Living Madly Abreast | Buzz Blog

Monday, May 16, 2016

Living Madly Abreast

A look into a new Utah-based feminism blog.

Posted By on May 16, 2016, 5:30 AM

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Feminism in Utah is a topic that isn't taken lightly. If you browse the right discussions on Twitter over the past few weeks, you'll find some very heated discussions as to what modern feminism is, and how it's represented beyond the realms of social media. And it doesn't just hit home with issues pertaining directly to women, or even in the volcanic meltdown that is about to occur this election cycle; it hits topics like mental health, sexuality and identity, religion, and art. A local group of writers and creators have banded together to create their own outlook on these topics called Living Madly Abreast, with daily posts covering a wide range of topics and encouraging others to join in. Today we chat with founders Kathryn Phillips and Erica Shaw about the site and what they hope to achieve with it. (All pictures courtesy of LMA.)

Kathryn Phillips & Erica Shaw
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Hey ladies! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Oh dear, I’m so bad at about "me" sections. I’m shy and complicated, so trying to sum myself up in a few words is kind of terrifying for me.  I’m a freelance graphic designer and I also do other odd jobs on the side to help pay the bills. Writing and words have been important in my life since I was a kid, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until high school when I became involved in journalism, and then I went on to college to major in creative writing. Feminism has been a driving force throughout my life so I’m really excited to be participating in the blog and to be rubbing elbows with these really compelling women.

Erica: I am a single mom to an incredibly smart 6-year-old girl who keeps me focused on what is important in life. I just graduated from the U of U in Health, Society & Policy—I went back to college as a 30-year-old and I'm so glad I did. Now I'm job-hunting and experiencing a post-graduation low where I feel completely lost. I want to work in the non-profit sector or do something related to health in the community, but at this point, I might just end up flipping burgers at McDonald's. I live my life out loud—no topic is off limits to speak or write about. I want to create positive change, even if it's just in my community. Even more difficult, I want to create positive change in my mind. I've suffered from negative self-talk for a really long time. I like long walks on the beach and collecting Star Wars trading cards.


What would you say was your first personal experiences with feminism?

It really goes back deep into my childhood. My brother is 18 months older than me, and even though we were very close in age, I was always treated differently than he was, especially by the other boys. We would play things like army, and the boys would create rifles out of sticks and go off to war, while I was expected to stay in the play house and make dinner for when they returned. But I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to be the scout. They would never let me, and I would get really upset. I didn’t like being told that my gender limited me.

Erica: I've always felt like I didn't fit the standard definition of female, but I believed that the biological differences were what made our gender. It wasn't until I was dating a feminist four years ago that I really understood what feminism was, and why we need it. I was pretty sexist before that—making jokes about how men think and act because they're men, and my boyfriend called me out on it where no one had before. I'm really grateful he did.

How active are you each on a local level with community outreach and politics?

I’m a leader in Salt Lake Intersectional Feminists, and all the blog contributors are members as well. We’re mainly a support group, we meet every two weeks and chat about our experiences as feminists in a socially conservative area. We’re also working on getting more involved in service that is oriented toward women, and in supporting politicians who are for feminist causes. It’s a pretty young group—we just started a few months ago—but I’m really excited about its future.

Erica: Last year I created a feminist podcast that explored some great topics, but when that ended, I knew I needed another public outlet. Our website is mostly how I express myself. I do like attending local events and supporting politicians who are making a difference. I hope my career ends up being in community outreach or politics. As a woman, I feel a responsibility to make my voice heard.


When did the two of you first meet each other and become friends?

We met about a year and a half or two years ago. It was actually through a dating site and we dated for a bit but ultimately became friends. I’m really grateful to have Erica in my life; she’s one of the most encouraging and accepting people I’ve ever met.

Erica: Haha, what she said. OK Cupid, if I remember correctly. I liked her blue glasses. She's quickly become one of my closest friends.

Prior to the blog, what media projects had you each been working on?

I haven’t really been involved in much media since high school. Several years ago I had a fashion blog but it fizzled out. I’m loving having this outlet now. I’ve kept my writing pretty private for the last several years, so it’s been really freeing to get it out in the open again.

Erica: I've always had some sort of blog since 2004 or so (back when you had to edit your html by hand on Blogspot). For a few years, I taught people how to digitally scrapbook on my site. I collaborated with other Stampin' Up demonstrators and started a blog hop, which is a way to drive traffic to all your sites by picking a theme and then showcasing projects, encouraging your readers to "hop" around. That was fairly successful—I'm still getting hits on the site even though I don't do it anymore, and some of my creative projects have hit over 150k repins on Pinterest. Last year I created the Two Feminist Moms podcast which lasted a few months.

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How did the idea for Living Madly Abreast come about?

This was Erica’s brainchild. It took a sec to get it started, but she was so passionate about it and really did a lot to push it forward.

Erica: I knew I needed something to force me back into writing. I was doing nothing but school work, and it was exhausting. I needed a place to explore emotions and practice expressing myself through words. I also wanted a community of women that could encourage each other and learn from each other. I have been so grateful that it has become just that. The name came from a Jack Keuroac quote that I adore. You know, the one that goes "the only ones for me are the mad ones..." The women that stood out to me were the ones that were standing up for what they believed in and were mad passionate about life. It's also a play on words because people regularly describe feminists as "mad"—which is funny because as feminists, we have plenty to be mad about. I wanted it to be OK to be angry, passionate, and true to ourselves. We are all walking this path of life together, hence the "abreast." And boobs. Who doesn't like boobs?

What is the primary goal for the blog and the entries that go up every day?

I feel like there’s such a lack of sincerity and vulnerability in media right now. We wanted to create a safe space where people could read our stuff and see us fully exploring our experiences as women and exposing the deepest parts of ourselves. We want people to read it and say, “Yes! That is so me!” And feel empowered knowing that there are people in their camp. I remember Erica telling me that Rose thought she might not be a good fit for the site because she was too angry, and Erica’s response was, “No girl, we’re all angry.” And it’s true. There’s a common thread in our work of anger and frustration, from Emma’s and my posts on the BYU honor code policy to Knessa’s post on catcalling. And there’s also uplifting posts like Erica’s E-List, which is about self-care and all the things she’s been enjoying lately, and Cat’s post about masturdating. We’re really exploring the full spectrum of our experiences.

Erica: I told the women that I had a few goals starting out. I wanted us to explore topics like mental health, body image, spirituality, religion, sex positivity and feminism through words and art. We live in a world of sponsored blog posts and TL;DR mass media. I wanted to return to people and emotions and everyday life, which I feel like was more of the internet I used to know. I've left the topics pretty open for the women to explore and choose on their own. We're going to do theme weeks, but usually, everyone just writes about what they're feeling at the time. There are naturally some topics that are repeating, and I like that—we're creating a brand for ourselves and most of it is the struggles we are dealing with and that we are not alone. If I were to choose something to stand for, that would be it.

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How did you go about finding contributors for the initial startup?

That was all Erica. I think she tried to find women who had previously written pieces that were very emotionally deep and that she connected with spiritually.

Erica: Kathryn was the first person that came to mind, but I wanted to have seven total, so it was quite a process. I picked women who represented ideals that were important to me. They were people I saw on Facebook—some I knew in person, some I didn't. Two women I initially asked had to back out because of time commitment and illness. I imagine this site will see a lot of changes as contributors move through different parts of their life, and I'm OK with that. I'm just so glad that people are willing to write. Every time I see a post go live, I get excited.

What was it like getting the site running and the first month of feedback?

It was fun. We collaborated on the design and when the site went live I must have visited it ten times even though we didn’t have much content yet beyond the contributor bios. And it was so amazing to see everyone’s articles go up. Everyone’s writing styles are so different, Knessa is very poetic, Rose is frank and funny, Emma is literary and passionate, Cat is ballsy as hell, and Erica is so warm, and we all got into some really deep stuff pretty quickly. I felt like I was getting to know these women on an intimate level. So yeah, it was just sparkly and clubby and I knew we had something really good happening. And the responses we got were great; people really connected with what we were posting.

Erica: It took me so long to just get the dang thing going, that I was just excited for it to exist! Readers really connected with the pieces we've written about body image. I think that's something everyone deals with—even men. What these women wrote really affected me. I saw myself start to think about situations in new ways because of them. I'm excited for others to experience that too.


What subject have contributors posted about that resonated most with you?

I think Knessa’s and Emma’s posts about PTSD. It’s a really difficult disorder that all three of us suffer from in different ways and we’re all exploring it differently with our words. But the pain and the origins are very similar. So to read their experiences is helping me understand something that I’ve been dealing with from a young age. It’s been very powerful for me. I fear my voice less because they’ve had the courage to share theirs.

Erica: Kathryn's post about what it feels like to be bipolar really stayed with me because I've never heard it described like that. I dated someone once with bipolar [disorder], and I had the hardest time understanding. I had no idea what bipolar was doing to his mind. Now I feel like I get it a little bit better, and that is nice. She also wrote a piece about the myths we believe about people who are overweight and the reality of weight control. It really let me explore my beliefs about health and obesity, and I realized that I had it all wrong. I love writing that turns my perspective around.

What do you hope women will take away from the site?

My hope is pretty simple: I want them to see that they’re just like us, flawed and struggling but still worth loving.

Erica: I hope that they will see a welcoming place where they can put their feet up and be exactly who they are and find others who are similar. Kathryn and I recently went to dinner with Emma, who needed support. There was so much that could have been said, but what she really needed was for someone to listen. I think after all the therapy we've had, we've learned how to listen. I want our words to listen.

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For those who would like to contribute, how can people become involved?

There’s a Writers Wanted section on the site where you can contact us with post ideas. We’re looking for guest contributors so we’d love to hear from anyone who is interested.

Erica: You can submit your writing on our site or just send us a message on Facebook. And you don't have to identify as female to contribute.

 Any plans to expand the site's content beyond what it is now, such as a podcast?

We’ve done one podcast and it was really fun. Erica is a natural host. We’d like to do more if we can fit it around everyone’s schedules.

Erica: Now that I'm done with school I have much more time to devote to that. We'll have to see how it goes. I love the interview-style podcasts, and would love to have guests from the community come talk to us.

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What can we expect from both of you and Living Madly Abreast over the rest of the year?

I’m hoping to create more art and share it with the readers. I think as a group we’re going to start exploring some themes together, which I think will be really cool. It’s always interesting to me to see how different writers explore the same topic. But we’re also going to keep doing much of the same, just artfully sharing our lives and emotions with our readers.

Erica: You can expect me to be crying in the corner of my kitchen with a box of raisins and a "404 Error" on a website after spending all day submitting a resume. But yeah, hopefully a job. I hope I can make it a priority to write everyday even though it is hard, especially when I'm not feeling inspired. I'd love to see different perspectives on the site from guest contributors—our experiences are just one small corner of the world. I want to create a resource page on the site for low-income individuals in Salt Lake City. I'd love to give tools to single moms, especially, because it is easy to feel like giving up when there's so much pressure on you. It took a village to raise my kid thus far, so I'd like to return that favor to the village. 

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