life, my people like to lean in and get curious way more than lash out and get cruel.)
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Rachel Winard is the founder ofSoapwalla, a indie skincare brand based in Brooklyn that prides itself on being pure, effective and trustworthy. The all-female company is based in Gowanus in a converted canning factory – so cool. After discovering that she had systemic lupus (an autoimmune illness that led to skin irritations), Rachel started creating products that wouldn’t irritate her skin. Today Soapwalla is a globally sold and recognized brand, and truly one of the OGs when it comes to the world of natural beauty. Soapwalla is proudly an LGBTQ-run business, an active advocate of gay and women’s rights, and works on getting customers involved too.
In this episode we talk about Rachel’s crazy and unexpected career journey from the arts to where she is now, how to advocate for a more inclusive and just world in both business and life, our mutual love for kind of unexpected things (like dinosaurs) and so much more. She is such a calming force and at the same time, so bright and effervescent – a friend of mine likes to say that certain people are like the “bubbles in champagne” and that’s definitely the case with Rachel.
This Episode Is Sponsored By:4 Weeks To Wellness The 4 Weeks To Wellness program is a plan that ditches quick fixes and helps set you up for long-term wellness success physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s all about finding – REALLY finding – what works for you, putting your wellness puzzle together, and finding a way to do right by your body without giving up your life. It’s for anyone looking to make healthy changes (but lacking the framework and structure to actually make them happen) is gonna love this. Added bonus, Phoebe has personal experience with autoimmune diseases, thyroid issues, SIBO, Hashimoto’s – so if you do, too, Phoebe might be the accessible coach and cheerleader you need. It all happens online and is completely up to you how fast or slow you go.
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Today’s guest is one of the coolest chicks I know (and you too, soon!), and a conversation that’s a LONG time coming: scholar/writer/teacher/activist Natalia Mehlman Petrzela.
Natalia is a historian of contemporary American politics and culture and is currently writing a book on American fitness culture. She is the author of Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture, and the co-host of Past Present Podcast, a show that turns hindsight into foresight by examining what’s going on in America today through a historical lens. Natalia is Associate Professor of History at The New School, a co-founder of wellness education program Healthclass 2.0and a Premiere Leader of intenSati, a fitness class that combines cardio with positive affirmations to make the ultimate uplifting workout.
In this episode we talk about talking to kids about what’s going on in our country/world in an “appropriate” way, where our quest for happiness and “following your bliss” really came from and if it’s actually serving us, making wokeness more than a gimmick, locker room talk (no, not in THAT way), feminism/activism’s place in the wellness industry, and so, SO much more.
We’re back in action, baby!! I can’t think of a better guest to kick off Season Three (which, by the way, will be 20 episodes and now run every other week instead of every three weeks) than author and host Katie Dalebout.
Katie is the host of the Let It Out Podcast and the author of Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling (Hay House 2016). Katie is a writer and podcast host focusing on self-care, self-awareness, and self-expression for the greater good. Through her speaking and writing, she aims to help people develop a positive image of their bodies by embracing their creativity and personality outside of their physicality.
In this episode, Katie and I talk about major transitions, navigating change (when you don’t have a high threshold for change – and GUESS WHAT? Neither Katie or I do!), moving across the country and what it’s taught us, why constant growth and goal-chasing isn’t always a good thing, the value in doing what doesn’t feel like yourself, and so much more (including a topic I was really excited to dive into with her: INTERSECTIONAL WELLNESS).
In Episode 39 of the WANTcast, filmmakerErin Bagwelland I discuss creative postpartum (aka what happens after you finish a project), setting goals after hitting a BIG goal, speaking up and making your voice heard in the workplace (and world), using your creativity to make a difference, making money and how that relates to feminism, and so much more. Plus, why I’ve been AWOL, and how to pick the Season Two finale of the WANTcast.