Name and Bio:
Genevieve Berrick is a freelance writer and film producer, who also runs and works for the local roller derby community. She is responsible for reporting roller derby website, but also writes articles relating roller derby to certain queer, feminist issues. Her prior studies include primary school level teaching and interdisciplinary studies on gender, feminism, bodies, affect, biopolitics.
After growing up in Singapore, Genevieve moved to Melbourne for seven years and then to Paris where she experienced street harassment on several occasions, she finally moved to LA where she set up a Hollaback! branch after discovering there wasn’t one already established in the city. As she says, “it seemed obvious that I needed to make that happen”.
Genevieve Berrick has identified as a feminist since she was ten. She remembers herself questioning the discrimination of girls in a school programme she was participating in, and being bored of the school library and reading her mother’s feminist books instead. In terms of her identity, she states she is “quite committedly queer”. She sees Hollaback! as being an “interesting bridge” “between a very sort of slick professional feminism, which in America is very white and corporate, and it’s full of women who have a quite gynocentric idea of what gender looks like and what womanhood looks like” and a more intersectional feminism, which is closer to Genevieve’s understanding of the point of feminism.
Involvement with Campaigns:
Genevieve Berrick is committed to intersectionality, so for example anything produced in Hollaback! LA is produced bilingually, English and Spanish. Despite her self- identification as a feminist, she thinks that branding Hollaback! LA as specifically ‘feminist’ is difficult because of the “political climate” and the “range of feminisms” available. As a result, she is “not particularly interested in explicitly using that [feminist label]” for Hollaback!
Her work at Hollaback! is ‘really variable’ as she says. Recently, she has been running series of workshops with young women of colour in high school. Recently, Hollaback! LA were interviewed locally to discuss experiences of sexual harassment in local public transport. At the time of the interview in 2015, the organisation was “about to start some conversations with the mayor’s department” about street harassment. Hollaback! LA is also involved with creative and collaborative projects, that are often “story- sharing based” such as crafting and participation in the local march for International Women’s Day with other groups and supporters.
Use of Media Platforms
Hollaback! LA uses Twitter and Facebook. As she says:
“I think the existence in social media around all of us and all of just Hollaback! sites in general, and obviously, the conversation around street harassment, all those kinds of conversations often bring people to us, and so of bring those opportunities to us.”
Genevieve Berrick has felt overwhelmed by being constantly immersed in combatting street harassment and said: “I actually have put Facebook statuses up saying, 'Read too much about rape culture by 9.00 am, please send pictures of kittens'”. She thinks it is very important to reach out to help, support and care for friends that deal with the traumas and anxieties of others. As she suggests “the sheer weight of anxiety and the kind of PTSD trauma that they sort of…is being very much kept like an open wound for them, is really palpable. As a friend, there are times when I definitely want to reach out and say, like, let me look after you, let me…maybe you should take a few weeks off, you know.”
In terms of self-care, she says that she needs a break after reading too many stories, for example, but she also finds that “to some degree, Hollaback! is the self-care”.
Overall Experiences with the Movement
Her overall experience of Hollaback! has been very “interesting” and “amazing” in terms of the networks of people it has opened up in LA, while having a name that gives access to things in a decentralised manner. At the same time, she acknowledges the difficulty to “balance between creating resources that are affordable but professional, with no money” as well as the “the difficult ideas around race and wealth and language that don’t necessarily translate” in the global south for example.
Trolling and strategies:
In terms of trolling, Genevieve reports that she has experienced some trolling but feels: “somewhat lucky in that respect, knowing how awful so much can be”. She has experienced trolling indirectly through a female comic she helped produced – focusing on bringing intersectionality to the fore - but her name was not used, but also more directly when she appeared in a radio show where she was namely trolled for her “vocal mannerisms” and as she explains because she was “the obviously young sounding woman who was speaking”.
In terms of strategies against trolling, Genevieve says “it depends how it comes up” and she has upon occasion decided not to engage with aggressors, but if someone would have been more persistent or aggressive she might have reacted instead.
In the case of death or rape threats she “would definitely do a lot of documentation, so just at the very least, screen caps of everything.” Then it would depend on “how much it actually feels like a real threat”, “how much time and energy do I invest in responding to something” and “how much personal information do they have”.
“I’m very committed to keeping it as safe a space as possible, so I’m not interested in having those things available for people who might find that Hollaback! is a safe space for them. I’m not interested in having that highlighted. So yeah, strategically, if there is a troll who starts saying things like that, I want to document it and make it a thing that can be reported, but I’m not interested in letting them intimidate anyone else.”
On the importance of women-focused organising:
“I’m very committed to, I guess, like, women-focused organising and clear…there’s a very kind of broad idea of what women’s role looks like and even identifying what a woman looks like in roller derby. And that’s the kind of community that I’m very interested in. Having the connecting around, like, bodies in contact and bodies that do things and operate in ways that are quite different from what’s usually expected of gendered bodies is a pretty…it does all sorts of things.”
On labelling ‘Hollaback! as a ‘feminist’ organisation:
“So, I think the difficulty has really been that declaring one’s self as a feminist organisation, if people understand you as reaching towards a corporate image, towards that kind of professionalised corporate feminism, necessarily makes you look racist and heterocentric and transphobic, and any number of those kinds of things.”
On challenges faced on being a ‘feminist leader’:
“Yeah, I think, honestly, yes, I do have, oh yeah, I’ve just read one too many stories about rape culture right now, I’m just going to need to take a break. But I think the difficult thing for me is that, to some degree - and I think other site leaders have had this and other feminist organisers have as well - to some degree, Hollaback! is the self-care. So, feeling like you’re actually changing things and being able to palpably…like, I run these workshops and watch children’s heads change in front of me. You know, I will go from the boys in the class being, like, ha ha ha, sexual harassment, that’s really funny, like, yeah, we can do that, hey, I can whistle at you; to coming up and taking paraphernalia from me and saying thank you.”
On hearing people’s stories of assault:
“But I’m also frequently, very frequently, like the person who goes to the party, has a drink and then winds up in a corner listening to somebody’s survival story, or being the first person that somebody's ever told their assault to. And yeah, it kind of takes a lot of the fun out [laugh]. It’s odd because it’s valuable to be that person, and I want to be that person, I want that person to exist for everyone.”
Analysis: Genevieve is one of the few organisers we interviewed who, rather than experiencing a ‘feminist awakening’ via her activism, she came to the movement with a pre-formed feminist identity. She is also the only organiser who explicitly identified herself as ‘queer’ and addressed the intersectional nature of her activism. Genevieve is interesting because of her commitment to women-centred organising and making this activism as open to everyone as possible. This is evidenced by the extent to which they provide content in English and Spanish. This also however restricts the amount they can produce as translating such content is time-consuming.
This also fits in with a wider theme about the difficulty of conducting voluntary, unpaid activism in addition to other life and work commitments. Genevieve talked about how when she initially went about setting Hollaback! LA up, she had a group of friends who were all enthusiastic, but had to drop out because of other commitments. As she states however, “they sort of wound up getting very preoccupied with a bunch of other things.” Some had to drop out because they cared for young children; others had their careers take off in unexpected ways. As Genevieve states: “it was sort of a classic LA, like, everyone desperately wants to do everything but the ability to kind of follow through with all the other stuff, in their eyes, isn’t always guaranteed.”
Genevieve’s interview also sheds light on the affective weight of both harassment and activism challenging it. In terms of the former, she discussed the ways her experiences of street harassment made her afraid to leave the house and ultimately led to a fear she would become “trapped” indoors. At the same time, while she notes the way there is a lot of “weight to it [her activism] that feels heavy,” it also “helps us push forward at the same time.”