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Spoken word poet and activist Olivia Gatwood to speak on feminism, sexual assault

April 7, 2017

Courtesy of Olivia Gatwood
LIKE A GIRL Feminist spoken word poet, activist and educator Olivia Gatwood will perform on Saturday evening in coordination with the Alliance for Gender and Sexual Assault Prevention’s annual Date Week programming.

With poems ranging from “Ode to My Resting Bitch Face” to “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” feminist spoken word poet Olivia Gatwood will confront topics of sexual assault, rape culture and gender inequity tomorrow evening in a performance in culmination of the Alliance of Sexual Assault Prevention’s (ASAP) annual Date Week programming.

Date Week is a week long campaign that focuses on promoting healthy relationships and preventing gender violence. ASAP invited Gatwood to add variation to the usual programming of panels, art shows and information sessions they have hosted over the past week.

“The conversation of healthy relationships and sexual assault is a very important one and I don’t think it’s normalized enough,” said Madeline Hall ’17, co-leader of ASAP.

“She has a really lovely blend of using humor, but also powerful language to bring people into the conversation,” added Lisa Peterson, Associate Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education.

According to Peterson, Gatwood manages to break down complicated ideas, like rape culture, in an accessible way, allowing for a deeper understanding of the subject.

“She uses art as a medium for activism,” added Hayley Nicholas ’17, co-leader of ASAP. “It can be very visceral. I think that will really hit home for a lot of people.”

Gatwood began writing poetry in high school as an emotional outlet to work through issues she cared about. Over time, she discovered she loved writing and performing her poetry and began to speak about issues that were important to her.

She now performs slam poetry and hosts workshops, primarily at high schools and colleges, five days a week as her full-time job.

“I started to figure out what schools were needing by way of education … So, sexual assault prevention and Title IX compliance,” Gatwood said in a phone interview with the Orient. “Then, I just curated my show to cater to that.”

According to Gatwood, she strives to live by the same values she describes in both her work and day-to-day life by creating safe physical spaces where she performs—for example, she tries to perform in spaces with gender neutral bathrooms—as well as acting as a counselor for those who reach out to her.

“I try to be there as much as humanly possible and act the way I speak,” said Gatwood.

Gatwood also works as an educator in sexual assault prevention and recovery. Often times, she said, the complex topics related to gender and violence are difficult to understand and Gatwood strives to unpack smaller, unnoticed acts of violence.

“I hope to notice the more nuanced ways that we experience gender violence in our world,” said Gatwood.

“My ultimate goal to is move us away from purely thinking about gender violence prevention in behavioral terms and expanding to thinking about it in cultural change terms,” said Peterson. “I’m hoping that she’ll challenge students in thinking about what cultural change does mean.”

In the future, Gatwood wants to continue her work in the prevention of sexual assault and promotion of healthy relationships, while also writing more about love and relationships of every kind.

“Love is often really trivialized, especially when women poets write about it and I just sort of want to combat that and start thinking of how we make ourselves smaller in relationships and how we can stop doing that,” said Gatwood.

Following a workshop at 30 College on Saturday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Gatwood will perform at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Tickets are free and available at the David Saul Smith Union information desk.

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