Heart & Soul | Use Your Platform to Smash the Patriarchy, White Supremacy, & Other Forms of Oppression From the Inside and Out


Grace Hwang-Lynch (GHL)

Keren Taylor (KT)

Morra Aarons-Mele (MAM)

Morgan Shanahan (MS)

April Reign (AR)

GHWL: Thank you for joining us - We have a great group of people I am going to introduce each of them and then they will talk about their passion for ending oppression. I think everyone here has a passion for using their influence for change. I started with my blog hapamama.com to talk about my experience of being an Asian American and about mixed-race families. I did not find a lot out there about people like my family. I am working toward better representation for Asian American families and other people of color and other groups under represented in media and entertainment. I have had the pleasure of sharing my message on large platforms. To share and amplify our story. To allow my kids to see a life that is diverse. That they can see television shows with people that are like them - not all white and heterosexual.

KT: I have met so many fab women. I am so glad to be here. I was a singer song-writer and I was unhappy. I love to help people so I mentored young people in public schools in New York City. The school was taupe and every sign was no chewing gum, no skateboarding, no, no, no. It is a world of no. I started Writegirl.com. It was after 9/11 and I wanted something that would get me out of bed in the morning. Working for another company and being a performer were not creative enough. Over the 15 years we have sent 100% of our girls to college and received an award from my BFF Michelle Obama. Ok now what are you going to do with your success? This year we helped boys and incarcerated youth. When you help boys you also help girls, because they are the baby daddies or boyfriends.

MAM: I was BlogHer’s first political director. I really tried to get great speakers and thinkers for BlogHer. I started Wearewomenonline.com. We have worked a lot with Malala Yousafzai. We work at the intersection of women’s passion and to do list. For example, volunteering physically for political elections often does not work when you are a mom. We want to empower women to talk about the issues they care about. We are impactful but we also try to be fun. Wearewomenonline.com is looking for badass content creators to elect our first woman president and not someone else! Contact me, if you are interested!

MS: I am a BuzzFeed senior editor focused on parenting content. I started out as a screenwriter in my 20s then became pregnant at 27. At 22 weeks pregnant, I started experiencing prenatal depression. I could not contend with the career I was in. It was not conducive to depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I took a step back and realized what I could do is talk about what I am going through. So I connected with BlogHer. I got an email 2 years ago from BuzzFeed asking if I can talk about postpartum depression on Buzzfeed. I said fuck yes! My first article was how to spot postpartum depression in a mom. It went viral and opened up a conversation and let women know they are not alone. I started making video 6 month ago, including, "One of the Worst Cases of Post Partum Mental Illness."

AR: I practiced for 20 years as lawyer and was frequently unsatisfied. I wanted to do something online with my passion. I had a blog that was not a success. So I reached out on Twitter and connected with Broadway Black. I realized I wanted to do more. Broadway Black highlights the achievement of black people on Broadway on the stage and behind the scenes. I am also an editor at large for Nutribe.com. Nutribe.com deals with issues relevant to black millennials. Two years ago on the day of the Oscar nominations, I watched them announce the nominations. All the nominees were homogenous. No one looked like me. There is quality talent out there but they did not get recognized. So I started the hashtag #Oscarsowhite. The original tweet was #Oscarsowhite - They asked to touch my hair. This started a debate about inclusion in Hollywood. There are now 683 people of color in the Academy of Arts and Sciences. But still it is 89 % male 70% white and the average age is over 60. Though there is progress it is still predominantly older white males. I love my mantra, “What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.” I may not change the world but at least I am changing my clothes. I do not want to feel like I am wasting any day.

GHWL: There is a common thread to changing the world. What was the impetus for all of you to make your message of change a priority? People may ask themselves, do I have enough followers or influence to make a difference?

AR: All you have to have is passion and commitment. If you have passion in your heart and commitment to getting your message out then if you do not have a platform - find one. One like BlogHer. Then someone in that community will reach out to you and help you further your message.

KT: We were doing a workshop at an auditorium and they wanted to charge us $7000 to do the work shop for at-risk teen girls and we had to provide our own food. Then The Huntington Library reached out to host our workshops and has done it all for free. We need to find partners who support us and believe in what we are doing. We should not try to shove ourselves in to working with someone we think we should work be working with.

GHWL: Last year there was a publishing conference in New York. The publishers were showcasing the newest books they had coming out. None of the authors of color were asked to speak. A year after we have a nonprofit to help diverse authors get connected with publishers and education. People have a spark of passion and then you meet other people with the same spark. It is always good to have attornies on your staff.

MS: Find a partner in your tribe. When we made the video "One of the Worst Cases of Post Partum Mental Illness," it was just me and a colleague in a room with a laptop and a microphone. We talked about Andrea, a postpartum psychosis survivor, whose children sadly did not survive. She killed all 5 of her children. This story highlighted a story of an incredible failure of the community and people around her. So many of the comments were, “she’s a monster” while others said they felt for her. The owner of BuzzFeed said it was the greatest day of his career because we started an important conversation.

GHWL: When you put a narrative out there what kind of backlash have you experienced?

MAM: When I was on CNN talking about women in politics, the hatred that was expressed was so sexist and vitriolic, that I realized that I don’t have to be out there to make a difference. You have to be incredibly brave to be one of the ladies on the panel.

MS: My personal blog was raw. I went to BuzzFeed to create a platform for other voices. You can be brave and talk about you or share someone else’s story.

AR: I have faced backlash but I don’t want to scare you. I did not realize putting 3 words together would cause such a issue. Constructive criticism is one thing but once things become viral you have to decide - do you want to become the face of that movement? It is a sacrifice of anonymity. People’s critiques of me were racist, sexist, and some were about my kids. I’d like to think I handled it with style and grace. Make sure you have a community you can rely on. Saying 40,000 times this is not about black actors or why do not you not want to see a movie about people who do not look like you, gets frustrating. The most recent Star Wars has a black lead and a female lead but it is not called a movie about people of color. It is a movie not about just race. I even had people within her community who said, “Why are you doing this and not that?” You need a community to be able to spread the message and not have it all rely on you.

GHWL: Do you make sure you have that support community already set up?

MS: I have seen people go viral on all sizes of platforms. The important thing to know is going viral is not the end goal, it is a step to the next place. Prepare yourself to take advantage of the exposure. Do not let people handle your process. Choose the outlet you want to speak to. If you do not choose yourself, someone else will.

MAM: I live in fear of going viral. It definitely helps to have a lawyer and public relations (PR) person.

GHWL: Have your eyes wide open. Other people’s view of your message may be very limited. Make sure you talk about your full message.

MS: Some people do go into a story with an agenda.

GHWL:Once BBC asked me to talk about a Chinese girl who murdered her parents. I said, “I have not murdered my parents and it is not a cultural thing.” I declined.

MAM: Among women who support reproductive rights it is a badge of honor to go on Bill O’Reilly. But at some point - it is just abuse. I have worked for over 200 social justice campaigns and 80% have failed but just keep plugging along and get the message across.

KT: We try to get a flood of media when we are recruiting for great volunteers and girls so it is not good to go on CNN in March when we are not recruiting until September.

MS: Yes, If they wanted to talk about something happening at a much later date, I would say that is great but let’s talk about it closer to the time it is happening. The media is vilified. It is ironic coming from me - I am the worst emailer. If a media outlet reaches out to you - you need to answer so fast or they will move on.

GHWL:How long do you wait to hear back from the feelers you put out before you move on?

MAM: I wait the news cycle. If not, then it is no longer viral. You need to have a press kit ready.

AR: Do your research. People from media outlets direct message (DM) me or email me to say, we want to talk to you but it needs to be within two hours. I cannot do that. I have a full-time job. If a media outlet contacts you – first thing, do your research on the outlet before you make a decision. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Going viral is not your moment - what you do with it is your moment. I was in my bra, pants, and flip flops when I went viral. Remember to speak in sound bites. They will snip anything you say and take out of it what they want. So make sure what you say is 30 seconds to a minute and encapsulates what you have to say. Speak efficiently.

GHWL: It is hard work to do social change. For some people it is a passion. It can take emotional energy. Do you turn It into a monetized venture? Or do you get funding? We will all get burned out. How do you avoid that?

KT: It is hard. My passion is helping teens girls but I need to raise money also. So I work on an ebb and flow. For fundraising, we do a lot of grant writing, reach out to corporations, and asking for in-kind donations. A great idea we did was a Poetry Drive. It was successful but we need a public relations person to reach a larger audience. These are things you learn. You need to have things that miss to learn what is right. It is always the right to be raising funds - the right time is now. I am taking a small break. I do not have time for this but I need to do this. It is hard but you need to help yourself.

GHWL: You need to take time for self-care or you are not good for anybody.

MAM: I try to smash the patriarchy every day. You can do a lot with a little bit.

MAM: I get to do what I love, what I believe in social change.

MS: I wanted to find a way to talk about my passion on a larger stage. I need to do what I can my way. I was running a site that was supporting my family and I had just hired an assistant when I realized it was not going to be growing bigger. I had reached the full capacity of what I could do by myself. Buzzfeed has a large audience. The large platform that is a blessing and a curse. At BuzzFeed, I have a team and can connect people who make content different from my own.

GHWL: Different people make changes in different ways than other people. The talk is that you can do whatever you put your mind to, but I think this sets people up to feel like a failure.

AR: We are not superwomen. We are all finite. You have a limited amount of time. You make smart choices based on what you can do. Prioritize what you have and figure out what is most important to you. Do what speaks to you. We do not talk enough about self-care so that we don’t get burned out. Every three weeks my 12-year-old daughter and get our nails done. I can look forward to it when people are calling me everything but a child of god. I tell myself - I only have to make it to Saturday the 18th then I get my time. I tell people on the 3rd sat between these times they cannot not contact me and they should respect that and if they do not we need to talk.

MS: The quote I love is, “You can do anything but you can not do everything.” When I realized I needed people around me to move forward it was earth-shattering for me. But for someone else it might make them want to die.

GHWL: What’s next for everyone? How do you keep the message and idea alive?

KT: We always get asked what is next for Write Girls. We have a wall of good ideas that we go back to we are talking to people in Nigeria and in Memphis, among other places and we may do any of them because we do not have the resources right now. We are not giving up on it. We do not know what will happen in the future. We get frustrated when things do not happen the way we want them to. Even if it goes in the direction you want it to, you do not always end up where you thought you would. Sometimes you are back right were you were. Things are not linear. They ebb and flow like the cycles of the tide. Don’t force yourself to always do more because you will inevitably crash.

MAM: People in politics are really smart - they work really hard on an election and when it is over they work in corporate America until the next election. I have been quiet for the last two years but I need to get Hillary elected – not just me. I did get a book deal. The title is “Hiding in the Bathroom.” It is a guide to living a successful life on your own terms.

MS: I was so nervous walking in today. How I have chosen to forward the message is to mentor young women - motherhood is a feminist issue. I have written all the usual mom blogger stories but I care about moms, human rights issues, and more. I care about all moms. Equality starts at home. I work hard and long after I forget how to change a diaper, I will never forget what it was like to be a mom and having my mental illness. I have had the chance to talk about all moms and diversities.

GHWL: I think talking to people who are coming up is important. I found working for BlogHer really gratifying. Help people with raw energy and desire but none of the tools. To be able to pay that forward and raise up the people that come behind you is wonderful.

AR: I am not sure what is next. I am traveling the country talking about diversity and inclusion. It is fulfilling work and I am going to keep working on it. Sadly, with the way the world is going, issues of diversity are something I will still be able to talk about a year from now and until it is irrelevant we must keep talking about it. Allow things to come to you, then let it marinate a little, and then figure out your trajectory. Do not undervalue yourself! If people are asking you to do something then it is worth something. It is worth something to you and your bank account.

MS: Do not be afraid to charge for your work.

GHWL: What are you ladies in the audience advocating for?

I am going to disagree. I do not think we can all be viral. I encourage women to share their stories online as a legacy. If it is about your grandmother not using measuring cups. This is just as important as a widget. The title of this session is “Oppression on the inside out” but the women on the panel seem to be on outside working in. Maybe if you played aunt to another woman this can make a huge difference.

MS: The greatest value in your message is other people reading your work. As women, we have a problem saying "I deserve to get paid for this."

People do not want to hire me because of my age.

AR: I am 46.

I am almost 60.

AR: I agree, not everyone is going to go viral but if you have at least 1 reader other than family, then that is great.

I run a website and database for women filmmakers. I have been doing this for 5 years. It has grown and I have had pops of viralness. But I have not figured out how to monetize it.

MS: I worked with brands early in my career. I understood that brand budgets are large. I knew they had a lot more money than they were offering. So, I would ask for 3 times that amount and some said no but other brands said yes. They are paying for your expertise.

AR: Hit the studios up. There is an issue of gender inequality in filmmaking. What you are offering is worth a subscription.

MAM: What will get you successful is solving your clients'/audiences' problems. You have a great idea and expertise. So sell it.

GHWL: We need to expand your idea of what we can lead you to be an instructor, a speaker or a consultant? What other applications can I use for this kind of work? Figure out what do you need? You know that you need to pay for rent, then you need to shift you priority to do work that pays your bills. If you have more flexibility with money than you may be able have a different priority to the work you choose.

I’m a humor writer and passionate about politics – especially women’s issues. What do you do to balance multiple passions?

AR: You are finite but you can do multiple things. Maybe one month it is 70% humor and 30% women’s issues and the next 60% humor and 40% women’s issues. If you are too splintered, recalibrate.

MS: I need to be doing more than 1 thing at a time. Now, at Buzzfeed, I am in a box focusing on parenting.

AR: There is a polymath. A person who does several things well. Most people do one or two or a few things well. It is amazing that what you do is something I can not do. Honor who you are. Remember that others can do something different. Do what you do best.

MS: Know who you are and what you want to say.

GHWL: We all need to be multi-skilled and there are seasons. During one season you’ll concentrate on humor and the next women’s issues. There is not a road map. Ask yourself, what best suits my unique set of skills? How can I use those skills to influence around what I am passionate about? I, personally, wish I were singularly passionate about one thing.

KT: Let me say: If you see a teen girl encourage her.