This week, Dahlia and Amy reflect on the past years of pop culture, feminism, and rageful conversations. Backtalk couldn’t have happened without its listeners and all of the thoughtful feedback that have sparked convos in each episode. We’ve giggled, we’ve cried, and we’ve learned so much along the way. Thanks so much for all of the support.
Always and forever, your rage cheerleaders!
This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by Lewis & Clark College’s 39th annual Gender Studies Symposium in Portland, Oregon, from March 11–13. Don’t miss out on this exciting series of free lectures, workshops, and panel discussions, an art exhibit, and keynote talks by Jack Halberstam and Feminista Jones. We’ll see you on campus!
You can break away from the cult of perfection by subscribing and listening to the award-winning Brave, Not Perfect Podcast. It’s hosted by Reshma Saujani. She’s the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of the international bestseller Brave, Not Perfect. Her TED Talk about teaching girls bravery instead of perfection has over 5 million views. Join Reshma as she shares her secrets about bravery and success because she wants to help you fear less, fail more, and live bolder. She’ll even answer your questions and give you tips about how to get a little braver every day. Plus, she has revealing conversations with other changemakers about their complex journeys—and what we can take from them to improve our own lives. You can tune in and subscribe to Brave, Not Perfect wherever you listen to podcasts.
“Wait a Minute!” by Willow
Subscribe to Bitch’s podcasts on iTunes, Soundcloud, or the Stitcher mobile app.
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Are you exhausted from trying to do everything perfectly? Do you hold yourself back because you’re scared of failure? Then I wanna tell you about a podcast you should be tuning into. You can break away from the cult of perfection by subscribing and listening to the award-winning Brave, Not Perfect podcast
. It’s hosted by Reshma Saujani. She’s the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of the international bestseller Brave, Not Perfect
. Her TED Talk about teaching girls bravery
instead of perfection has over 5 million views. Join Reshma as she shares her secrets about bravery and success because she wants to help you fear less, fail more, and live bolder. She’ll even answer your questions and give you tips about how to get a little braver every day. Plus, she has revealing conversations with other changemakers about their complex journeys and what we can take from them to improve our own lives. If you’re enjoying Backtalk
, I have a feeling you’re gonna love Brave, Not Perfect
with Reshma Saujani. You can tune in and subscribe to Brave, Not Perfect
wherever you listen to podcasts.
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY LAM: This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by Lewis and Clark College’s 39th annual Gender Studies Symposium, which will take place March 11, 12, and 13 in Portland, Oregon. Tilted Tensions of Possibility: This symposium invites us to imagine, predict, and hypothesize about the future while also asking us to rethink and reckon with the past. Don’t miss out on this exciting series of free lectures, workshops, and panel discussions, an art exhibit, and keynote talks by Jack Halberstam and Feminista Jones. Learn more at Go.LClark.edu/GenderSymp. We’ll see you on campus.
AMY: Hi, welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam.
DAHLIA: I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
AMY: And this is, very sadly, our last episode of Backtalk!!!
DAHLIA: Very sad, but it’s true.
AMY: Yeah, yeah.
DAHLIA: Very sad.
AMY: I think maybe perhaps, maybe my voice is betraying how sad I am.
AMY: ‘Cause I actually, [laughing] I’m very sad! But I’ve learned to hide my sadness with laughter! [Laughs.] So, here I am, giggling throughout this introduction where we’re talking about our last episode.
DAHLIA: That’s very meta. That’s very meta related to Gigglegate and… [laughs] and the history of this show.
AMY: So, we begin every episode by talking about our favorite pop culture moment. And for this episode, we wanted to talk about our biggest favorite pop culture moment overall, maybe could say, culture moment. So, what is yours, Dahlia?
Okay, I’m gonna tell you all a secret, which is that maybe I don’t know if you noticed. It has always been really difficult for me to come up with a pop culture moment for the week’s episode. I don’t know why, but it has always been a struggle. And thinking about my last pop culture moment, I was thinking about like what is like the most explosive experience with pop culture I’ve had. And I was remembering how I’ve, on this show, talked about my love, my deep love, for the reality show Vanderpump Rules
. And I recall that I described it as Shakespearian, and Amy maybe didn’t believe me.
DAHLIA: But it’s just, I don’t know. It is such a dark pleasure.
DAHLIA: Because it is truly people behaving badly and hurting each other’s feelings and fighting. And I just find it so appealing and engaging and delightful! And I’ve been watching this show for years and years. I think it’s in it’s like eighth or ninth season. But exactly one year ago, I was in L.A., and I’d actually been to Sir, the restaurant that Vanderpump Rules is set in. But I went— Oh! We didn’t go to Sir. I’d been to Sir. But instead, we went to Tom Tom, which is a offshoot bar very much related to all of the people on Vanderpump Rules. And my friends and I just went just to see and to be there. And it turned out that it was one of the cast member’s birthdays that day. And so, they were all there. And it was just such a fascinating sort of anthropological experience. It sort of felt like I was in Disneyland, and the attractions were seeing these reality show stars.
And let me tell you, we were seated in between where the reality show stars were seated and the bathroom. And so, they either had to come by and see us stare at them or not go to the bathroom at all. And so, we were really in an ideal position. And it just felt, a still feeling I can’t even describe, something that I’ve even tried to write about. And maybe I’ll try harder some other day. But just this experience of seeing people who are purportedly living their real lives on your TV screens and then seeing them at a real restaurant, but also certainly not feeling like you could talk to them or be their friends. Even though at the same time, you feel like you know everything about them, and you deeply are their friends. And I just couldn’t help but feel like it felt like Disneyland. It felt like the attraction of going to these restaurants is like seeing these people and not necessarily even interacting with them, but being like, oh, there’s Katie. And I know everything about Katie. There’s Jax, and I know everything about Jax. And it was just like, I’ll never forget it. It was a really incredible experience. I mean, I know: so strange. But I’ll never forget it. It felt truly mind boggling. It just felt like an adult amusement park in a way.
AMY: I remember when this happened, and you picked it as your favorite pop culture moment. And you were like, “I was sitting by the bathroom, and it was the best.” [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Yeah! Okay. I forgot. I forgot, I guess, that I’d previously made this a pop culture moment. But of course. But that was really key to our being able to see so many of them, is that they were all [laughing] going to the bathroom.
AMY: I mean, I have never watched Vanderpump Rules. I don’t understand the appeal of it, but I do understand the appeal of reality television ‘cause I love reality TV as well. I just don’t understand the specific show. So, I think it makes so much sense when you’re like, it’s like Shakespearean and you know these people, and they actually behave very badly. And I think the appeal is that in some ways, we sometimes wanna behave that way, but we don’t. And then to see people quote-unquote “behave that way” in quote “reality,” it’s somehow reassuring that there are people who are being bad in the ways that we wanna be bad and rude and [laughing] heinous or something?
AMY: So, I get why you would like a show like that, and I get why those characters can be really engaging for you.
DAHLIA: Thank you. That’s so kind of you to say like that.
DAHLIA: I felt really validated.
AMY: So, my big ole overall favorite pop culture moment is more abstract. It’s around my sort of evolving thinking about like representation matters, you know? I think that when we first started this podcast, I was very much in the team of just straight up, very flat, two-dimensionally representation matters. We just need people who look and sound and talk like us in the media. And we just need to see them so that they can sort of validate our existence, kind of like with reality TV, you know, seeing them in some ways validate how we exist. But I think that my thinking about that has evolved because it’s not enough to just have us be shown on television or in films or be writing stories and everything. I think that it needs to, I think representation is a good first step, but then we need to engage each other with knowing whether or not we’re on the same sociopolitical page. And I think that in doing this show, it’s made me examine that more, you know?
I remember when a film like Crazy Rich Asians
came out, and so many people were gaga over it. And I had my reservations about what does the portrayal in that movie do for me or for people who don’t necessarily feel like it represents them? Regardless of the fact that the characters in that film look like us to a degree. So, I think that doing this show has made me really reflect on that a lot! Because I know that I’ve picked things for my favorite pop culture moment based solely on the fact that it was a representation matters victory. But I’m thinking more deeply about it, and I’m proud of myself for growing and evolving.
AMY: So, that was my big, favorite pop culture moment that I’ve been thinking on.
DAHLIA: That also really makes me think about how slowly it feels like change around pop culture, but especially cinema, happens, you know? It feels like people had been making the argument that representation is so important just for so long. And to think about how little discourse has really shifted since then feels like decades, really. It’s a reminder, I guess, of how slowly sometimes culture is to change.
AMY: Yes. I mean, ‘cause we’ve been doing Backtalk for five years. So, five years ago, I started this with Sarah Mirk, and we did that for I wanna say like two years. And then that’s when Dahlia jumped on board, and we’ve been doing it together for like three years-ish. And yeah, it’s incredible to think that a lot has changed since the beginning of Backtalk five years ago. But also, still so much is like still stuck in the same way to sort of reflect on it and think about how much time has passed. But yet, the dial on something hasn’t moved that much. It’s a little bit disheartening. But I think we sometimes err on the side of well, at least the dial’s being nudged. [Laughs.] I think we do sometimes need to have that type of optimism in order to want to believe in it enough to think about it and talk about it and analyze it in the way that we do on this show.
DAHLIA: I feel like actually, I have a useful quote to contribute here. I was reading that the actor who played Grandpa Munster in The Munsters was actually a lifelong socialist.
DAHLIA: And I read a quote from him. Yeah, yeah! [Laughs.] I read a quote from him. And I’m slightly paraphrasing, but it was something like, people involved in the struggle often want to win the struggle or put a lot of emphasis in winning the struggle. But those of us who’ve been in the struggle longer know that there never is a winning the struggle. The win is that you are continuing.
DAHLIA: Yeah. I know, I know! It’s a downer, but sort of like it makes you feel Zen kind of at the same time, a moment of Zen a little bit. But I wonder if now, as time passes in our lives of cultural criticism, but also in this post-MeToo, how much is going to change? And is it really just, like Grandpa Munster said, that the struggle is that you continue pointing out injustices, even if it doesn’t feel like the needle is turning significantly?
AMY: Wow, shout out to Grandpa Munster, a.k.a. Al Lewis. I looked him up [laughs] out of respect. Al Lewis, wow. What a great quote. And also, for listeners who are really young, who have never watched The Munsters, what a thing to go back and search out. What a fun, weird show. Oh my god. You’re in for a treat if you’ve never watched The Munsters. And also, in the same vein for like old black and white shows, I think that people who are a little younger probably missed the revival of the show. But I Love Lucy: a fucking classic. And if you have not watched I Love Lucy or The Munsters, please go check it out. [Laughing.] And I can’t believe that I just turned this really meaningful talk…
AMY: …about how to be inside a moment of change to say, “Go watch The Munsters and I Love Lucy!”
DAHLIA: Well, that’s what this show is all about.
AMY: I know! [laughs, then sighs] I really couldn’t help it. I’m like, Amy, I don’t know if you. Yes, just say it.
AMY: And you know, in more reflecting about the show, also, I wanted to enumerate all the different places that I’ve been while recording this show in the past five years. And I counted all of them. I’ve recorded this show in seven closets [laughs], seven different random closets. I’ve recorded this show in five different states. And right now, I’m recording it in a cabin. I’ve done it in my parents’ guest bathroom. I’ve recorded it underneath like a pillow fort in a South Dakota hotel room. And of course, we’ve recorded in proper studios. When I started with Sarah, we were recording in studio face-to-face, and I’ve had the pleasure of recording with Dahlia in the studio face-to-face, too. But, you know, thinking about all the different places that we’ve made it work.
AMY: Like right now, I’m sitting in a cabin in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Dahlia’s in her apartment in Boston, Massachusetts. We always make it work because this show has been really fun for us and something that we want to do. And, you know, hell or high water, I’ll find a closet to sit in. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Yeah, yeah! Yeah. I mean, Amy is definitely like the studio-making queen out of whatever situation she’s in. But I’m so glad to see this enumerated because I’m realizing I have recorded Backtalk in three states. I have recorded it in two closets.
DAHLIA: And of course, there was a time when we were recording in proper studios, but even then, it would be like we were recording in three different studios. And a little bit of insider insight as we say goodbye, just there were some, every week that we record Backtalk, it would just be like something would go wrong, it felt like.
DAHLIA: Just every single time! Just every single time, something would go wrong. And it was always still fun and lighthearted, and we made it work.
AMY: And we had no choice but to make it work!
[cutesy bells ring]
AMY: All right. And I wanna take this time now to read some really great notes and messages that we got in our inbox and on iTunes. We asked for some messages about perhaps how Backtalk influenced you or how you were able to incorporate it in your daily lives. And we received so many very sweet and kind messages. And we wanted to take the time now to read some of them and to thank our listeners who’re taking the time to sit down and think about it and then write it out and send it to us. We just appreciate it. And it really does help us understand and know that we’re not just talking into a void. [Laughs.]
So, listener Liz, who actually had messaged me from my website, had once sent me a message with suggestions about the sound quality [laughs] for the show, and I didn’t get a chance to write back. But they were so nice because then they sent me a follow-up message saying that the sound has greatly improved and was encouraging us. So, thank you so much, Liz, for that.
DAHLIA: Oh, that’s so nice.
AMY: [Laughs.] I know, right? ‘Cause often, people will have a little complaint, but then not follow up and say, hey, you fixed that thing. So, we really appreciate it.
And then we got a message from a listener named Melissa. They told us a lot about how much listening to us has helped them in many ways. And they also said this, “I work with survivors of trauma as my job. So, sometimes paying attention to the trauma inflicted by our administration is too much for me. I have relied on Amy and Dahlia to give me some updates in a well-informed way that validates my anger and comforts me with laughter at times.” I can’t think of a greater compliment by saying that, somehow we were able to make you laugh, but also make you angry! [Laughs.] So, thank you so much for that, Melissa.
And then we also got a message from somebody that signed it Anonymous Rodriguez, who said that they had been listening to for the past five years! Thank you so much. And they loved our arguments, the arguments that Dahlia and I used to do, in Amy vs. Dahlia. They said, “I love the Amy vs. Dahlia arguments, voting on the arguments, and the ridiculous gifs with the poll.”
AMY: [Chuckles.] Which Dahlia picked. So, she did an amazing job with that. And then we also got some really great other messages from other listeners that I wanted to shout out. So, there was Lizard Spa. There was the Vegan Feminist. There’s also Alrow Kelly, who said that they cried on the bus listening to us! Oh my god! Public Crying! [Laughs.]
AMY: Somebody else left us a message saying that they were also on a journey through their MFA, and now, fingers crossed, hope that they also could finish MFA. The user is named the Tricky Mongoose. So, good luck with your post-MFA life to that person. And then we also got this really great message from a listener named Tony. He said, “I am a straight, white 63-year-old cis male and a big fan of your podcast. I have learned a lot listening to the two of you talk and just wanted to let you know that you will be missed.” AH MY GAWD, Tony! [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Aw! Tony, thank you!
AMY: Thank you so much for all this amazing feedback and these really reassuring notes. We really appreciate it. And we also wanna shout out one of our biggest fans, Steve—
AMY: —aka Dahlia’s dad! [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Thank you, Steve. [Chuckles.]
AMY: I really love hearing that Steve likes the show. Dahlia would be like, “Oh, my dad just listened to the last episode, and he really liked it.” And that’s just such an affirming thing to have that kind of encouraging message from one of your parents.
DAHLIA: Yeah. After every episode, he says, “You are so smart. You are both so smart.” [Chuckles.]
AMY: Oh! [Laughs.] And of course, we have to thank one of our listeners who first coined the term “rage cheerleader.” I’m trying to remember when we first read it. I think it was about a year or so ago, at the height of all our anger with the Trump presidency and all of the things that were coming out during the #MeToo movement, we received, I believe it was an iTunes review where somebody called us “rage cheerleaders.” And it was like a title that we really latched onto and was so appropriate and described us so perfectly in a way.
AMY: Because it does show that we have this anger and this rage inside of us. But we’re also rooting for something better. And yes, we will always be your rage cheerleaders. Let us be your proxies. And it has been such a pleasure to have been able to do that for you and for us to be able to channel some of that rage for you and to articulate it. And thank you for allowing us to be your rage cheerleaders. And thank you to the listener who coined the phrase ‘cause it was just so perfect, and it described, I guess, our feelings while we’re doing the show as well so perfectly. It’s such a great example of how, in a way, we couldn’t have done the show without our listeners, because your feedback really does inform how we also view our work. And that’s why it’s been so impactful and important for us to receive your feedback, to let us know that you’re listening and to give us ideas, like calling us the rage cheerleaders so that we can help you channel this. We couldn’t have done this without you.
DAHLIA: Yes. Some of the feedback touched on this. But I was thinking about the times when we were using that texting platform that allowed us to text you and for you to text us back. And that was something we were just sort of trying as an experiment just to see if it would work, if people would be interested. And we kind of made up the idea of Amy vs. Dahlia just as a mechanism to have something to argue about, to have a segment, but to also try out this new platform. And it was so fun having those arguments and hearing votes from people! People voted in very high numbers, and it was so encouraging.
DAHLIA: The answers were so funny from so many people. And it was just like that was a really fun part of Backtalk. Like Amy’s saying, it’s such a funny thing that we’re making here, and especially because we’re all making it in different places, all looking at our computer screens or looking in our closets.
DAHLIA: And having that way to see like, oh, people listen to the episode or wanna vote about the Golden Girls or wanna make a joke about this, it’s just really nice. And I know that that’s always been key to Bitch’s successes: the way in which it can involve its community in the culture and culture criticism that we do. And so, I’m definitely gonna miss that part. It always was really fun to look through everyone’s responses every week. I really liked that.
AMY: I think that the argument part was fun to begin with ‘cause we argued about the silliest things. And sometimes I had to make up the most bizarre justifications for my arguments! And sometimes we’d argue about some serious shit, you know? Like when we argued about who was the worst bro? Was it Milo Yiannopoulos or that one dude, Martin Shkreli, who wanted to buy these drugs and try to turn a completely wild profit off of them.
DAHLIA: Oh, yeah, Shkreli.
AMY: Sometimes they would be heated. Sometimes it was just so ridiculous and so funny. And I mean, I’m not ashamed to admit that after the episode would go live, I would go and check to see what people said, once they voted and then their comments. ‘Cause sometimes they would give us some really good comments with great justifications over silly shit or serious shit. So, that was such a fun thing that we did. And I do miss doing that. And like you said, I so appreciated that people took the time to vote and then also tell us their stories too.
[cutesy bells ring]
So, in our main segment, it is so bittersweet to say that this is our last episode of Backtalk. So, we wanted to reflect on some of the things that we’ve learned while having conversations with each other and with our listeners. And sometimes even with our viewers, like when I was on Dahlia’s really great Facebook livestream show Feminist Snack Break, where I was a guest once. And Dalia, you did Feminist Snack Break for three years.
DAHLIA: Yeah, Feminist Snack Break is something that sort of came organically out of the 2016 election. People at Bitch just felt like it was such an eruption in our lives and that there should be a way for people around the world to feel feminist community often, especially if they were having a hard time, as so many people were having after the election. And so, it was me and my cat, Howard.
DAHLIA: He sat next to me on a little pizza bed. And we just talked about politics and pop culture and current events. And people chatted back. Sometimes there were trolls. Sometimes it seems like there were armies of trolls. And when Amy came on Feminist Snack Break, I had to sort of rearrange my set a little bit to accommodate a guest that was not a cat.
DAHLIA: And so, we changed the setup a little bit. And Howard was feeling brave or something like that, because this is not the way his living environment was normally arranged at all. But he decided he wanted to jump from a couch to the table where Amy and I were sitting filming Feminist Snack Break. And Howard prepared and did this whole shimmy thing getting ready and then jumped, leaped, and just was not even close.
DAHLIA: It was just like a disastrous little fall that happened to be caught on video because we were literally filming live video at this moment that my cat hugely embarrassed himself.
DAHLIA: And so, that was just I mean, it wasn’t a Backtalk moment, but it was Amy and I doing kind of the Backtalk thing. And I’ve thought of that moment often as an encapsulation of our whole relationship and the kind of work we do on Backtalk. [Laughs.]
AMY: I think that one of the things about Feminist Snack Break that I was just in awe of was that you were able to just talk and hash out your ideas and your feelings and opinions all on your own for like an hour at a time, just straight talking. And I think it was in watching you do Feminist Snack Break where I was like, oh, my god. Dahlia is very smart! [Laughs.]
AMY: ‘Cause you’re doing an analysis live in front of an audience, you know. And you also had to multitask and read comments as people were leaving them and also—
DAHLIA: Cat management also. [Laughs.]
AMY: Yeah, I was gonna say, it’s a mixture. Howard wasn’t trying to kill himself. [Laughs.] Yeah! Yeah. That was a really funny moment. ‘Cause I remember when Howard was rearing up to jump from the couch to the table, you and I actually kind of like stopped talking.
AMY: We’re like, Okay, let’s—
DAHLIA: We gave him space.
DAHLIA: We’re like, “Oh, let’s give him some room.” [Laughs.]
AMY: And then he plopped.
AMY: And it was yeah, it was pretty funny. But yeah. That was such a great show. I think you did such a good job on it! I mean, for us to have this conversation with you and I, it’s a lot of work, you know. So, it’s very hard for me to imagine what it’s like to prepare to talk for about an hour straight about very, very current news. So, kudos to you for doing that. And I think that in doing Backtalk, it’s fair to say that we’ve learned a lot from each other by hashing out our ideas. Kind of like in the last episode when we’re talking about Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer victim blaming people who were assaulted, I mean, I had a little bit of light bulb moment. And then I passed on my light bulb to Dahlia. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
AMY: Yeah. We’ve also learned a lot from our listeners, like the really great message we got recently where somebody was defending Dahlia and my own cynicism. Thank you so much for doing that! You know, I think that sometimes people do wanna police how we feel. And it’s so validating to have a listener chime in and say, actually, you feel how you wanna feel! And that’s also part of the conversation, which we really, really, really appreciated.
And so, in this segment, we wanted to reflect on some big topics that we’ve come back to over and over again in the course of doing Backtalk
, one of them being the #MeToo movement
and the case against Harvey Weinstein
. ‘Cause when that news broke two years ago, it was completely shocking. And we just keep continuing to hear more stories come out that are very similar to what the accusers say about Harvey Weinstein. And because we cover pop culture at the intersection of feminism, we are often talking about issues of sexism and gender in Hollywood. And one of the biggest stories that we’ve ever talked about is #MeToo and the impact of all the survivors who have come out with their stories, not just against Harvey Weinstein, but other powerful people within an industry that’s often about hiding open secrets and creating a specific type of optics. You know, it’s an industry that’s about creating fairy tales to an extent. And not only impact in that industry, but also industries that have nothing to do with Hollywood. It’s such a far and wide-reaching thing that we’ve seen unfold. And for us that cover pop culture at large, and through the lens of feminism, it’s been so wild to see how all of this has played out.
DAHLIA: Yeah, we had talked about Weinstein quite a lot in the past few episodes. And since our last episode, in fact, Weinstein was convicted of not all but some of the charges that he was facing in New York. He still is going to be facing charges in Los Angeles. And so, I think this is a really big example of our classic remains-to-be-seen kind of viewpoint about the political process or the judicial process and especially #MeToo. It just feels like maybe when #MeToo sort of broke, the more naive among us, maybe me included, felt like it was sort of like a watershed. And so, that meant there’s this is how things were. But now that’s not how things are, and things are different. And certainly things are changing. I mean, it’s incredible that Weinstein was convicted, is still facing other charges.
But I recently read Rachel Dennhollander’s book
. She was one of the first people to accuse Larry Nassar of sexual assault. I read her book, and I thought it was really incredible. And I thought, oh, I wonder what’s going on in that case? What’s happening? And just by coincidence, that very day that I Googled, I found that USA Gymnastics is still very much unable to meet the demands and the needs of the many athletes that it allowed to be abused. In fact, so, the day I Googled, it was like, advocates and USA Gymnastics are not in agreement over what is due to these survivors. And so, oh, my god. I think we just have to come back to Grandpa Munster. It’s like we have to be in the struggle. But I don’t know that we can think, oh, this moment is over. The way of men treating women in this manner at work, the way men engage with women, all of that is over. I just think that it’s a remains to be seen.
The opportunity of doing Backtalk, I think, has given me the opportunity to reflect on how things change over these past five years. And it just seems like it’s a lot of sort of back and forth and back and forth and not the clear kind of direction that I think I naively expected when sort of #MeToo first started.
AMY: I totally feel that. Because hearing the story about the survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse is heartbreaking because you think that this organization that’s supposed to protect these young athletes failed them. And they continue to fail them even after all this information has come up to daylight, and everybody understands what a monster he is. And they’re still unable to sort of correct their lack of involvement in stopping it. But there’s the optimistic part of me that, in examining my feelings about what #MeToo has spurred. Learning about all of these cases of abuse and of people sort of struggling with coming forward with their stories has shown me is that conversations around sexual harassment in the workplace like you’re talking about, you know, and sexual assault and sexual violence has changed at least to the point where we can have it. And the sort of the beginning point of it is, let’s believe the survivors first, kind of, you know?
AMY: And I know that’s on a foolproof way to go about this. But I think very sadly, for very long, for me as a person growing up as a woman in this country, that was not how it used to be for a long time. I think often, when people would come forward with their stories of sexual harassment or sexual violence, it’s like, why is this person making this claim? What are they trying to get out of it? Especially if it’s against somebody very powerful. And be it in Hollywood where somebody might say, oh, you’re just saying that because you’re salty you didn’t get this role. Or if you’re an athlete, you’re salty that oh, you didn’t make the Olympic team or whatever. It shifted that like, okay, let’s not try to think of what ulterior motives this person who’s accusing this other person of something is trying to do. Let’s not think of what their ulterior motives could possibly be besides the fact that they were harmed, and they’re seeking some kind of, you know, I don’t think retribution’s the right word, but some kind of something to fix the harm that they had experienced.
And I think that’s something that I hope continues to be true as we move forward in talking about sexual violence and people who survive it. Because that is definitely a shift that is palpable where people come forward, and the first question in the media, you know, ‘cause they’re the people who are talking about it when it becomes a big story, the first question from the media is no longer, oh, well, what is their background? Where like the survivor or the people who are being interrogated and investigated. Now, it’s shifted to being like, okay, this person’s make an accusation. Let’s look at the person that they’ve accused! And that’s been heartening. And I think we have literally seen that change happen in the past few years. And to see that change and to be talking about it on Backtalk has been so interesting. It does feel like not enough has changed. Like you were talking about the dial being nudged, but not actually swinging around. But I’m hopeful that people who are surviving sexual violence will be able to come forward in a way that protects them.
And another topic that we wanted to talk about, in reflecting about the course of doing Backtalk, I think it’s tied into what we’re talking about with survivors of sexual violence. Is that I think conversations about sexual violence has been different a little bit, but also just conversations around gender has really changed since we started doing Backtalk. You know, conversations around gender identity, more awareness of trans issues and the types of harm that’s being perpetrated against trans folks. Because we live in a culture where cis folks are considered the default to an extent. So, I think that the conversations that we have around gender identity has also really changed in a really great way. And it was kind of happening in my personal life anyway with some of my friends. But to see it happen on a bigger scale, like in pop culture and culture at large has been really, I wanna say„ has really how do I say this, has really expanded my mind about how I understand gender in such a beautiful way, I think. Because it’s made me understand gender in that it is really not a binary, you know? And that’s freeing. That’s so freeing. And I think that our talking about it on the show has been great. And then also pointing out when anti-trans legislation gets brought up or gets enacted, we’ve talked about how fucked up bathroom laws are. And I think that to bring awareness to issues like that, decenters cis experiences and makes us be more mindful and better allies to trans folks. And how can we contribute to making their lives less stressful, essentially?
DAHLIA: And I also think your optimism has spread to me a little bit, Amy.
DAHLIA: I’ve been also thinking while you’re talking about just in the past, I mean, certainly in the time that we’ve been doing this show, but also think about maybe like the past 20 years the kinds of representations, not just representations of trans people, but work created by them and about them in pop culture. And I feel like especially in the past few years, that’s something that I’ve seen a lot of. And I feel like that’s been also really heartening to see that. I mean, of course, it is capitalism that these TV companies decide that being inclusive makes them money.
DAHLIA: But we see that there is space being made for stories about trans people and gender-nonconforming people. And I think what’s really striking is that you actually see it. You know, because you’re seeing actors, or you’re seeing producers or filmmakers. And so, I feel like that is, that’s been a really incredible shift to have noticed in the past few years of doing this show.
AMY: Yeah. And I think that could fall into the trap of like it just kind of stops at representation matters, right? Just have them show up.
But there have also been deeper conversations because there have been films where cis people are playing trans characters, and the conversation has evolved with like, well, why couldn’t you have gotten a trans person to play this role? And then to see what kind of nuance that actor could’ve brought to this role. But then it’s not just the idea of just slotting trans folks into trans roles, but also having trans folks behind the camera
, informing the stories, giving nuance to the storytelling that’s happening. Yeah, it’s been really encouraging.
And while at the same time, because I think that we talk about representation is talking about visibility, you know. I think sometimes for trans folks, hypervisibility can be harmful
because the statistics, especially for trans women of color who are, you know, the rate of trans women of color who are killed is so heartbreaking. And that has to do with hypervisibility. And so, there’s this balance of representing people from this community, but also working ways to protect them and acknowledging that trans women, especially trans women of color, are at higher risk of violence. I think that these are all things that we’re talking about and we’re keeping in mind in order to help make our communities more safe. And I don’t know. It’s just something that I think that in the past few years, for me personally, has made my heart grow bigger in a way?
AMY: I don’t know if that’s possible, but I think it’s because any time I’m able to understand that somebody is able to live as their whole self more and better, that makes me so happy that a person like that gets to live in their own body however they want. Saying that coming from somebody who’s not always felt like I’ve got to be my whole self, you know what I mean? Like, I don’t know if our listeners might understand, but there’s so many times and facets of my life where I felt like I couldn’t be my whole self. And that’s such a bad, bad feeling, like a horrible, oppressive feeling. And so, I think that when I hear stories about trans folks thriving, I’m like god! I can’t even imagine how hard it is to navigate that. But to see you just living a normal, everyday life, good for fucking you. And how can us non-trans folk help you to be safer in our communities? So, I’m gonna get off my soapbox about how my heart just grew bigger! [Laughs.]
Well, one of the other big takeaways that we have been thinking about in the years of our doing Backtalk
is the label of “feminism” or the label of “feminist.” When we started Backtalk
, I feel like that was just around the time when feminism was—I mean, of course feminism is always cool—but this was a moment when feminism was actually chartably cool. I’m thinking about when Beyoncé was standing on stage in front of the big feminist sign. In the past few years, there’s been a noticeable arrival of books about women’s anger and women’s rage. And I’ve also been thinking, there was a lot of discussion about feminism during Hillary Clinton’s candidacy that I feel like was really gone from the conversation during Amy Klobuchar
, during Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy now. I mean, certainly there are more mainstream and big outlets that write from explicitly feminist frames. But I’ve been noticing, I think, sort of the disappearance of that word explicitly attached to really anything in pop culture when it was so present very recently.
AMY: Yeah. And I think that for younger listeners, they won’t understand this. But for a long time, feminism was like a serious four-letter word, [laughing] you know what I mean?! I think that in some circles, it was hurled as an insult, you know. Like, oh, my god, you’re such a feminist. Ugh.
DAHLIA: Yeah, totally.
AMY: Yeah. Right. So, yes, I’m definitely embracing this trend where feminism can be a default lens by which we view the world. Bitch has been around for 20+ years, I wanna say 23 years, 24 years, you know. It has been doing this work for a long time. And when it started, it was doing this work that a lot of other places were not doing explicitly. So, it has been amazing to see that mainstream outlets, mainstream publications—I’m thinking of places like Teen Vogue or The Cut, which is a part of, I think, the New York magazine arm, one of their verticals, I guess, maybe it’s what’s called—but those are publications that are, to me, explicitly feminist in the writing that they publish. That’s amazing! That I think that mainstream publications are catching up to this idea that being a feminist is not some weird fringe thing. It is a very healthy and good way to look at the world.
DAHLIA: It’s also really bittersweet to record this right now. Today is Super Tuesday, and that reminds me of when we used to do our segment Petty Political P-minute.
DAHLIA: Because we were all about alliteration, obviously. And we would be remiss if we didn’t say Trump has had such an effect on our work and on this show. Often, it really felt like Amy and I will text or talk when we are preparing for an episode and deciding on the segments and what we wanna talk about. And so often, it felt like there was just no acceptable topic other than whatever awful thing was going on with Trump. It just felt like everything paled in comparison, and how could we be up to date with the world if we weren’t talking about Trump? And so, I think that took over. I mean, certainly a lot of my thinking, not just in regards to Backtalk, but really in regards to news and culture for a long time after the election. And still, in the past, I would say like few months of our show, we still felt like we had to. ‘Cause the impeachment!
DAHLIA: It’s like I almost forgot. Because we had to talk about the impeachment. And so, it was always fun doing the Petty Political P-minute and making fun of Trump in a petty way. But it’s also quite incredible to reflect on how much his presidency has changed the nature of what we do and the nature of what so many journalists and writers and cultural critics do now. It just feels like the landscape is so entirely different, thinking about just the past five years.
AMY: Yeah, and I think that including Petty Political P-minute was so important for the show because we were able to discuss the current fuckery of the administration, but also contain it in a certain time. Because I really do think that the more we talked about it, the more upset we would get and continue to get when we talk about him. And it was also, I think, a time for us to just let out our steam about what was happening without completely putting all of our energy into it.
AMY: And I think one of my favorite moments of it was when I believe I described Stephen Miller as like one of your ugly toes. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: [Laughs.] Oh, my god. I forgot about that!
AMY: Or did I call it a thumb? I can’t remember which extremity I called it. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: No, an ugly toe. And I was like, oh, my god, you’re right. He does look exactly like an ugly toe.
AMY: Yeah, the second one. Yeah.
DAHLIA: Yeah! [Laughs.]
AMY: Yeah. Not the big toe, but like the one next to the big toe, was kind of like gnarly. [Laughs.] But yeah, I think I will miss Petty Political P-minute ‘cause it was a time where we can play catch up with the political news, but in a contained way that was easily digestible for us, so that we don’t have to invest so much energy into being upset. But also figuring out ways in which, if we were able to, talk back to the administration, we could rally people to go to protests or make phone calls to their local Congresspeople while yet not devoting entire episodes to it. Which we could’ve done because so much fuckery has happened with this administration.
Personally, we’ve gained a lot from doing this show and how it helped to shape our perspective about pop culture and the world around us. And so, we wanna take this time now to sort of talk about how it affected us on a very personal way. And I’ll begin by saying that one of the things that I learned from doing Backtalk is I learned a whole new appreciation for all things horror.
AMY: And of course, I have Dahlia Balcazar to thank for that. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Aw! I’m so honored.
AMY: [Laughs.] I think that before I met Dahlia, I just was like, I was very apathetic about horror. And I will say, I think it stems back to when I was a kid, and I was very young. I think I was like 6 or 7, and I watched Poltergeist on accident. [Laughs.]
AMY: Scared the shit out of me!
AMY: And then I had a very bad fevered, like I literally had a fever nightmare about Beetlejuice.
AMY: So, those two things combined just made me not understand what is so appealing about horror. But I think because of Dahlia’s influence, I’m understanding how horror as a genre can be an allegory to explain the horror of our lives in a very contained way within a universe that’s like a film or a short story or a novel. And I think that the fact that it’s contained really helps me to digest the horror and to appreciate what the horror is saying outside of just that very specific story to apply it to other situations in our daily lives. And I completely have Dahlia to thank for that.
AMY: And horror films are so much fun to watch!
AMY: I think I didn’t realize that. Like, I love [laughing] getting the shit scared out of me! They’re just fun. And I get there are some people who just cannot watch horror. And I feel really bad for you. Kind of like how I feel bad for people who can’t taste cilantro for what it is. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Oh yeah!
AMY: You know, horror films are, especially when you’re watching in a movie theater, they’re so much fun to watch with a group of strangers, and you’re all just getting scared the exact same moments, having the exact same anxieties, having the exact same relief when something horrible doesn’t happen. It’s such a amazing collective experience, watching a horror film in the movie theater. I just I’m a new appreciator of it, and that’s something that I will carry with me, having learned it from the show.
DAHLIA: Oh! That makes me so happy. I endorse all of your points.
DAHLIA: Amy and I have gotten to see several horror movies together, and it’s been a really delightful experience. And I actually have to say I feel like I tend to have this effect on people, that I’m just like, “Oh, do you wanna watch a scary movie?”
DAHLIA: “I mean, it won’t be that scary.” Like, I’m just good at bringing people in and making them feel safe. And then not that I scare the shit out of them, but I think I can introduce people to the right horror movies for you. And to slowly lead you into like, “Yeah, isn’t it so interesting? It’s all about trauma and grief. Let’s all talk about all of our feelings.” I think this is, I’m glad for this to be my legacy, and I hope it continues for the rest of my life. I hope you will all follow me down the horror path where things are exciting and interesting and wonderful! [Chuckles.]
AMY: Yeah, I think that that is a skill, a literal skill that you have because you framed the horror not as like, oh—for me, you didn’t say—”Oh, it’s not that scary.” You framed it as like, actually it’s saying this.
AMY: So, that made me interested in seeing how a horror movie could say this cultural critique thing, you know?
AMY: You’re like the horror whisperer.
DAHLIA: Oh, my god! I love it. Yes, please. [Laughs.]
AMY: Yeah. Put that in your bio! [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: One of the takeaways that I have been thinking about—and I feel like maybe we touched on it a little bit earlier, even or in every episode—is I think that hosting Backtalk, and especially getting feedback from listeners, has really drawn me into the tension between personal responsibility and corporate and government responsibility. And I feel like that’s something that I’ve really struggled with when trying to understand a lot of political issues or a lot of social issues. Because I have this sort of Debbie Downer part of me that’s like, oh, personal responsibility. Can’t do anything. I’m so small.
DAHLIA: How could I affect any change? And I know that’s not true. I’m not trying to say that. But I know absolutely that I can canvass for the candidate that I support, and I can make calls to people who live across the country, and I can volunteer. And I know that personal action has a lot of benefits, not only in making you feel like you’re living your values, but also in the actual work that you’re putting in for those values. And at the same time, I feel like I’m sort of a deeply pessimistic realist that looks at a lot of the things in the world and thinks like, but Mitch McConnell doesn’t care. But Donald Trump doesn’t care. I mean, I think it’s another, this is why I’ve been thinking so much about this quote about the struggle. I think that you have to find it in yourself to keep struggling and to keep living the values that you believe in and putting those values into practice, even when the world is showing you that corporations and governments care about money more than people. And man, that is a downer thing to say. I’m sorry to be saying that towards the end of this episode.
DAHLIA: But I just feel like that’s just like so many times, the end that I’ve come to. And like you were saying, Amy, I feel like very often, we’re able to come to something new when we’re having these conversations that we sort of know some of the terrain. But then towards the end, we get to some new discovery. And I just feel like that’s a discovery that I have come to in so many conversations is this two-sided coin of, yes, of course, personal responsibility matters, and you need to be engaged in the challenges of the world. And! And the government doesn’t care about climate change.
AMY: [Laughs.] Ahhhh. We laugh so we do not cry. [Laughs.] That is the motto of Backtalk. That and it remains to be see.
DAHLIA: It remains to be seen. Yeah.
AMY: Yeah. No, I feel you. I mean, because we can only do so much. Not only is it that we can only do so much as individuals, but we can only do so much with all the other things that we’re trying to balance and mitigate and fix in our own lives. But I think that the way you’re talking about approaching it is healthy. You know, it’s not overly, I don’t wanna say saccharin, but it’s not overly optimistic in saying, if I recycle every single piece of recyclable thing in my home, I’m gonna make measurable impact on climate change! I think in a way, that kind of onus on personal responsibility, like you’re saying, it ignores the impact that corporations make. And that’s also not healthy, you know. So, I think we have to strike a balance with doing as much as we can and as much as we’re capable of and be mindful and aware. I think having that awareness is really great.
And I think what you’re saying sounds like you’re being hyperaware of your responsibility and what you’re capable of, while at the same time, understanding that there are literal corporations that are built on and actually build billions of dollars, who can literally squash us if they wanted to, and they are the major contributors to a lot of the heinous shit in this world. And it’s hard to hold those two things at once, you know?
AMY: To live every day enacting the things that are our true values and our true morals. But I think we have to keep those two things in mind in order to not fall into a complete pit of despair! You know, every day we wake up, and we try to do the best for not just us and our families and our communities, but for that would impact the world. We do that alongside knowing that there are things that are out of our control, and we can only control what we can control. And I think that’s also a thing that I learned in therapy.
AMY: You know? And I guess what I’m saying is just because there are things that you cannot control, it doesn’t mean that you should give up completely. I think that’s what I’m trying to say.
AMY: So, yes, I think that that’s something that we’ve talked a lot about on the show. And I’m grateful for that conversation.
DAHLIA: Yeah, me too.
AMY: I also wanted to bring up that there are some things that I learned when I was hosting the show with Sarah. So, shout out to Sarah Mirk! I guess I’m the one and only consistent Backtalk host.
AMY: I’m gonna make a badge that has that really long descriptor. So, when I was hosting the show with Sarah Mirk, one of the things that I remember us talking about a lot—because she would bring it up a lot, and I’m grateful that she did—was how local elections and the legislation can bring about big impact, and that we shouldn’t ignore or downplay local elections. You know, especially talking about this now during the Democratic primary, there’s so much attention and airtime being given over these Democratic nominees and their bid for the nomination. But we tend to ignore what could be happening on a very much more local level.
I think about the fight to increase minimum wage and how sometimes, that fight begins in cities, not in the statewide measure. But often it’s a citywide measure. And how perhaps if a city has a good minimum wage, then that can maybe impact a statewide minimum wage, and maybe it could impact the federal minimum wage and having that being increased. And also, another thing that I’ve thought about, like how what we vote for with our local dollars and the people who allocate our local tax dollars can greatly influence our everyday lives. So, I guess that even local elections really aren’t, as quote-unquote “sexy” as the big national elections that are on 24-hour news networks forever, they can also lead to really big changes. And that’s something that I learned from Sarah Mirk to think more about, to sort of like rally behind local measures as much as I would rally behind a national candidate. And that’s something that I’ve definitely thought a lot about. Because I am one of those people that was just like, oh, it’s just like a local measure. Like, what’s the big deal about that? But it’s the local measures and local legislations that really do impact our daily lives the most.
DAHLIA: Sort of in line with that, I feel like I was really struck and moved thinking through and talking about the episode last summer that we did about sort of global protests, about various issues across the world. And especially because Backtalk is the feminist response to pop culture, I was also thinking about the Women’s March and just sort of this rise of protesting across the world, not just the United States, but the world. And how that is a place to find, I don’t know, solace, a place to find hope, a place to find solidarity in community with others. There’s so much shit going on, and Backtalk I think, we wanted it to be a place where you can be hearing from and in conversation with other people who are thinking about the shit that’s going on and how culture affects us and how politics affects us and whether culture or politics engage with feminism affects us.
And I feel like another place where I have found that and found even happiness and even laughter has been protesting and being around people who are so moved that they act and that they show up to show how they feel. And I think often, the feelings that lead you to that can be anger and sadness. But then I think that when you get there, I think that there’s a lot of happiness in being around people that feel the way you feel. And that’s something that I was really reflecting on. Well, not just, you know, that it’s a moment of happiness or that it’s community, but also how much power protests really have. And how I think in some places in the U.S., maybe people are a little afraid or maybe more structurally unable to do the kind of protest that really shut things down. But remember how protests in Puerto Rico got the governor of Puerto Rico to resign, and that’s because they wouldn’t let up. And that’s because they clogged up streets. And I know that we’re living in troubled political times, but it is, I think, very encouraging to see people taking to the streets across the world and finding solidarity and also achieving huge goals.
AMY: Yeah. And I think that domestically, one of the protests that I think have been really successful in terms of bringing awareness has been the Black Lives Matter movement.
AMY: When we started Backtalk, that was one of the things that we talked about a lot because it was happening around that time.
AMY: And the Black Lives Matter movement has opened the eyes for so many people about police brutality, in particular police brutality against Black folks. And it was something that I think really shone a light on an issue that some communities were well aware of for decades and decades. And for some folks that did not know that people of color, in particular Black people, were being specifically targeted by law enforcement. It is like even if perhaps the protest itself is against something that is literal people’s lives are at stake, I think that the showing out of solidarity can be a way to show other people that like, hey, we stand amongst these folks shoulder to shoulder, and we support what they are demanding. And that impact cannot be overstated.
[cutesy bells ring]
And some listeners got in touch to ask what is the future for Dahlia and I, especially in terms of doing another podcast together. Dahlia and I have been talking about it and tossing ideas back and forth. And so, we wanted to give you a way to keep in touch, so that when updates come for our next podcast together, you’ll be the first to hear about it. So, Dahlia, what are ways in which our listeners can keep in touch with you and keep up to date with what you’re doing?
DAHLIA: Yes, you can follow me on Twitter. I’m SalvadorDahlia there or on Instagram where I’m DahliaBalcazar.
AMY: And on Twitter, I am AmyAdoyzie. [Laughs.] That’s like kinda a mouthful. It’s a-m-y-a-d-o-y-z-i-e. That is this punk name I gave myself when I was 16, and I do zines. I didn’t wanna use my real name, and it’s just gibberish. [Laughs.] So, that is my Twitter handle, and I’m also on Instagram at AmyLamJam. And I was on the website. It is ByAmyLam.com.
DAHLIA: Oh, I also have a website, and it’s SalvadorDahlia.com.
AMY: Cool. So, follow us at any of those places, and we’ll be posting updates there when something happens!
DAHLIA: As we were getting ready to record this last episode of Backtalk ever, I was thinking about the movie Labyrinth. And I was thinking about this scene toward the end where Sarah has traveled back home, and everything is safe. But she’s missing all of her Muppet friends, and they appear in little mirrors as little visions to her. And they say like, should you need us, we’ll always be here for you. And I feel like that’s us saying that to you.
DAHLIA: [Laughs.] I mean, I know that we’ve talked through so many difficult conversations and ideas and topics and Trump memos that it’s just been like, we’ve had years together of talking through hard things. And that bonds you to another person. And so, we hope that you’ll follow us in our new writing and podcasting endeavors. It’s been such a pleasure and so meaningful to both of us to get to talk out our thoughts and come to new realizations and argue and have petty political p-minutes. It’s just been really wonderful and really lovely. And so, we hope we’ll see you around.
AMY: This is also a really great time for us to shout out the producers who have put up with our bullshit—
AMY: —along the way! I mean, the episodes sound good often because of the producer’s work in splicing together some of our sometimes our very disappointed rants [laughs] and making us sound coherent. So, I wanted to thank Alex Ward, who was our very first producer, Ashley Duchemin, Cher Vincent, and of course, Emily Boghossian, who’s producing us right now. Without them, I think that the episodes would kinda sound like a hot mess!
AMY: But they’re really, truly responsible for making Backtalk into something that’s coherent and sounds good and help us get our messages across in a way that we want them to.
DAHLIA: We wanted to end our last episode of Backtalk with a song. I recommended this song before, but I feel like it really encapsulates the playful and vibrant vibe of Backtalk that we’ve always wanted to express to you, our audience. I think it’s such a good warm weather song, such a good summer song. So, hopefully soon, you can open up the windows and play this loud. And I hope you enjoy it. It’s “Wait a Minute!” by Willow.
[“Wait a Minute!” plays]
♪ “I think I left my conscience on your front doorstep, oh/
Wait a minute/
I think I left my consciousness in the sixth dimension/
But I’m here right now, right now/
(Right now, right now)/
Just sitting in a cloud, oh wow/
I’m here right now, right now with you, oh wow, oh wow/
(Right now, with you)/
I don’t even care/
I’ll run my hands through your hair/
You wanna run your fingers through mine/
But my dreads too thick and that’s alright….” ♪
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This episode is produced by Emily Bagghosian. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.
♪ “I left my consciousness in the sixth dimension/
Left my soul in his vision/
Let’s go get it, oh, oh/
Let’s go get it, oh, oh/
Some things don’t work/
Some things are bound to be/
Some things, they hurt/
And they tear apart me” ♪
by Amy Lam
February 20, 2020
This week, Dahlia and Amy discuss comments made by Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, insisting that women could avoid sexual assault by not placing themselves in risky situations.