Interview Date: 9 March 2015
Name and Bio:
Bryony Beynon, 29, is the co-founder (along with Julia Grey) of Hollaback! London. Originally from South Wales, she lived in London at the time of our interview. She received her BA in English and Cultural Studies and worked in PR for a time before doing an MA in Cultural Theory. After working for the Arts Council, and volunteering for the East London Rape Crisis centre, she became self-employed in 2013 and work on ‘some of the more potentially self-sustaining aspects of what Hollaback does.’
This mainly involves working as a training facilitator for the ‘Good Night Out’ Campaign which trains staff at bars, clubs and pubs to tackle and prevent harassment on nights out.
Bryony has identified as a feminist since her BA at Sussex University where she ‘had [her] initial understanding of [her] feminist awakening’ while taking a class called Women in Writing.
Bryony is very conscious of the emotional labour that her feminist activism requires. She finds that there are many ‘horrible toxic debates that happen online in terms of people discussing what their feminism is in relation to someone else.’ She is personally ‘very pragmatic’ and considering her emotional labour does not engage necessarily.
In our interview, she talks about the importance of feminist solidarity and notes that she ‘wouldn't have been able to carry on doing this work or take it…allow it to become my full-time work if I hadn’t been identified as a feminist, I don’t think. Because I think if you take the stuff outside of that, you rob yourself of access to this whole world of solidarity.’
Involvement with Campaigns:
Having worked in the arts, museums and council and doing Hollaback! on the side, she decided in September 2013, ‘to become self-employed and just try and make money for myself without having a boss.’ This way she had some extra time allowed her to ‘really push some of the more potentially self-sustaining aspects of what Hollaback! does.’ At the same time, she was volunteering in the Rape Crisis helpline and now she is working as a training facilitator at the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, which runs the National Rape Crisis helpline. As she notes: ‘undoubtedly, I absolutely credit the involvement with Hollaback! with the fact that, yeah, now I work in the women’s sector’. As training facilitators, they ‘train probation officers, social workers, health professionals, on the one side, around social awareness and impacts’ and ‘talk about things like pornography and sexting, and gender roles and body image, with young people in schools from year eight to year 11’.
The Good Night Out campaign provides two-thirds of Bryony’s income. So, at Hollaback! London, they have ‘managed to create a situation where we’re getting a bit of money through the door to do this work which is arguably not the case for many other branches around the world.’ This is challenging in terms of activism. As she notes: ‘anything working in a world where people have to get paid to live is going to be challenging when you want to put this much time into activism.’
Bryony is responsible for the social media outputs at Hollaback! London. But as she says, they are thinking of getting a ‘proper volunteer pool going’ although ‘it feels like quite a big leap to pass that on to other people.’ At the moment however, she and Julia don’t have enough time to do it properly:
She finds social media very useful. In terms of story sharing, she thinks it’s a rather powerful process. She compares it to ‘the idea of a thousand tiny pinpricks’. Each story is a pinprick, someone who had an experience and decided that it was not okay and gathered the strength to share it. But by the time the story is shared there is the realisation that it has happened to other people and that there are thousands of pinpricks after all:
‘If you have a pinprick once, but if you’ve got a thousand bands of them, yeah, the impact is huge […] I think the place that people are at when they post on the website is, kind of, they come through this arc and it’s initially happened to them, you know. Maybe, so one trajectory might be, so it happened to them, very often people will just write about this stuff on Facebook because there’s a kind of like a shock response that involves posting a Facebook update that I find really interesting. So, people will do that. And sometimes what you see happening is, say, four or five comments in on their Facebook status, somebody will be, like, oh, have you heard of Hollaback!? Then they will download that app, they will go and look at the website. And it’s again that boom moment when they’re like, oh my God, it's happening to everyone, there’s a name for what’s happening to me and it’s happening all the time. And there’s this context for it.
So very often, by the time they get to write something, they think it's, like, oh yeah, I’m going to submit what happened to me. They’ve done that work in their own head and they’re actually in quite a good place in terms of I’m fired up, like, I’m not going to let that happen, or I’m not going to let this go unchallenged, that sort of thing.’
Bryony is one of the few organisers who hasn’t experienced much trolling, aside from ‘one or two people who were just kind of like creating, oh, you know, this is rubbish’. On the other hand, she notes:
‘I would say if we’ve been trolled, it’s been by the mainstream media in print, in fact [laugh]. It’s quite interesting, I guess, in terms of, you know, deliberately twisting words, deliberate misrepresentation. Which is, yeah, kind of funny because it’s like this, yeah, sort of low rise version of trolling, but the misogyny behind it is absolutely the same. And they obviously have the printed word platform with which to try and discredit you.’
Bryony says she is ‘typically quite bad at actually doing the self-care’ although she considers it to be ‘massively important’. What she actually does for self- care is ‘playing drums’ which is ‘fun to do […] very bodily and you can get a lot of sort of aggression out. And obviously, being socialised not to show aggression, that’s a useful thing to be able to do’.
On the utility of the movement:
‘At the time I think people felt like…or initially, people felt like, oh, street harassment, you know, there are people being raped, why are you bothering? What I think the hashtags really help with is to actually place street harassment as an issue where it should be and where it is legally as one of the forms of eight forms of violence against women. And being able to, yeah, not just talk about street harassment but link it in, absolutely, with FGM, rape, forced marriage, all of these other things, and say that, yeah, they’re all happening for the same reason. And that’s one of the easiest ways to do that, I think.’
Overall Experiences with the Movement:
Her overall experience with Hollaback! has been ‘incredibly empowering’ and ‘life changing’.
‘I think the way that…the real power for me, looking at the whole idea, is that working on this distributed leadership model means that Julia and I have been able to take Hollaback! London and make it into what we want it to be and something that relates to London, and the city and the streets that we live in. And someone in Nairobi and someone in Mumbai will have done that in a totally different way. And yeah, the fact that there’s sites translated into different languages and there’s different cultural contexts. It would have been so easy for them not to do that and for them to not be culturally aware, and not have that model happening. And yeah, that would have been so sad. So it’s amazing that they did make that choice.’
Analysis: A common theme running through many of our interviews was the affective and emotional labour involved in activism, which can be financially risky. This was particularly true of Bryony, whose decision to turn Hollaback! into a full-time job highlights the difficulties of getting paid for their labour, or combining feminist activism with full-time work. Bryony is in a unique position where she has turned a training programme for the Good Night Out Campaign, into an opportunity to get paid for her activism, and help stop harassment. Throughout our interview, Bryony, who has spent a lot of time volunteering at Rape Crisis centres, knows about the emotional and affective toll activism can take, and is now more pragmatic about which issues and battles she engages with. Although self-admittedly ‘bad’ at self-care strategies, Bryony also acknowledged their importance in keeping mentally healthy to continue with such activism. Recently, Bryony has recognized that she has to ‘learn her limits’ and not push herself too far just because ‘you care so much about the issue.’ She also tries to remember that she has a life as well, and thus needs to balance her activism with other things going on in her life. This balance of activist practices is crucial if organisers want to maintain their activism in the long run.